Big Dogs, Big Questions: 2022 Matawan High School Football Preview
With less than two weeks until his team’s season-opening game against Raritan, Matawan coach Jay Graber still was not sure – or at least not sure enough to reveal – who his starting quarterback for Week 1 would be. With Dennis Buonagura graduating following three years as the starter and physical running back David Onuoha also graduating, there is a void in playmaking both under center and in the backfield that might make a lot of coaches uneasy.
Graber, however, is taking it in stride. Not only is he encouraged by what he has seen from his prospective quarterbacks, but he knows that at just about every other spot on the field, he has experience and even some depth where there was none over the course of his first three seasons with the Huskies.
“This year, we have a little bit more depth on the line,” Graber said. “We have eight or nine guys competing for starting jobs and they are coming in every day and battling for their spot. They all want to play on Friday night. Within our program right now, that competition is great and it’s bringing out the best in all of our lineman and our players.”
The schedule could also make a major difference this season. Last year, Matawan had five games against Group IV and V programs and went 1-4 in those matchups. This season, the Huskies have two scheduled games against Group IV schools (Middletown South and Toms River East) and none against Group V. The only team on its schedule in 2022 that was also on the 2021 schedule is Toms River East and Matawan beat the Raiders a year ago.
Heading into the 2022 campaign, Matawan is loaded up on experience on both lines, in the wide receiver group and throughout the defense. Couple that with a schedule that does not include so many Group V and Group IV opponents – which raised the degree of difficulty for a team that was still learning in the trenches while Buonagura and Onuoha did their thing – and the Huskies have a chance to celebrate more wins this fall.
“The kids are working hard,” Graber said. “They are doing everything they can every day to give themselves a good opportunity for success and we’re excited for the chances that they have.”
Matawan at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter; 3RS=Third-year Starter)
Returning Starters: 8
QB: Am’ir Martinez de Scott, So.; Michael DiPietro, Jr.
RB: Colin Palumbo, So.; Welman Crooms, Fr.
WR: Joey Bodin, Sr. 3RS; Kyeshaun Sylvester, Jr.
WR: Cameron Cooper, Jr. RS; Welman Crooms, Fr.
WR: Brian Charles Gagneron, Jr. RS; Jayden Percodani, Jr. RS
TE/FB: Morgan Blake Gagne, So.; Aidan Anthony, Jr.; Gavin Patino, Sr.; Chris Burseth, Jr.; Lance Santos, Sr.; Thomas Becker, Jr.
LT: Nikolaus Winzer, Sr. 3RS
LG: Zion Spence, Sr. 4RS
C: Jordan Reamer, Jr. RS; Aidan Kauffman, So.
RG: A.J. Reamer, Sr. RS; Chris Zazula, Jr.
RT: Jayden Elijah, So. RS; Ryder Silvers, Sr. 6-0
Returning Starters: 9
DE: Nikolaus Winzer, Sr. 3RS
DT: Zion Spence, Sr. 4RS
DT: Jordan Reamer, Jr. RS; A.J. Reamer, Sr.
DE: Lance Santos, Sr. RS; Jayden Elijah, So.
OLB: Chris Burseth, Jr.; Aidan Anthony, Jr.
ILB: Morgan Blake Gagneron, So. RS; Aidan Kauffman, So.
OLB: Joey Bodin, Sr. 3RS; Damion Stathum, Sr.; Seif Wahby, Sr.
DB: Cameron Cooper, Jr. RS; Tahir Alli, So.
DB: Kyeshaun Sylvester, Jr. RS; Am’ir Martinez de Scott, So.
DB: Colin Palumbo, So., RS; Welman Crooms, Fr.
DB: Brian Charles Gagneron, Jr.; Jayden Percodani, Jr.
K: Jake Zibbell, Sr. RS
P: Jake Zibbell
Head Coach: Jay Graber, fourth season
Career Record: 72-48
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Matt Walsh (Def. Coordinator/DB), Jake Weber (DL/OL), Sam Turner (OL/DL), Rob Cordasco (OL/TE/FB/Freshman), Nick Hartigan (Special Teams/RB/Freshman), Bob Wietecha (WR/DB), Joe Martucci (RB/LB), Shawn Ramcheran (DB), Mark Kawka (RB/Freshman), Matt Goetz (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Joey Bodin, Sr., WR/OLB
Bodin is both a vocal leader in the huddle and on the field while also bringing some proven production back to the field for the Huskies. Bodin is heading into his third year as a starter and will be one of the top targets in the passing game. On the other side of the ball, he returns at outside linebacker after finishing second on the Matawan in tackles in 2022 with 93, trailing only Onuoha. Bodin is one of nine returning starters on the defensive side of the ball.
Player Under the Radar: Colin Palumbo, So., RB/DB
Palumbo got a chance to play as a freshman and he will look to carry that experience over to a more prominent role this season. The sophomore will move into the starting running back role and reprise his role in the defensive backfield at safety with the intention of providing Matawan with a capable playmaker for an offense that will be in search for them early in the year.
Top Position Group: Offensive/Defensive Line
With returning starters across the line on both sides, Matawan will have plenty of experience, as well as depth behind the starting group. Seniors Zion Spence and Nik Winzer are the leaders on both sides on the ball, with Spencer returning for his fourth year as a starter on the line and Winzer committed to Columbia and serving as one of the prominent voices in the huddle and in the locker room. The two seniors will share the left side of the offensive line – Winzer at tackle and Spence at guard.
“Zion Spence is four-year starter, he is a real leader and a guy who the rest of the guys look at to because he has a lot of experience, he has been here before, he has played a lot of football,” Graber said. “Nik Wintzer is a guy we really like. We’re proud of where he is going and what he is doing and he is a guy we really look to when it comes to leadership.”
Brothers A.J. (senior) and Jordan Reamer (junior) are two more experienced interior linemen and senior Lancer Santos is set to line up at defensive end opposite Winzer. Sophomore Jayden Elijah is the youngest of the returnees, but at 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, he is also the most imposing.
Big Shoes to Fill: Am’ir Martinez (So.) de Scott and Michael DiPietro (Jr.), QB
The competition to replace Buonagura under center will be ongoing until opening night vs. Raritan, but Graber is confident both Martinez de Scott and DiPietro are on track to handle the job – particularly with all the support either will have around them.
“In terms of the quarterback position, we have two guys who are really competing really hard and have both done well,” Graber said. “We’ll have some decisions to make, so we’ll watch the film and see how it goes. They both bring different qualities to the table, so there are a lot of things we’ll have to look at.”
Rivalry Game: Sept. 30 at Holmdel
Over the last several years, Holmdel has passed Matawan in the Shore Conference Group III hierarchy, so with a midseason clash in Holmdel on tap, playoff positioning could be on the line when the two neighboring schools meet. From Matawan’s side, the game is likely to be a pivotal one and could potentially represent the zenith of a strong start to the season. With a run of smaller programs – Raritan, Jackson Liberty, Manchester and Pinelands – during the first four weeks, Matawan will have a chance for a win in each of the first five weeks before back-to-back games vs. Toms River East and Middletown South.
Thursday, Sept. 1 vs. Raritan, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 9 at Jackson Liberty, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 16 at Manchester, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 22 vs. Pinelands, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 30 at Holmdel, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 8 vs. Toms River East, Noon
Friday, Oct. 14 at Middletown South, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 21 vs. Barnegat, 7 p.m.