Breaking Free from Mediocrity: 2019 Southern Regional Football Preview
It was 2012 when, led by future Penn State star and Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki, Southern last had a winning record, finishing 9-3 and reaching the South Jersey Group 5 sectional final. Since then, Southern has been stuck in purgatory. The Rams have finished either directly at .500 or one game below in five of the last six seasons.
Will this be the season the victories pile up once more? Southern sure hopes so, but for that to materialize the veterans will need to raise their level of play and the promising underclassmen will need to play up to their potential.
Five total starters return on offense with senior Cole Robinson getting the nod at quarterback after serving as the backup and seeing a fair amount of playing time. Senior J.T. Cornelius (6-5, 215) is back as the starting tight end while seniors Sebastian Cervetto (5-9, 215) and Colby Saxton (6-1, 210) anchor the offensive line. Southern got a huge reinforcement over the summer when sophomore Jaiden Brown moved into the district. Brown was Jackson Liberty’s starting running back as a freshman.
Defensively, the Rams also return five starters from a unit that allowed 17.8 points per game. The strength is up front with Cornelius, Saxton, and Cervetto all returning in Southern’s 4-4 scheme. Christian Torres is a three-year returning starter at linebacker and Robinson returns to anchor the secondary at free safety.
Southern remained in the Constitution Division after realignment, but only one other team – Marlboro – remains. Southern’s new division rivals are Brick Memorial, Freehold Township, Howell, and Middletown North. The Rams also have nondivisional games against Toms River North, St. John Vianney and Central, plus a season-opening nonconference battle with Nottingham.
Players to Watch: Sebastian Cervetto, Sr., OL/DT, and Colby Saxton, Sr., OL/DT
Cervetto and Saxton are the heart and soul of this Rams team and vital players on both sides of the ball. Saxton had a team-high five sacks last season along with 34 tackles and six tackles for loss. Cervetto had 25 tackles, five tackles for loss and one sack. Both will be at defensive tackle. On the offensive side, Cervetto is the returning starter at center while Saxton will move between guard and tackle as needed.
“So much is expected of those guys, more than anybody else on the field,” said Southern head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. “While rest of the guys are developing they give us toughness and are respected by other players for how hard they practice and play. They are really key. We cannot afford to lose either one of them.”
Players Under the Radar: Nate Committee, So., DE/RB, and Jay Silva, Jr., TE
Committee (6-1, 195) jumps up to the varsity squad after an impressive freshman campaign and will start at defensive end and serve as a fullback.
“He’s really a guy who could develop and be a very good player for us,” Donohue said. “He’s a good athlete and a tough kid.”
Silva (6-4, 180) was Southern’s second tight end as a sophomore last season when the Rams deployed a two-tight-end set. He is also a basketball and volleyball player, and Southern is hoping those skills begin to translate to the football field this year.
Best Unit: Secondary
Southern’s most stable position group right now is its defensive backfield with Robinson returning as the starting free safety and juniors J.P. Ricciardi and Xavier Hendricks as the starting cornerbacks. The coaching staff is also high on sophomore Nick Devane, who will rotate in at cornerback.
Southern will be successful if…
…The offensive and defensive lines become the strength of the team whereas they are currently a question mark because of depth and experience. Southern has two returning starters on the offensive line in Cervetto and Saxton and three on the defensive line with Cornelius, Cervetto, and Saxton. The offensive line will also feature junior Pat Fulgineti (6-3, 265) and sophomore Logan Doherty working at tackle and junior Conor Clineman (5-9, 200) and senior Nick Velardi (5-8, 155) working at guard. Committee joins the defensive line at defensive end with sophomore Sean Roland (6-2, 210) also expected to see time at all four positions.
A Welcome Addition
Southern graduated its top seven rushers from last season, leaving quarterback Cole Robinson as the team’s leading returner in rushing yards with three yards on nine carries. Finding another tailback was going to be a tall order, but the Rams received a welcome addition in the offseason when Jaiden Brown’s family moved into the school district.
Brown (6-1, 215) was the starting running back for Jackson Liberty as a freshman and ran for 929 yards and a touchdown. He’ll step right in as the Rams’ starting running back, giving them a young and experienced skill player.
At a Glance
Head coach: Chuck Donohue Sr., 22nd season (46th overall)
Career record: 252-184-4
2018 record: 4-5 (2-3 in Constitution Division)
Assistant coaches: Matt Abbato (def. coord.), Eric Fierro (QB), Dylan Larson (OL/DL), Eric Sharkey (WR/DB), C.J. Tomelden (OLB/RB), Andrew Becket (head freshmen), Joe Fleck (asst. freshmen), David Smith (asst. freshmen), Nick Herring (asst. freshmen), John Linsella (asst. freshmen), Zack Mentesana (asst. freshmen); John Kaszuba (Director of Football Operations), Evan Osborne (Asst. DFO), Nick Scaramazza (athletic trainer).
Offense: Multiple I, Spread
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Steve Langton, Jr., LB
Langton will start at inside linebacker, stepping into a role where Joe Guglielmo led the team in tackles last year and was an All-Division selection.
X-FACTOR: Quarterback play
Southern has not had a 1,000-yard passer since 2014 and has not had an All-Division standout at the position since Dan Higgins in 2012. Robinson will try to change that as he takes the reins of the offense as a senior. He served as the backup to Carmen Deo last season and saw limited action.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Will Devane, Sr., WR/OLB
Brown and Committee are two newcomers already mentioned who will be starters, so we’ll go elsewhere here. A point guard on the basketball team and a standout defensive midfielder on the lacrosse team, Devane decided to come out for the football team as a senior. He’s been a pleasant surprise and has played his way into a starting spot at outside linebacker and into the wide receiver rotation.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 6 at Nottingham
Southern hasn’t started 1-0 since 2014, and with a young and inexperienced team, the Rams are stressing the importance of getting off to a good start before beginning their division schedule in Week 2 (Sept. 20). The Northstars were 7-3 and a playoff team last year in Central Jersey Group 3, but have a new head coach in Milo Maguire, who takes over for longtime coach Jon Adams.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.