Bring Back the Roar: 2021 Middletown North High School Football Preview
With a solid group of returning starters who gained valuable experience playing a very difficult schedule last season, Middletown North is aiming to snap a three-year skid and post its first winning season since 2016.
The Lions were 1-5 last season but played a brutal schedule that included Rumson-Fair Haven, Mater Dei Prep, Red Bank Catholic, Middletown South and Freehold. Four of those teams finished ranked in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10. The schedule eases up considerably this season thanks to realignment and the Lions – on paper, at least – should be contenders in a division that looks fairly wide open.
Eight players who either started or saw significant action return in Middletown North’s spread offense, led by senior running back Brian Haddow. A three-year starter, Haddow is a dynamic threat who could have a very big year. Tommy Giannone, a 6-foot-6 senior, returns after starting last season and throwing for 933 yards and eight touchdowns. He lost his top target, Quentin Soler, to graduation but returns seniors Levi Wilson and Lucas Cerbo, who both saw time last season. Senior David Mason and junior Derek Soto round out the corps of wideouts.
The Lions have a lot of size at the perimeter of the line of scrimmage, and even more when you include senior tight end Zac Searight and his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame. Junior Jacinto Lopez (6-foot-5, 247) is a three-year starter and will hold down the left tackle spot while senior Adam Conklin (6-foot-4, 297) is the right tackle. Senior Connor Clark is the left guard, senior Karl Strauch is the right guard and the center is junior Lucas Ainbinder with junior Michael Subik also working in.
On defense, four starters return in the Lions’ 3-3 stack. Lopez is a three-year returning starter at defensive end and will be joined by Clark at defensive tackle and junior Peter Dempsey at the other defensive end spot.
The linebackers are Cerbo and senior Colin Devine on the outside and Subik as the inside linebacker. The secondary features Soto and Mason as the corners, senior Ryan Demedici and junior Jack LaBruno working at strong safety, Haddow returning as the starting free safety and senior Dan Cody playing the rover position.
Haddow has had two strong years in a row on defense and finished last season with 54 tackles and two interceptions.
After having to run the gauntlet last season against several of the best teams in the Shore, Middletown North moves into the Independence Division with Brick Memorial, Brick Township, Howell and Lacey.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Returning starters: 8
QB: Tommy Giannone, Sr., RS
RB: Brian Haddow, Sr., 3RS
WR: Levi Wilson, Sr., RS; Lucas Cerbo, Sr, RS.; David Mason, Sr.; Derek Soto, Jr.
TE: Zac Searight, Sr, RS.
LT: Jacinto Lopez, Jr., 3RS
LG: Connor Clark, Sr., RS
C: Lucas Ainbinder, Jr.; Michael Subik, Jr.
RG: Karl Strauch, Sr.
RT: Adam Conklin, Sr., RS
Defense: 3-3 stack
Returning starters: 4
DE: Jacinto Lopez, Jr., 3RS
DT: Connor Clark, Sr., RS
DE: Peter Dempsey, Jr.
OLB: Lucas Cerbo, Sr., RS
ILB: Michael Subik, Jr.
OLB: Colin Devine, Sr.
CB: Derek Soto, Jr.
CB: David Mason, Sr.
SS: Ryan Demedici, Sr.; Jack LaBruno, Jr.
FS: Brian Haddow, Sr., 3RS
Rover: Dan Cody, Sr.
K: Jack LaRocca, So.; Emma Robson, Sr.; Billy Mongeau, Jr.
P: Gavin Halloran, So.
Head coach: Steve Bush, 9th season (15th overall)
Career record: 37-43 (119-91-1 overall)
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Geoff Massimini (Defensive Coordinator/LB/TE); Randy Kalman (WR/DB/Head JV Coach); Justin Bloss; (OL/DL); Justin McGhee (RB/DL); Justin Muller (OL/DL); Danielle Kanski (Athletic Trainer).
Player to Watch: Brian Haddow, Sr., RB/FS
A three-year starter, Haddow has 1,000-yard potential as a running back and has turned in two very good seasons on defense as a free safety with a combined 133 tackles and two interceptions.
Player Under the Radar: Jacinto Lopez, Jr., OL/DL
Lopez is big (6-foot-5, 247 pounds) and experienced as a starter since his freshman year. He will anchor both the offensive and defensive lines for the Lions.
Impact Newcomers: David Mason, Sr., WR/DB and Derek Soto, Jr., WR/DB
Both Mason and Soto are set to be the starting cornerbacks while also having roles in the wide receiver rotation.
Top Position Group: The Backfield
With Giannone back as a returning starter after nearly throwing for 1,000 yards in six games and Haddow ready to begin his third year as the starting running back, Middletown North is set at two of the most important positions on the field.
Big Shoes to Fill: The Wide Receivers
Quentin Soler was a very productive wide receiver for the Lions during his career and last season was a third-team All-Shore selection after hauling in 27 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns in six games. Recent history says somebody will step forward and put up good numbers in head coach Steve Bush’s offense.
X-Factor: Staying Healthy
The Lions are talented but don’t have a ton of depth. The division should be very competitive and if Middletown North can keep its top players on the field the team should be able to contend for the division title.
Friday, Sept. 2 – vs. Freehold Township, 6 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 – at Lacey, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24 – at Howell, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 – vs. Brick Memorial, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 8 – at Brick, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15 – vs. St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.