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Brian Wilkinson is not afraid of a challenge. He took over a Pinelands Regional program in 2013 that had lost 21 straight games and in his second game there ended the streak with an overtime victory. It was their only win of the season but they doubled that in 2014 and two years later they won four games and Wilkinson was named the division Coach of the Year.  Prior to that, he was the head coach at his alma mater, Toms River South, for seven seasons. Now after three seasons as an assistant he is the new head coach at Manchester Township, a program that has had very little success on the gridiron.

“There are certainly similarities between what I inherited at Pinelands and now at Manchester,” Wilkinson told the Shore Sports Network. “There are attitudes that need to be changed, there are bad habits that need to go away and good habits that need to be developed. At both schools there are great kids that want to learn and be excited about football.”

Wilkinson was named head coach in May at a time when the future of the 2020 season was very much in doubt.  However, it did not slow him down when it came to instilling change and it began with teaching his players about leadership. Every week he used Google Meet to have different speakers address the team, including former New York Giants players Keith Elias, Brandon Jacobs and Roman Oben, Montclair State assistant coach Mike Palazzo (who played for him at Toms River South) and Kean University head coach Dan Garrett. Wilkinson said his players, especially the seniors, listened carefully and asked questions and it was a positive experience for them and his staff.

Photo by Richard O'Donnell

That’s a start, but now it has to translate to the playing field. Fortunately, the Hawks have some talent along with speed and athleticism. It starts with senior running back and defensive back Josh Glenn, a two-time all-division player who will be counted on to provide additional leadership on and off the field. They return two other all-division players in junior defensive tackle Kingborn Morris and senior linebacker Chris Grille, who will also be one of the featured running backs on offense.

Safety D’Maari Brown led the team in tackles as a sophomore and returns, as does senior linebacker Julius Barriteau, who like Grille will also play in the offensive backfield. Sophomore Evan Weiner gives the Hawks a capable kicker.

What likely excites Wilkinson and offensive coordinator Charlie Diskin (former Toms River East head coach) the most is what they have at quarterback in juniors Savon Myers and Anthony Perelli. The 6-foot-5 Myers played basketball last winter but skipped the football season, so he is still a work in progress. He possesses a strong arm but is being pushed by Perelli as both have worked hard to learn a new offense. The coaching staff is confident that either one can get the job done.

Another promising note is that there are about 70 players in the program, which is an increase of about 30 from a year ago. The coaching staff stayed in constant contact with players throughout the summer via email, text, calls, and even resorting to writing letters. They answered questions, addressed concerns and kept them updated and made sure the players knew that most of all this new staff cared about them.

Manchester opens the season with a road contest against what’s expected to be a good Lacey team and the rest of the schedule is a challenging one. Of course, challenges are nothing new for Wilkinson and a program searching for success.

 

At a Glance

Projected starters (RS=returning starter)

Offense: Spread

QB: Savon Myers, Jr.

RB: Josh Glenn, Sr., RS; Chris Grille, Sr.; Julius Barriteau, Sr.;

WR: D’Maari Brown, Jr., RS; Sean Snead, Sr.

TE: Gavin Clark, Sr.

LT: Thomas Smith, Sr.

LG: Nick Uberti, Sr. or Isaiah Elgamrouai, Sr.

C: Myles Lawson, Sr.

RG: Christopher Pasos, Jr.

RT: Justice Wilson, Sr.

Defense: 3-3

DE: Christopher Parrish-Marshall, Sr.

DT: Kingborn Morris, Jr., RS

DE: Diondre Johnson, Jr.

ILB: Chris Grille, Sr., RS

DS: Julius Barriteau, Sr., RS

ILB: Isaiah Elgamrouai, Sr.

ILB: Nick Uberti, Sr.

CB: Gavin Clark, Sr. or Tanyan Valmon, Jr.

CB: Josh Glenn, Sr., RS

SS: Sean Snead, Sr.

FS: D’Maari Brown, Sr., RS

Special teams

K: Evan Weiner, So., RS

P: Justice Wilson, Sr.

 

Head Coach: Brian Wilkinson, first season (12th overall)

Career Record: 45-66

Team record last five years:

2019: 2-8

2018: 5-5

2017: 3-7

2016: 3-7

2015: 1-9

Assistant coaches: Charlie Diskin (Offensive Coordinator/QB); Craig Karahuta (RB); Rich Stratton (OL); Tye Coleman (WR); Paul Findlow (DL); Kevin Hester (DB); Amani Richardson (DB) Tiffany Whalen (athletic trainer).

 

Player to Watch: Josh Glenn, Sr., RB/DB 

When you play on a losing team you sometimes get lost in the mix but opposing coaches know all too well that Glenn is a special player. He made all-division on defense as a sophomore and offense as a junior and is a true do-it-all performer for the Hawks.

 

Players Under the Radar: Savon Myers, Jr., QB

Myers did not even play football as a sophomore but instead focused on basketball. Now he’s expected to be the starter at a pivotal position in the Hawks' spread attack.  At 6-foot-5, and 205 pounds he has all the physical tools, but inexperience will force him to learn on the fly.

 

Impact Newcomers: Isaiah Elgamraoul, Sr., OL/LB and Sean Snead, Sr., WR/DB

A pair of seniors who are expected to be two-way starters and contributors on both sides of the ball.

 

Top position groups: Defensive backs/running backs

Since Glenn is the leader of both groups there's no surprise here. Chris Grille and Julius Barriteau also return to give the Hawks a stable of quality running backs and D’Maari Brown and Gavin Clark are part of an experienced group of defensive backs.

 

Big Shoes to Fill: Diondre Johnson, Jr., DE 

The junior replaces John Mayer, a two-way standout who was an all-division performer as a senior. Johnson is an athletic 6-foot, 175-pounder who has stepped into that spot on defense and shown a lot of promise. He figures to improve each week and should be a significant contributor to a Hawks defense that needs to make big strides from 2019.

 

X-Factor: Grasping change

Manchester has never been able to establish any type of winning program and losing was somewhat accepted. The Hawks have not had a winning season since 2010 when they made the NJSIAA playoffs for just the second time in school history. Now they have a new head coach, new systems, new challenges and most of all, new expectations. How quickly the upperclassmen buy into the changes and set an example for the younger players will likely determine what happens this year and in the future.

 

Season Schedule

Friday, Oct. 2 – at Lacey, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 9 – at Central, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 16 – vs. Pinelands, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 23 – vs. Barnegat, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30 – vs. Keansburg, 7 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 6 – at Point Beach, 7 p.m.

 

 

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Kevin Williams is the Director of the Shore Sports Network and can be reached at kevin.williams@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @shoresportsman. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.