Building On Success: Toms River East 2020 Football Preview
The Toms River East Raiders went from major underdogs to a team moments away from competing for a state sectional title in 2019 while winning a division title with a 9-2 record, winning their first playoff game in 10 years and completing a four-year rebuild under head coach Kyle Sandberg.
"I knew where I wanted this program to go when I got the job and that's probably the thing I'm most proud of with this staff is that we built it up over four years," Sandberg tells the Shore Sports Network. "If you look at us over the last four years we've been getting better every year."
Sandberg adds that it also has a lot to do with the group of seniors who graduated after last season and were taught from the time they were in middle school how the program is going to be run and what would be expected of each player.
"They set the foundation and these kids that I have coming up now have to build off of that," Sandberg said.
The underdog label is still attached to the Raiders and over the last couple of years, the team and coaching staff has embraced it like a badge of honor. It's their fuel that ignites the fire within, and the embers burn brighter with each victory.
"We still have that stigma," Sandberg said. "Over four years we've gotten better but really no one has taken notice of us until last year. Going into this season, all the doubters and the haters are going to say 'it was a one-hit wonder' but it wasn't, it was a four-year project that we worked on. We tell these kids not to take anything for granted and you have to be able to fight and go after it because they don't take you seriously still."
The Raiders are hungry ready to prove last season wasn't a fluke and that they are primed for continued success this season and for years to come.
At A Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Offense: 2-Back Pistol
QB: Nick Totten Sr. orDennis Holzapfel Sr. or Dante Carr Jr. or Eric Scanlon Jr.
RB: Yusuf Ahmed Sr., RS
RB: Gino Gallo Sr., RS; also, Mike Madera Sr.; Matt Luty Sr.; Vinny Colletti Sr.; Evan Mills Sr.; Anthony Encarnacion Jr.; Nick Medina Jr.; Kyle Roemmele Jr.
WR: Nick Costa Sr.
WR: Christian Peins Sr., Ryan Carlevale Sr., David Garcia Sr., Charlie Zulin Sr., Aiden Vosper Jr., Mekhi DeVaughn So.
OL: Colin Meakem Sr.
OL: Connor Yoskowitz Sr.
OL: Nino Scala Jr.
OL: Joe Akel, Sr.
OL: Bryan Baxter Jr. or Isaac Claudio Jr. o rNasir Evans Jr. o rSean Howlett Jr. or Thomas Pravata Jr.
DL: Connor Yoskowitz Sr.
DL: Joe Akel Sr.
DL: Bryan Baxter Jr.
DL: Isaac Claudio Jr., Nasir Evans Jr., Sean Howlett Jr., Thomas Pravata Jr.
LB: Christian Peins Sr.
LB: RS; Matt Luty Sr.
LB: Yusuh Ahmed, Sr., RS; also Vinny Colletti Sr.; Anthony Encarnacion Jr.; Nick Medina Jr.; Kyle Roemmele Jr.
DB: Nick Costa Sr.
DB: Mike Madera Sr.
DB: Nick Totten Sr.
DB: Ryan Carlevale Sr.; David Garcia Sr.; Dennis Holzapfel Sr.; Evan Mills Sr.; Charlie Zulin Sr.; Dante Carr Jr.; Eric Scanlon Jr.; Aiden Vosper Jr.; Mekhi DeVaughn So.
K: Nick Costa Sr.
P: Nick Costa Sr.
Head Coach: Kyle Sandberg, 5th season
Career Record: 14-26
Team Record Last Five Seasons:
Assistant Coaches: Joe Arminio Jr. (Special Team Coordinator/WR)l Vinnie Arminio (Defensive Coordinator/LB); Dan Cicala (QB/DB); Tony Durkin (OC/RB); Frank Giannetti (Special Teams Coordinator/DL); Andrew Bilodeau (freshmen); Peter Gudzak (freshmen); Scott Kopf (freshmen), Jake McCartney (athletic trainer).
Player to Watch: Yusuf Ahmed, Sr. RB/LB/S
Ahmed went from playing primarily on defense his sophomore year to being one of the lead running backs for Toms River East in 2019. He has speed, quickness and strength, which also helped him make it to the NJSIAA Group 3 South Sectionals in outdoor track. He also throws the javelin. Ahmed made big plays on defense last season, including six tackles against Neptune with one for a loss in a 14-13 victory for the Raiders. Then he came up big with a playoff touchdown against Middletown North last year. In his senior year, expect big things from Ahmed on both sides of the ball. He has also verbally committed to play ball at Davidson College next year.
Player Under the Radar: Gino Gallo, Sr., RB
Gallo scored the biggest touchdown of his life with a 4-yard run in the Raiders' first-round playoff game last season that helped them defeat Middletown North and move onto the semifinals. He was overlooked at times because of quarterback Mike Goodall (graduated) and players like senior Yusuf Ahmed and senior Mike Madera, but Gallo is a key part of the running game at Toms River East.
"That's another kid that people sleep on is Gino Gallo, he's top-notch, man," Sandberg said.
Impact Newcomer: Nick Medina, Jr., RB/LB
In limited action on the field last season playing both sides of the ball for the Raiders, Medina displayed some quickness and found some success. He has the ability to run through holes while carrying the ball, which helps make up for his size. On defense, Medina gets good reads and has excellent hands in securing interceptions/turnovers. If he continues to develop and bulk up, he could be a very dangerous weapon for the Raiders this season.
Top Position Group: Running Backs
Toms River East lost a trio of running backs in Frankie Giannetti, Alex Smith and Thomas Grande to graduation but Yusuf Ahmed, Gino Gallo and Mike Madera return following solid junior seasons. The Raiders' running game has been just as much a staple of their identity over the years as the mascot himself.
Big Shoes To Fill: Matt Luty, Sr., FB/MLB
Frankie Giannetti was the heart and soul of the Raiders before graduating last season, playing with a ground-and-pound attitude that helped the team go from consecutive losses to playoff adrenaline. Luty has the task of taking the baton and helping to be a leader of the defense, which will also require him to impact games with clutch plays and clutch thinking because it'll make the difference in the Raiders chasing playoff nirvana in a shortened season.
X-Factor: The seniors
The Raiders did lose a good crop of senior talent to graduation after last season but there's a talented and overlooked group who will have to be leaders on and off the field for East to find success this season. This senior group tasted losing when they first got to high school, just like the group who just left, and even in a shortened season they want to go out on top. They've got to have their best seasons individually and be an example the sophomores and juniors can follow to continue the Raiders' new winning ways.
Friday, Oct. 2 - at Jackson Liberty, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 9 - vs. Donovan Catholic, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 16 - vs. Brick, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 23 - at Brick Memorial, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 30 - vs. Toms River North, 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 6 - at Toms River South, 7 p.m.
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