Bye, George: 2021 Long Branch High School Football Preview
Dan George is not a man with a lot of free time on his hands so he hasn’t had time to think about the free time he will have once August of 2022 rolls around.
For the past 22 seasons, George has been the head football coach at Long Branch and he also doubles as the City of Long Branch beach manager and chief lifeguard, which makes for a very busy end-of-summer. This season, however, will be George’s last – a decision he made well before camp opened up and one he anticipates will be final.
“What’s great is I still love to do it,” George said. “I’m not getting out because I don’t like doing it anymore. I just knew it was time and there are some other things I would like to do. But I still love coming to practice, going through the game plan, meeting with the coaches, interacting with the kids.
“I don’t have much time to think about this being the last year with everything I have going on. At the end of the day, I put my head on the pillow and before I know it, it’s coming off the pillow.”
While George is on his way out, he is still as immersed as ever in his program and this year’s team requires plenty of effort from the coaches for two primary reasons: 1) the team is lacks experience in key spots and 2) it has the potential to succeed with steady progress.
Last year’s 1-6 record is somewhat deceiving for Long Branch, which had to play as unforgiven of a schedule as any team in the conference. The Green Wave won a down-to-the-wire opener at Middletown South, then lost six straight games to close the season. The first of the six was a 28-0 rout at the hands of Rumson-Fair Haven, followed by competitive losses to Middletown North, Mater Dei Prep, Red Bank Catholic, Old Bridge and Manasquan.
This year’s schedule, while challenging, is quite so daunting, so between the experience Long Branch does have at the skill positions and in the secondary and the recent program pedigree, the Green Wave could very well find a way to overcome the remaining inexperience and low number of players on the roster compared to past years.
“We’re lighter in numbers than we have been but we have some good kids,” George said. “We’re going to have to get through some inexperience and everything that comes with it, but we’re getting better and the good news is we don’t have the schedule we had last year. We’re still playing some good competition, but nothing is like what we had to do last year. If we can get the kids to understand that they have to be at their best every week, we should be okay.”
Long Branch at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter)
QB: Christian Rodriguez, Sr., RS
RB: Sekou Kamau, Jr., RS; Josh Vann, Sr.
WR: Jayden Farmer, Sr. RS
WR: Mike Hall, Jr., RS
WR: K.J. Thorne, Sr.; Shamar Williams, Jr.
TE: Jyshon Presley, Sr., RS
LT: Kai Coleman, Sr., RS
LG: Luke Tracey, Jr.; Israel Delgadillo, Sr.
C: Deondre McCullers, Sr., RS
RG: Anthony Santana, Sr.
RT: Kayvon Williams, Jr.; Khaleeq Ingram, So.; Brian Duncan, Jr.
DE: Jyshon Presley, Sr., RS
DT: Anthony Santana, Sr.; Khaleeq Ingram, So.
DT: Israel Delgadillo, Sr.
DE: Luke Tracey; Josh Duvall, Jr.
LB: Josh Vann, Sr.; Hassan Bryant, Sr.
LB: Deondre McCullers, Sr., RS
CB: Earnest Reevey, So.
CB: Jayden Farmer, Sr., RS
SS: Shamar Williams, Jr.
S: Sekou Kamau, Jr., RS
S: Christian Rodriguez, Jr. RS
K: Christian Rodriguez, Sr.
P: Christian Rodriguez, Sr.
Head Coach: Dan George, 23rd season
Career Record: 159-60
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Chad King (Def. Coordinator/DB), Ben Woolley (Off. Coordinator/OL), Greg Penta (Off. Coordinator/QB), Sean Brown (LB), Ryan Burgess (DL), Terrence King (RB), Kris Parker (WR), Jamill Pitts (Freshman), Devron Clark (Freshman), Kim Smalls (Athletic Trainer)
Players to Watch: Jayden Farmer, Sr., WR/CB and Jyshon Presley, Sr., TE/DE
Farmer is an established player in both the passing game, both as a target on offense and a lock-down cornerback on the defensive side. Presley is another player who can make an impact on either side of the passing game – as a tight end on offense and rushing the passer as a defensive end.
“Jayden has been a starter and will be a guy we can go to in the passing game,” George said. “On defense, Jyshon and Deondre (McCullers) are going to be our guys. Jyshon is a good athlete, he works hard and he is a guy who can make a difference on both sides doing a lot of different things.”
Player Under the Radar: Deondre McCullers, Sr., C/LB
McCullers is a rock at two positions that require stability: center and inside linebacker. Long Branch plays with only two linebackers and McCullers will be the more experienced of the two spots, with senior Josh Vann and senior Hassan Bryant the frontrunners for the other linebacker spot. Offensively, he will be one of two returning starters on the offensive line.
“Having a center back is huge, plus he’s a middle linebacker so that’s two really crucial positions that don’t always get talked about,” George said. “Having that experience on the line is going to help because we are replacing three starters.”
Impact Newcomer: Khaleeq Ingram, So., OT/DT
Ingram may or may not open as a starter on the offensive or defensive lines, but at an agile 6-foot-6, 330 pounds, he has the look of a player will make a major difference in the program before long. Senior Kai Coleman is back at left tackle, Tracey and Anthony Santana return with some playing experience and junior Kayvon Williams has made a strong case to start at right tackle, but the competition has helped improve the line quickly and Ingram forcing the coaching staff to play him could end up being a positive in both the short-term and long-term.
Top Position Group: Playmakers
With second-year starter Christian Rodriguez running the show at quarterback, second-year back Sekou Kamau now the feature back and Farmer leading a talented receiver group that also has Presley at tight end, Long Branch has the makings of an offense that can put up points. Kamau took his lumps as a sophomore and Mike Hall, K.J. Horne and Shamar Williams are stepping into bigger roles, but all have the upside to make an impact over the course of the season.
“We still have guys who are capable of making plays,” George said. “We’re going to have to go through some growing pains that come with inexperience but I like the guys we have on offense who are going to be getting the ball.”
Big Shoes to Fill: Mike Hall, Sr., WR
BaSean Fraser was a big-play receiver that defenses had to account for and to some extent, it will be Farmer’s responsibility to turn into a threat that resembles that profile. More importantly, though, Long Branch needs multiple options and as a senior who played a healthy number of snaps in 2020, Hall will be a prime candidate to step up as an option for Rodriguez.
X-Factor: Quarterback Experience
Rodriguez faced some of the top defenses in the Shore Conference last year, which was his first as a starter. It was trial by fire, but it should have him more than ready for the challenge of 2021, in which there will be some new targets in the passing game, some new linemen blocking for him, but enough back around him to make a difference against a more forgiving schedule.
“You always love when you have a quarterback returning,” George said. “They come back and they just know how to see the field better and they have more of a leadership mentality and I think both of those apply to Christian. He is seeing things better this year and he has been a leader for the rest of the guys.”
Friday, Sept. 10 vs. St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 18 at Freehold Boro, noon
Friday, Sept. 24 vs. Jackson Memorial 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 2 vs. Toms River East, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 8 at Toms River South, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15 at Ocean, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 25 vs. Red Bank, 10:30 a.m.