Catching Up: 2020 Neptune Football Preview
The COVID-19 pandemic affected every team in the summer and continues to impact the preparation of teams for week one of the season. No team, however, was hit as hard as Neptune, which was the lone team in the Shore Conference to not conduct summer workouts in either July or August.
Neptune’s first football activity was in mid-September when teams returned to the field for heat acclimatization and the first official day of practice on Sept. 14. New head coach Shane Fallon has had limited time to get to know his new team and has added to the built-in challenges that come with the season – which includes starting the season with home games against Jackson Memorial and Wall.
“We understand we can’t waste a day because we came in so far behind and have had to play catch-up,” Fallon said. “We are using our time wisely. At this stage, we have really had to just worry about ourselves and focus on the things that we do well and the things we need to do to get better.”
The bright side for Neptune is that it is advanced at the quarterback position and has enough weapons to form a high-scoring offense once Fallon and his staff are able to unleash the full offense. If the Fliers can tread water during the first two weeks, they have the offensive wherewithal to make some late-season noise.
“There is a of senior leadership on this team and we have a lot of kids who saw time over the past two years, so that should work in our favor,” Fallon said.
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter)
QB: Nino Bua, Sr. RS
RB: Junior Haughton, Sr. RS; Xavier Chisolm, Sr.
WR: Zahnier Hornsby-Carter, Sr. RS
WR: Mateo Andrews, So.
WR: Isaiah Kelly, Sr.
TE: Kevin Huff, Sr.
LT: Isaias Thomas-Palafox, Sr. RS
LG: Anthony Banks, So.
C: Tyler Persico, Jr.
RG: Ah’mere Booze, Jr.
RT: Zaire Stewart, Sr. RS
DE: De’Ondre Banks, So. RS
DT: Ah’Mere Booze, Jr. RS
DE: Zaire Stewart, Sr. RS
OLB: Jaquan Smith, So.
ILB: Junior Haughton, Sr. RS
ILB: Ra’Sun Banks, Jr. RS
ILB: Kayvon Banks, Sr.
OLB: Isaiah Leeks, Sr. RS
S: Rakai Nedab, Sr. RS
CB: Zahnier Hornsby-Carter, Sr. RS
CB: Kelly Beubrun, Sr. RS
K: Thomas Lowe, Sr.
P: Raymond Rogers, Sr.
At a Glance
Head Coach: Shane Fallon, first season (16th overall)
Career Record: 106-51
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Justin Cella (Off. Coordinator/QB/Special Teams), Noel Kavanagh (Def. Coordinator/WR/OLB), Netanis Bean (RB/LB), Shane Bigelow (OL/DL), Jay Clark (RB/LB), Kevin Frederick (WR/DB), Frank Iachetta (OL/DL), Myson Lydett (RB/DB), Bill Pietsch (OL/DL/Special Teams), Brandon Settles (OL/DL), Jaheem Woods (QB/DB), Amanda Kelly (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Nino Bua, Sr., QB
Bua is a third-year starting quarterback and for the first time in his Neptune career, he will enter the season as the clear-cut starting quarterback and without another quarterback taking snaps. In each of the past two seasons, Bua proved his worth as the starter and now a senior, the 5-10 signal-caller will put his wide range of skills on display for the Fliers.
“Nino is a highly intelligent player who can throw the ball to any spot on the field and at the same time, he can tuck it and run when he feels the pressure,” Fallon said. “He is a pain in the neck for opposing teams to prepare for because he is savvy enough to feel pressure and adjust. He has fantastic arm strength and some talented receivers to throw to so we think he has a chance to be an All-Shore caliber quarterback.”
Player Under the Radar: Zahnier Hornsby-Carter, Sr., WR/CB
Receiver will be a position of strength for Neptune and Hornsby-Carter is a senior with whom Bua already has a good rapport. In addition to being the No. 1 receiver, Hornsby-Carter will man one of the starting cornerback positions, making him the lone two-way starter among both the wide receivers and corners.
Impact Newcomer: Jaquan Smith, So., OLB
One of four projected sophomore starters, Smith is part of an athletic, versatile set of linebackers and will pair with Isaiah Leeks as outside linebackers who can handle a wide array of responsibilities on the defensive side. He is part of an intriguing group of linebackers that includes seniors Junior Haughton and Kayvon Banks and 6-3, 275-pound junior Ra’Sun Banks on the inside. Smith can also play running back, although Neptune’s depth at the position means Smith is likely to focus on defense this year and join the running back competition next year.
Top Position Group: Running Backs
Neptune will have plenty of speed and depth at wide receiver and with Bua at quarterback, the Scarlet Fliers have two positional groups that should form a dangerous passing game. The running back group, however, features three starting-caliber players, led by returning starter Junior Haughton and a player in Isaiah Leeks who earned starter carries two years ago as a sophomore. Add in senior Xavier Chisolm, who missed most of last year due to injury and is bidding for a significant share this season, and Neptune will have a chance to give opponents fresh looks out of the backfield.
“Junior Haughton is an outstanding leader as a senior and has plenty of experience at the position,” Fallon said. “Isaiah Leeks has been a starter and Chisolm got injured early last year and he has looked good running the ball so far.”
Big Shoes to Fill: Rekai Nedab, Sr., S
Jalin Butler was only a sophomore last season but showed an advanced ability to make plays at quarterback and lead a secondary at safety, so replacing the Donovan Catholic transfer is not a small task. Fortunately for the Scarlet Fliers, they will have an all-senior secondary with Nedab at safety and Hornsby-Carter and Kelly Beubrun playing corner back. Nedab will be the lone safety in the 3-5 scheme so the senior is taking on a big assignment.
X-Factor: Offensive Line
Neptune has the quarterback, it has a stable of running backs and an army of wide receivers for Bua to throw to. The question will be whether or not Bua will have the time to make the throws and the running backs consistently have the lanes to move the chains. The two tackles – Isaias Thomas-Palafox and Zaire Stewart – are the two returning starters among the group and junior Ah’mere Booze has made a good first impression as the projected right guard.
“The guys on the line are doing a good job learning and gelling and if they can just be solid, we have the talent to be a dynamic offense,” Fallon said.
Friday, Oct. 2 vs. Jackson Memorial, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 9 vs. Wall, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 16 vs. Jackson Liberty, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 at Manasquan, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 30 at Point Boro, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 7 vs. Asbury Park, 10 a.m.