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Some teams always find a way to be in the hunt for championships, a credit to the foundation of their program that, in many instances, has been in place for several years and is a proud identity known to first-year youth players all the way through to standout high school seniors. Jackson Memorial football is one of those programs.

The Jaguars own five NJSIAA sectional championships, all of which have come since 2000 with the latest being secured in 2015. Since the Jaguars’ burst onto the statewide scene with the now-legendary back-to-back 12-0 teams of 2000 and 2001, they’ve also won seven division titles, including a co-division title in the Constitution Division last season. They reached the state sectional semifinals last fall and held a halftime lead on eventual Group 4 champion Millville.

With a total of 14 players returning who started at least one game on the defensive side of the ball, plus a host of returning starters on offense, the Jaguars’ expectations are to continue to contend for division and sectional titles and push deeper into the Group 4 state playoffs.

We’ll start on defense where 11 starters/significant reserves are back from a physical unit that recorded two shutouts and finished ninth in the Shore allowing 15.3 points per game last year. Three of those players – senior linebacker Brandon Bigelow and senior defensive backs Albert D’Alessandro and Jaiden Hernandez – were first team all-division selections while D’Alessandro was a Second Team All-Shore selection and Hernandez was a Third Team All-Shore pick.

The Jaguars’ defensive line in their 4-3 alignment includes seniors Samir Lee (6-3, 220) and Shaun Hubbard (6-0, 210) at end and senior Zach Elfashny (6-0, 245) and junior Ishmal Thompson (6-3, 240) at tackle. Hubbard will be a three-year starter and had six stops behind the line last season while Lee recorded seven tackles for loss.

Bigelow, a three-year starter, was sixth in the Shore with 132 tackles last season and added six tackles for loss. He is the middle linebacker with senior Ethan Kalinauskas (57 tackles, 7 TFL) and sophomore Jacob Zapata as the outside linebackers. Providing depth are senior Billy Howell at inside linebacker and junior Marques Simmelkjaer at outside linebacker.

Jackson’s secondary is led by D’Alessandro at free safety and Hernandez at strong safety. D’Alessandro made 92 tackles and was fourth in the Shore with five interceptions a season ago and Hernandez posted 88 tackles. Seniors Ryan Jagodzinski and Frank Castellano are the cornerbacks.

Jackson’s multiple-I offense returns seven starters but has to replace the production of graduated quarterback Tai Mann, who was a First Team All-Shore selection last season. His dual-threat abilities keyed the Jags’ offense, so it will be interesting to see how the offense changes with a new quarterback while staying true to its I-formation roots. It has been a quarterback competition throughout the offseason between senior Joe Zundritch (5-10, 170), junior Dennis Caswell (6-3, 205, Jackson Liberty transfer), and sophomore Eli Coffman (6-0, 170). We’ll find out who the starter is when the Jaguars take the field vs. Manalapan on Thursday, Aug. 31.

Quarterback isn’t the only position that needs to be filled in the backfield. Aidan Sweeney graduated after serving as Jackson’s primary running back and the Jaguars will look to sophomore Jonah Glenn (5-11, 180) along with Jagodzinski plus Bigelow at fullback where he is a returning starter.

The strength of Jackson’s offense right now is with its wide receivers, tight end, and offensive line. D’Alessandro, Hernandez, and Costello are all returning starters at wide receiver and will be joined by junior Eric Zebrowski, who transferred in from Donovan Catholic. D’Alessandro was also one of the Shore’s top wideouts last season and hauled in 31 receptions for 502 yards and for touchdowns. Hubbard is at tight end after earning a second team all-division selection last season, while Kalinauskas is the second tight end.

Two starters return up front, led by the left side of junior tackle Harold Mee (6-2, 225) and senior guard Austin Comire (6-1, 240). Sophomore Ryan Nalawejko (5-10, 210) is the center, senior Sean Green (5-11, 235) is the right guard, and sophomore Vinny Lopiccolo (6-2, 210) is the right tackle.

On special teams, sophomore Joe Muzzilo will handle both the kicking and punting duties. D’Alessandro is a dangerous returner on punts and kickoffs.

Jackson is in a new division this season, moving from the Constitution to the Freedom, but two of its division opponents remain the same. Last season the Jaguars competed against Colts Neck, Marlboro, Freehold Township, Howell, and Freehold. This season’s Freedom Division has Jackson along with Howell and Marlboro and welcoming Lacey, Middletown North, and Southern. The Jaguars can be considered the favorite but it looks to be an even division with Marlboro and Middletown North both coming off playoff seasons and Howell entering with multiple returning starters at key positions off a 5-5 year.


At a Glance

Head coach: Vin Mistretta, 7th season

Career record: 34-25

2022 record: 7-3

Offense: Multiple-I

Defense: 4-3

Coaching Staff: Keith Anderson (Offensive Coordinator/OL); Arnell Cozart (Defensive Coordinator); Chris Rash (DL); Tom Daly (LB); Khani Glover (DB); Mike McCarthy (DL); Nick D’Amore (DL); Corey Sullivan (OL); Kole Kalinauskas (TE); Sean Thornton (RB); Mike Gawlik (RB); Matt Castronuova (WR); Sal Giglio (WR); Nicole Figaro (Athletic Trainer).


Circle the Date: Week 3 – Friday, Sept. 15 at Middletown North

The Lions opened the season with a 45-21 victory over Freehold Township and look to be an early contender for the division title. Jackson will have two games under its belt by then while the Lions will also have faced some tough competition leading into a contest that could very well be the one that decides the Freedom Division championship.


Player to Watch: Albert D’Alessandro, SR., WR/DB/KR/PR

D’Alessandro is a true three-phase weapon with his work at wide receiver, free safety, and on kick and punt returns. He’s a player who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.


Impact Newcomer: Jacob Zapata, So., LB/FB

Zapata saw some time last season as a freshman and will now step into a starting role as one of the team’s outside linebackers.


Big Shoes to Fill: The backfield

Last season’s duo of quarterback Tai Mann and running back Aidan Sweeney were focal points of the offense and senior leaders. Sophomore Jonah Glenn will try to join the long list of standout Jaguar running backs to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark while the open quarterback competition between senior Joe Zundritch, junior Dennis Caswell, and sophomore Eli Coffman will determine who is under center in Week 1.



Thursday 8/31Manalapan6:30pm
Friday 9/8@Lacey6:30pm
Friday 9/15@Middletown North7pm
Friday 9/22Howell6:30pm
Friday 9/29@Brick6pm
Saturday 10/7@Marlboro12pm
Friday 10/13Jackson Liberty6pm
Friday 10/20Southern6:30pm



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