Continued Ascent: 2019 Keansburg Football Preview
KEANSBURG TITANS - CONTINUED ASCENT
Two points. Two measly power points – one in each of the last two years - are all that separated Keansburg from qualifying for the post season. Heartbreaking? You bet, but also telling, signs of an ascent to respectability.
The Titans have earned that, especially among their peers. Over the past two campaigns, they’ve gone 6-2 against Group 1 competition, bowing only to South River in 2017 and rival Keyport a year later. Yet, the 'Burg came up painfully shy in bids to test its mettle under playoff circumstances. The climate has taken a notable uptick during John Bird’s reign, a combined 9-10 overall record for the last two seasons on the heels of a nine-year aggregate of 18-61-1, and it’s one he’s not planning on coming back down to earth any time soon.
“The culture has completely changed,” said Bird, about to embark on his fifth season as head coach. “There’s a great, positive atmosphere around the program. I’m hoping between this year and next, it becomes a winning program. We talk about the town being one square mile. There is an intimacy to that. These kids have known each other for a long time, they want to be around each other and play for each other.”
A hint of mystery surrounds Keansburg. The Titans have a small nucleus of proven commodities familiar with what is demanded and their leadership will be put to the test considering the assortment of newcomers eager to get acclimated and involved. Exemplary work ethics will be a point of emphasis as Keansburg aims to surpass the .500 mark for the first time since going 10-2 in 2007. With only one returning starter on offense and two on the defensive side, competition for positions is virtually wide open, which should invigorate those challenging for meaty roles with a hearty zest and the incentive that could yield a fortuitous autumn for the Titans.
Player to Watch: Wyatt Riecks (Sr. OLB 6-1, 185)
Those new to the Titans would be wise to pay close attention to how Riecks conducts business. He explodes off the edge with an undeniable scent for the ball carrier. His engine in pursuit is ceaseless and the impact he delivers on contact is capable of jarring the ball loose at any time. This dude only knows one speed and plays on acute instincts, among the many reasons why he is drawing college interest. Opposing quarterbacks would be wise to know his whereabouts on every snap, otherwise he’ll be happy to alert them once he blitzes from the outside. He falls back into pass coverage without a glitch and gets off blocks to wrap at the line of scrimmage.
“He gets it,” praised Keansburg coach John Bird. “He’s such a good defense player that, because of what he can do, it allows other to do less.”
Player Under the Radar: Nasir Williams (Sr. WR 6-0, 170)
Williams has bided his time in the receiving corps, a secondary option a year ago now primed to assume the lead and stretch a defense in regards to pursuits downfield.
“His numbers haven’t been gaudy,” Bird confirmed, quickly adding, “But he has turned into something special.”
His game-breaking potential seems to lead Bird in the direction of stationing Williams back on kick and punt returns and could also be tapped in the secondary. He might not be the first guy opposing coaches will key on during game week preparations, but that could change in a hurry.
Top Unit: Offensive Line
Arguably the greatest strength for Keansburg will reside in the trenches. The offensive line is sizable by Group 1 standards. Anchoring the group is 5-11, 200-pound junior center Waylon Manoes, who most likely will be flanked by 5-11, 250-pound junior Tino Valverde and 6-0, 290-pound sophomore Keyshaun Coppinger-Ward at the guard posts. A pair of transfers, 6-2, 310-pound sophomore Ajaron Hodges and 6-3, 275-pound junior Gabe Braithwaite will man the tackles, giving the Titans a beefy crew up front anxious to dominate the point the contact, open gaping holes for the running attack and create a comfortable pocket to utilize efficiently.
Keansburg will be successful if…
The wealth of unproven candidates embraces the varsity experience and grasps the nuances of the system quickly. The Titans are lean on tested asset. Nonetheless, Bird likes what he’s seen during the off season from the incoming newbies. There are playmakers at the skill positions and physical, blue-collar participants throughout the defense. Rest assured, they will all be inspired to continue to push the program upward.
Iron Sharpens Iron
Considering the size and physicality of the offensive line, their counterparts will be reaping the benefits during daily workouts leading into the season. Justin Hicks, a 6-1, 215-pound senior defensive end, 5-10, 275-pound senior nose Jorge Ramos and sophomore Mike Morro, a 6-1, 180-pounder set at the defensive end, have been clashing and engaging size throughout the pre-season and can expect plenty of company with a number of the offensive linemen pulling two-way duty to increase the depth. Furthermore, they will work under the tutelage of defensive line coach Jason Wombough, who has a proven track record of grooming studs at the position, something he accomplished regularly during his previous stint at St. John Vianney.
Air Traffic Control
Those who are interested in trying their luck downfield should accept this as fair warning: Keansburg houses some playmakers lurking in the defensive secondary. Patrick Beltran is not only most likely to be the feature back on offense, but the 5-10, 160-pound junior will be at strong safety, working alongside senior free safety Jacob Quigley (5-10, 165). Senior Ian Phillips (5-9, 165), Mikal Braithwaite and Nasir Williams headline the corners and each has the type of speed and savvy to bait a throw, jump a route and take an interception the other way, all within the blink of an eye.
So Nice, They’ll Play ‘Em Twice
Some of the smaller schools in the Shore found filling out their schedules a tough task. Thus, Keansburg will engage in a home-and-away series with National Division foes Point Beach and Keyport. This situation could bode well for the Titans, who defeated the Beach, 32-0, and bowed to Keyport, 20-18, last fall. Let's be honest, the chance for Keansburg and neighboring rival Keyport to butt heads twice in a season isn’t a bad thing. The atmosphere when the two collide is always heightened and creates intense theatre.
The numbers are robust by Keansburg’s standards with nearly 50 players competing for varsity time. There’s not only depth in areas but pools of untapped talent set to be utilized. While running the football might be a priority for the offense with junior Patrick Beltran leading the ground movement, neither Louis Chalmers nor Mikal Braithwaite are to be slept on as they compete at quarterback. Whoever secures the role will have ample options to seek through the skies. Nasir Williams, juniors Connor Graf (5-7, 155), Jesse Berecsky (5-11, 165) and Brendan Flanzbaum will be in the mix to get on the other end of a throw.
The kicking game has haunted Keansburg from time to time. It looks like it will entrust promising freshman Joe Sautner to reverse that trend.
AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: John Bird, 5th season
CAREER RECORD: 12-27
Jim Reid (Off. Coordinator, QB)
Ryan Burgess (OL)
Jason Wombough (DL)
Nic Vloyanetes (WR)
Nick Varanelli (LB)
Uriel Morfin (RB)
Brian Kmak (Volunteer)
Kelli Hudson (Athletic Trainer)
2018 RECORD: 4-5 (3-3 in National Division)
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Louis Chalmers (Jr. QB) or Mikal Braithwaite (So. QB)
Keansburg has enjoyed stability under center for the last four seasons, first with Danny Vital and last fall under the guidance of Liam Riecks. Either Chalmers or Braithwaite aims to follow suit in his first campaign, playing the role in a more traditional style. No matter who emerges from the challenge to secure the role, He’ll have to balance the running game with air strikes off play action.
X-FACTOR: Nasir Williams (Sr. WR)
Williams in creating quite a buzz around town with his combination of size (6-0, 170), speed and dependability. He sharpened the edges during off-season 7-on-7 events and bloomed into a special asset for the passing game.
IMPACT NEWCOMERS: Mikal (So. QB/DB) and Gabe Braithwaite (Jr. OL/DL)
The Braithwaite brothers plan to make significant impacts within their respective units. Mikal, a transfer from Monmouth Regional, will bolster an already-stocked secondary, manning one of the corners, while Gabe, who arrives at the ‘Burg from Asbury Park, will cast an imposing 6-3, 275-pound shadow at right tackle. Expect both to make immediate impacts.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 21 vs. Keyport
This is a lively border war between neighboring towns with a healthy respect that fuels a fiery rivalry and generates passion as well as great theatre. A year ago, Keyport pinned the Titans with a bitter 20-18 loss in Week 5, so revenge will definitely be in play. But here’s the best part…the two sides will square off again on Nov. 2 at Keyport, a caveat that comes with only four Group 1 schools in the Shore Conference.