Earn It On the Field: 2023 Long Branch Football Preview
Last season marked the first in a new era of Long Branch football, but once the 2022 season was complete, the new iteration of the Green Wave did not look all that different from the previous one.
That is a compliment to now-second-year head coach Chad King, who took over the reins at Long Branch for longtime coach Dan George and made sure Long Branch remained one of the Shore’s most competitive outfits. The final record of 7-4, while solid, does not quite drive home how tough Long Branch was to beat. Tough losses to Middletown South and at Southern accounted for two of the regular-season defeats (the other was a one-sided loss to unbeaten juggernaut Toms River North) and after knocking off Pennsauken on the road in the first round of Central Group IV Playoffs, the run ended with a loss at Mainland.
Coming off that strong showing in year one of his tenure, King will try to guide a younger group that will have to replace a number of impact seniors while again facing a grueling schedule. Long Branch boasted one of the Shore’s top passing games in 2022 and brings back the leader of said attack in senior quarterback Earnest Reevey. Long Branch’s best chance at another big season on offense is to put the ball in Reevey’s hands, but the question will be, “In whose hands will Reevey put the ball.”
The running game will have some stability with the return of senior Zaheem Brown, who saw varsity action out of the backfield last year alongside leading rusher and 2023 graduate Sekou Kamau.
The rest of the offense will be junior-heavy, with three from the Class of 2025 slated to play as receivers in Long Branch’s spread offense. Chris Moses, Havier Gonzales and Nehemiah Lambert all ready to step up as targets for Reevey in the passing game. Quinton Fisher is a sophomore to watch at wide receiver and when Long Branch uses a tight end, fellow sophomore Miguel Maldonado is ready to step in.
The junior wave will also make its mark on the projected starting offensive line along, with senior guard Fernando Flores-Martinez lining up alongside four juniors. Center Jayden Mercado and Flores-Martinez are the lone returning starters on the line and filling in the open spots will be three more juniors: tackles Joseph Corley and Tyler Taylor and guard Carl Griffin.
There figures to be significant overlap in personnel between the Green Wave offensive and defensive units, with 10 of the 11 players on offense in line for significant snap counts on the opposite side of the ball as well. Corley and Mercado will play on the edge up front, with Flores-Martinez and fellow senior Ryan Bennett on the interior of the defensive line. Gonzales is a returning starting at the linebacker level and while he mans the inside, Lambert and Taylor will play on the outside.
Long Branch’s secondary has three new starters, but figures to be a strength of the team regardless. Reevey is back as a starter at strong safety, with Brown slated to play free safety and Moses and Fisher at the two cornerback spots.
There is also some experience in the Long Branch kicking game thanks to the return of junior Arthur DeJesus.
With an especially difficult start to what is a challenging schedule throughout the season, Long Branch’s young team will be tested early and often. With an experienced quarterback and a program track record of reloading – even at the head coach position – Long Branch is not to be doubted.
Long Branch at a Glance
Head Coach: Chad King, second season
Career Record: 7-4
2022 Record: 7-4
Coaching Staff: Ben Woolley (Off. Coordinator/OL), Greg Penta (Associate Head Coach/Off. Coordinator), Devron Clark (WR/DB), Ryan Burgess (DL), Tye Coleman (LB), Gary Beddoe (RB/Special Teams), Jayce Maxwell (Head Freshman Coach), Kevin Porch (Volunteer Assistant), Shareef Harrell (Volunteer Assistant), Kim Small (Athletic Trainer)
Circle the Calendar: Sept. 8 at Manalapan
There is no soft landing to the 2023 season for Long Branch, which opens with perennial Group V contender Piscataway, followed by showdowns with Donovan Catholic and Manalapan. If the Green Wave can pull out a win in either or both of those first two games, then the trip to Manalapan becomes a chance to get off to a winning start against a three-week gauntlet. The other possibility is that Long Branch will be trying to avoid a 0-3 start. Either way, the Green Wave are hoping that Manalapan game is a springboard into the part of the schedule that is, while still difficult, more manageable.
Player to Watch: Earnest Reevey, Sr., QB/SS
With a junior-heavy team that will boast new starters all over the place – particularly at running back and receiver – Reevey will be the steady presence who has done it before. As a junior in 2022, Reevey finished fourth in the Shore Conference with 1,624 passing yards, which came on 119-for-186 (64 percent) passing and with 15 touchdowns against six interceptions.
Big Shoes to Fill: The young receivers
One of the reasons Reevey stepped in a delivered at quarterback last season was because of all the senior playmakers the Green Wave boasted. Michael Hall, Shamar Williams and Akeel Gaines each racked up at least 20 receptions and 300 yards in the passing game – production that Long Branch’s young receiving corps will have to come close to replicating. Juniors Chris Moses, Havier Gonzales and Nehemiah Lambert are ascending into those key roles and sophomore Quinton Fisher will be an x-factor for Reevey and the offense.
X-Factor: Edge Rushers
A returning quarterback who finished among the top five in the Shore in passing with draw a lot of attention, but on the other side of the ball, the Green Wave have established talent that will have a chance to cause havoc. Corley is a returning starter at defensive end and on the opposite end of the front, Mercado brings some experience after starting on the offensive line last year.
Friday, Aug. 25 at Piscataway, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 1 at Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 8 at Manalapan, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 15 vs. Raritan, 6 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 22 at Point Boro, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 30 vs. St. John Vianney, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 13 vs. Southern, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 21 at Colts Neck, Noon
Thursday, Nov. 23 vs. Red Bank, 10:30 a.m.