Equal Opportunity: 2023 Jackson Liberty Football Preview
With multiple starters returning to form a veteran core, plus a move to the Patriot Division, Jackson Liberty is eying the program’s first winning season since 2012 and a chance to contend for the first division championship in program history.
The Lions finished 4-6 in last season’s Liberty Division under longtime head coach Jim Sharples and have a total of 15 returning starters. The four wins were the program’s most since 2015. Following the competitive balance format the Shore Conference uses to align its divisions, the Lions are now in the Patriot Division with Keansburg, Keyport, Lakewood, Manchester, and Point Beach.
Liberty’s multiple offense has seven starters back, led by three starters along the offensive line. Returning are junior Donovan Louis Jacques (6-0, 240) at left tackle, senior Brett Benecke (6-2, 240) at center, and junior Brennan Coger (6-3, 230) at right tackle. Joining the group are senior Jaydon Winslow (5-10, 210) at left guard and senior Jeff Keegan (6-3, 270) at right guard. It’s a sizeable group that should have an edge against most teams in the division.
Sophomore Mason Cicciarello (6-0, 185) saw time at quarterback as a freshman and enters the season as the Lions’ starter. Senior Joe Accordino and junior Imere Smith are the running backs and senior Will Bradley and Justin Uhteg are the starting wide receivers. Junior Corzeek Palms was a second team all-division section on defense last season and will be the team’s starting tight end.
The Lions run a 4-4 defense that is headlined by three returning starters in the secondary and along the defensive line. Bradley and Accordino return as the cornerbacks with Smith as the free safety. Sophomore James Dressler (6-3, 190) steps in as the starting strong safety.
In the trenches, Coger and Jacques return at defensive end while senior Anthony Georgiano (6-0, 255) returns at defensive tackle. Sophomore Zach Reese (5-8, 280) is the other defensive tackle.
Two linebackers are back with Palms and senior Logan Wyka as the outside linebackers. The inside linebacker is senior Bobby Baliatico.
On special teams, sophomore Jack Niechwiadowicz will handle both the kicking and punting duties.
Seeing how Liberty fares in the Patriot Division will be interesting. They are a Group 3 school along with Manchester while Lakewood is a Group 4 school, and they’ll be competing against Group 1 schools Point Beach, Keyport, and Keansburg. There is a reason these teams are in this division and that is for competitive balance. The Lions have struggled to play consistently competitive football but this season appears to present an opportunity to finally break through.
At a Glance
Head coach: Jim Sharples, 10th season
Career record: 29-65
2022 record: 4-6
Coaching Staff: Brian Ballantine Jr. (Defensive Coordinator/LB); Matt Spader (Offensive Coordinator/QB); Matt Schmidt (OL); Brian Ballantine Sr. (DL/RB); Jimmy Lopez (OLB); Bill Micciulla (Defensive Assistant); Dan Ballantine (DB); Ryan Azzolini (Freshmen Head Coach); Derek Catron (Freshmen); Chris Grande (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 6 – Friday, Oct. 6 at Manchester
The old Class B South rivals will square off in early October in a game that have a major impact on the division title race.
Player to Watch: Corzeek Palms, Jr., TE/OLB
Palms will be a two-way starter and returns after earning second team all-division honors on defense last season.
Impact Newcomer: Mason Cicciarello, So., QB/LB
Cicciarello saw time last season and will be the starting quarterback to begin the season.
Big Shoes to Fill: Joe Accordino, Sr., RB & Imere Smith, Jr., RB
Both running backs will try to replace the production of graduated senior Zack Corrado, who was a first team all-division selection last season.
Did you Know?
Jackson Liberty is the Shore’s youngest high school football program having played its first varsity season in 2007.
|Friday 9/29||Toms River South||6pm|
|Friday 10/13||@Jackson Memorial||6pm|
|Friday 10/20||Point Beach||6pm|