Running out of options to create the type of scoring and offensive rhythm desired, Jackson Liberty has taken to one that might catch a few opponents by surprise, fittingly a vital element to its scheme. 

The Lions have scrapped their pro-style look in favor of the triple option, a move designed to inject some juice, spring runners loose and spin the scoreboard a bit more frequently. 

“There was a lack of production,” Jackson Liberty coach Jim Sharples said in regards to the change, one meant to dramatically increase the 9.1 points per game the Lions averaged a year ago when they went 3-7. “It wasn’t a bad offense. We just weren’t getting it done. We have a new offensive coordinator (Dan Gorzynski, who comes in from South Brunswick) and he’s a kid’s coach. He brings a lot of energy. He’s out there chest bumping kids and they are buying in.”

Chest bumping could lead to some chests pumped a bit more proudly. Not only is the offense new, the guy who will run it is also a fresh face, at least in terms of the quarterback position. Senior Jake Bosco, a slot receiver and sticky defensive back last fall, steps into the pistol, determined to instill a positive vibe to balance a grinding defense that stamped those three wins last fall by recording a shutout in each. 

From left to right: Jimmy Celentano, Jake Bosco, Garret Blasi and Logan Gribin of Jackson Liberty (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Player to Watch: Jake Bosco (Sr. QB 5-7, 160)

At first glance, the Lions appear to have the right guy in place to make the triple option tick. Bosco has a low center of gravity, elusive moves and the art of deception pivotal to the offense down pat. The 5-7, 160-pound senior bounces off initial contact and conceals the football on the backfield exchange to sell misdirection essential to putting a defense in a pure guessing mode. 

Bosco is an athlete with starting experience, having played receiver and defensive back in the past. His in-game experience, composure and slick moves should invigorate the offense. 

But, don’t forget his contributions on defense. Bosco is a wiley safety who makes smart reads and quick plays in the secondary. 

Player to Watch, Part II: Jimmy Celentano (Sr. RB)

His reliable, pounding style is perfectly suited to gradually wear out a defennse with the threat of a long burst unfolding on any touch. At full strength, Celentano (6-1, 210) is a priceless asset ready to give the option a significant jolt.

“Jimmy is coming back from a bad ankle,” said Sharples. “I know he’s personally thinks he has a lot to prove, but he is already a great player for us.” 

Player to Watch, Part III: Jaden Lowe (Sr. LB )

A defense that limited teams to a respectable 15.8 points a contest and has six returning starters in place gets some added muscle in the form of Lowe, an accomplished wrestler whose balance and willingness to engage contact will be a welcomed addition. 

“He’s a big, 220-pound guy who gets after people,” said Sharples. “We’re excited about him. He’s physical and strong. He might play a little A-back in the triple for us as well.”

Opposing linebackers beware. This is not exactly the guy you want to see leading the way through a hole.

Players Under the Radar: Logan Gribin (Sr. LG/DT) and Garret Blasi (Sr. RG/DT)

Gribin (6-0, 280) and Blasi (5-11, 265) are two of the four senior captains entrusted to set the terms for the Lions. Both embody the kind of tireless work ethic Sharples wants to become contagious staple throughout his cast. Their work on the interior of the offensive line is expected to graded some enticing running lanes teamed with a deep rotation that included tackles Massimo Bottino, Jon Recio, Sal Galina and Sal Pierro as well as centers Matt White and Jack Duke.

Blasi and Gribin will join forces with Galina and fellow senior Mike Schone at the front of a 4-3 defense which is anticipated to be rather stout.  

Area of Strength: Defense

Sharples likes what he’s seen in the pre-season from a unified bunch that gets multiple hats to the ball and concedes very little for its effort. Junior outside linebackers Gian Labassi and Jon Recio will flank Celentano at the Mike with Lowe another force to be reckoned with. 

Seniors Davon Wabst and Cam Jones will make locking down the corners a priority with junior Javon Vilus and sophomore Aven Sanders adding quality depth. Bosco will pull double duty as the free safety and senior Jimmy Harley lurks at quality strong safety. 

“I like short-yardage and goal-line situations against our defense,” noted Sharples. “We stop the run pretty well. There is an understanding that has started to come with the defense and they are getting results”. 

Jackson Liberty will be successful if…:

It can run the option effectively from the outset of the season. The offense is intricate, predicated on adequately disguising ball carriers, timing and synchronization from all 11 parts. 

Only a few years ago as a member of the B South, Liberty unfortunately got to see what the triple-option looks like when run at its maximum efficiency courtesy of Point Pleasant Boro. Now, the Lions would like nothing more to get a taste of the possible success that can reaped from it when operated properly.

“We have to pick up this new offense and play good inside the tackle box,” Sharples said.”

Bragging Rights

After 10 painful years of bowing to crosstown rival Jackson Memorial in their annual showdown, the Lions ended the prolonged skid, stunning the Jaguars, 14-0, last season to pocket their first win in the grudge-match series. Liberty will have the unique perspective of being the hunted when the two collide on Oct. 11. 

Kicking legacy

Sophomore Cooper Yorke has drawn attention in pre-season camp. A diverse game could land him playing time on both sides of the ball, responsibilities to join his primary role as the kicker. He follows in the footsteps of his brother Braden, who booted a number of game-winning field goals in 2015 and Cooper has the makings of being equally clutch.  

Passing Lane

One of the subtle advantages to the option is how it subconciously lures defenders inside in anticipation of stopping the run. In turn, Liberty could find the occasional deep ball a worthy element of surprise. Senior wide receivers Cam Jones and Davon Wabst are a pair of downfield threats not to be slept on.

AT A GLANCE

COACHING STAFF

HEAD COACH: Jim Sharples, 7th season 

CAREER RECORD: 20-40

ASSISTANT COACHES:

Jeff Schmidt (Def. Coordinator/LB)

Dan Gorzynski (Off. Coordinator/QB)

Matt Schmidt (OL)

Gerard O’Donnell (DB)

Jimmy Lopez (DL)

Matt Spader (WR)

Steve Santos (Freshmen)

Matt Fergusen (Freshmen)

Chris Grande (Athletic Trainer)

2018 RECORD: 3-7 (1-4 in Patriot Division)

OFFENSE: Pistol Option

DEFENSE: 4-3

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jake Bosco (Sr. QB)

Bosco is no stranger when it comes to starting for the Lions. Where there is a sense of unfamiliarity rests with his new position. He embarks on his first season at quarterback and it won’t be easy. Bosco has to digest the nuances of a new offense installed but his athleticism, poise and elusiveness should make the transition a smooth ride.  

X-FACTOR: Operating new offense

Jackson Liberty has installed the triple option under new offensive coordinator Dan Gorzynski, who comes in from South Brunswick, one of the premier football powerhouses in the Greater Middlesex Conference. The switch has stirred excitement around the Lions.

IMPACT NEWCOMERS: Jaden Lowe (Sr. LB)

Lowe returns to the gridiron at Jackson Liberty after spending his freshman and sophomore years at St. John Vianney and not playing as a junior. An accomplished wrestler, Lowe will be a pleasant addition at the linebacker spot. 

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 13 vs. Central

The Lions haven’t won a season opener since topping Wall, 21-6, in 2012. To say they’re anxious to break that trend would be an understatement and they get the opportunity to do so against  the Golden Eagles at home. 

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