Face of the Franchise – Freehold Boro football
When a Shore Conference football program is mentioned there are certain people that always come to mind. For some, it’s unanimous no matter what era you are from. For others, it’s a fun debate comparing all-time greats from different eras whether they roamed the sidelines as coaches or broke records between the lines.
That got us at the Shore Sports Network wondering: when you think of Shore Conference football, who are the most prominent figures in each program’s history? And if there was a mountain nearby and we knew a sculptor, whose faces should be carved on its side to be forever honored?
With that in mind, we came up with a football feature that will run throughout this summer, and it’s called Face of the Franchise.
We reached out to all 43 football programs in the Shore Conference and in conjunction came up with five to six nominees for each school. The five names and their accomplishments will be listed and fans will have a chance to cast their votes to select who they feel is the Face of the Franchise for each program. Our SSN football crew of Bob Badders, Kevin Williams, Ed Sarluca and Matt Harmon will also put their heads together to make a selection. The polls will run for one week each.
At the end of the summer when the Face of the Franchise has been determined for all 43 programs, we’ll run one final poll to see who the fans think should go on top of the mountain; five legends to represent the history of Shore Conference football.
Joe “The Jet” Henderson
With a nickname like “The Jet”, it’s no secret that Henderson’s calling card was speed and quickness, and he used those traits to carve out a spectacular career for the Colonials.
Starring for Freehold in 1984 and 1985, Henderson ran for 3,257 yards and scored 54 touchdowns during his two-year varsity career, including a sensational senior season. In 1985, Henderson ran for 1,867 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead Freehold to the Central Jersey Group 2 championship game. He also set a then-Shore Conference single-game rushing record with a 332-yard game against Shore Regional. As a junior, he was New Jersey’s leading scorer and rushed for over 1,400 yards. Freehold was 7-2 in 1984 and 10-1 with the Class C South division title in 1985.
Henderson also set the rushing record for the All-Shore Gridiron Classic when he ran for 161 yards in the 1986 summer classic. The record held firm for 31 years until it was finally eclipsed in 2017.
Henderson was a two-time All-Monmouth County selection and as a senior was a first-team All-Shore selection and a first-team All-State pick. Following high school, he continued his career at Clemson University where he ran for 1,752 yards and 16 touchdowns, including leading the Tigers in rushing as a senior in 1989. Clemson went 10-2 in each of Henderson’s three seasons with three Atlantic Coast Conference championships and three bowl game victories.
Henderson signed a free-agent contract with the Denver Broncos but a career in the NFL never materialized.
A two-way force in the trenches who opened up running lanes for Joe “The Jet” Henderson and harassed opposing offenses, Conover was a linchpin of the first Freehold team to reach an NJSIAA sectional championship game.
A 1986 graduate, Conover was a first-team All-Shore and third-team All-State selection as a senior in 1985 when he helped lead the Colonials to a 10-1 record, the Class C South division title and a trip to the Central Jersey Group 2 title game. His blocking helped Henderson rush for over 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns and on defense, he recorded 73 tackles and six sacks. Conover was also a Lombardi Award winner and played in the 1986 All-Shore Gridiron Classic.
Conover was recruited to Purdue University as a defensive end but was moved to right tackle where he earned third-team All-Big 10 recognition as a senior. The Detroit Lions selected Conover in the fifth round of the 1991 NFL Draft and he enjoyed a six-year NFL career with the Lions. He blocked for Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders in six of Sanders’ 10 years.
Following his playing career, Conover authored the book “Can I Play Too” in 1998, which chronicles a young boy who wears orthopedic braces and wants to play with other children and is hurt when they reject him. The lessons learned stay with the boy as he outgrows the need for braces and becomes a skilled athlete. The book reflects on some aspects of Conover’s own life as he too wore orthopedic braces for several years as a child.
Conover is currently a Peer Pride Captain for the Detroit Lions, which is an alumni outreach program.
Reid was a ferocious sideline-to-sideline linebacker for Freehold who helped transform the Colonials from winless in 1998 to Class C South division champions in 1999.
Despite breaking his hand in the season-opener and missing three games, Reid returned to have a dominant senior year, which included a memorable shutout over a previously-undefeated Keyport team that had the Shore’s No. 1 offense. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder was a first-team All-Shore and first-team All-State selection in 1999.
Reid played collegiately at the University of Minnesota where he was a four-year starter. After redshirting his freshman year, Reid was switched to defensive tackle in 2001. He was among the smallest interior linemen in the Big Ten at just 235 pounds but had an impressive year and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshmen team. He led the Gophers in sacks and tackles as both a junior and senior, finishing his college career with 157 tackles, 16 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries and 6 pass deflections.
Reid was undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft but signed a free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Reid played four seasons with the Colts and was an important special teams player and a rotational defensive lineman. In 2006, the Colts went 12-4 and made their first Super Bowl appearance since winning Super Bowl V in the 1970 seasons when they played in Baltimore. The Colts prevailed over the Chicago Bears with a 29-17 victory and Reid became a Super Bowl champion.
Reid finished his NFL career with the Denver Broncos in 2009, recording a career-high four sacks. He concluded his NFL tenure with 93 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries in 71 games played.
Ciccotelli coached alongside his brother, Mike, at Keyport, was the offensive coordinator on Middletown South’s 12-0 team in 2001 and was the head coach at Rahway for two seasons. Prior to the 2004 season, Freehold hired him as its new head coach, ushering in an unprecedented era of success for the Colonials.
Freehold struggled through three straight losing seasons in Ciccotelli’s first three years, but the foundation was being built. In 2007, the Colonials went 7-3 and captured the Federal Division championship, unseating Middletown South in the process. The following year in 2008, Freehold put together the greatest season in program history by going 11-1 and claiming the Central Jersey Group 3 title. Led by quarterback Nick Tyson, wide receiver Brandon Brown, offensive linemen Darrin Love and Alan Barnstead, defensive lineman Ryan Solley, linebacker Rakim Thorpe, running back Tezzy Thorpe and defensive back Gerry Plescia, Freehold defeated Middletown South, 21-14, to secure the program’s first NJSIAA sectional title.
The Colonials took a small step back in 2009 with a 6-4 record but rebounded completely in 2010 to claim a second state championship. Freehold dropped its first two games of the season but with quarterback Sterry Codrington, wide receiver Rameer Wright, offensive linemen Michael Kasten and Ryan Wytanis, defensive lineman Brandon Weiss, linebacker Jazzmar Clax and defensive back Derrick Bender leading the way, the Colonials rattled off 10 straight wins to close the season. Consecutive overtime victories over Neptune and Red Bank Catholic in Weeks 4 and 5 put Freehold back over .500 and an overtime win over Colts Neck on the eve of Halloween set them on course for a deep playoff run. Freehold once again overcame Middletown South, this time by a 14-12 score at Rutgers University, to win the Central Jersey Group 3 championship.
The 2010 season would be Ciccotell’s last at Freehold. He then headed to Neptune where he led the Scarlet Fliers to the CJ-3 title in 2011 and back to the final in 2012. He also led St. John Vianney to the Class A Central title and the Non-Public Group 3 semifinals in 2014.
In seven years leading the Colonials, Ciccotelli’s teams went 44-30 with three Shore Conference division titles and two NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 state championships.
Tyson played only one season for Freehold, but what he accomplished during his senior year in 2008 and the circumstances surrounding it made him a legendary player in Colonials’ lore.
Playing at Marlboro High School as a junior on Sept. 20, 2007, Tyson was carted off the field after breaking his neck making a tackle. Thankfully there was no issue of paralysis, but the spinal expert he saw recommended surgery that would have ended his football career. However, Tyson wore a neck brace for two months and during that time his spine stabilized enough that surgery was no longer needed.
Less than three months after breaking his neck, Tyson was cleared to play football again, marking the beginning of an incredible comeback. Tyson’s family moved from Marlboro to Freehold and Tyson joined the Colonial’s roster under head coach Mark Ciccotelli. He was named the team’s starting quarterback and would go on to pilot Freehold’s triple-option offense to perfection. Tyson threw for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns and ran for 693 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to being a first-team All-Shore selection and the Monmouth County Player of the Year.
With Tyson leading the way, the 2008 season was and still stands as the greatest season in program history. Freehold went 11-1 and captured the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 championship, defeating Middletown South, 21-14, to claim the program’s first NJSIAA sectional title in program history.
Tyson went on to play collegiately at The College of New Jersey where he was a quarterback and running back, playing in 30 games over his final three seasons.
Out of desperation, Freehold head coach Dave Ellis changed up his entire offense three games into the 2016 season. The Colonials were winless and their best player, junior running back Ashante Worthy, was having a hard time getting going. Ellis moved Worthy from running back to quarterback in an empty formation, put five receivers out wide and unleashed Worthy’s full skill set on the Shore.
What transpired over the next 20 games was a career unlike any other in Shore Conference history as Worthy went on to shatter records and accomplish feats that seemed impossible. As a junior, Worthy accounted for 2,904 yards of offense and 41 total touchdowns, rushing for 2,066 yards and 30 touchdowns on an average of 8.3 yards per carry and throwing for 838 yards and nine touchdowns. In a 69-56 win over Pennsauken that set the NJSIAA record for combined points in a playoff game, Worthy broke the Shore Conference single-game rushing record and single-game touchdown record when he ran for 465 yards and eight touchdowns on 43 carries and threw for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
Somehow, his senior year was much better.
In 2017, Worthy had the greatest statistical season in New Jersey high school football history to lead Freehold into the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 championship game. He set the modern-day state single-season rushing record with 2,860 yards and ran for 41 touchdowns, which is the most by a quarterback in Shore Conference and state history. He was also second in the Shore Conference in passing with 2,106 yards and 20 touchdowns with a 70 percent completion rate, making him the first player in state history to rush and throw for 2,000 yards each in a single season. His 4,966 combined yards shattered the previous record of 4,150 set by Old Tappan’s Devin Fuller in 2010 and his 61 combined touchdowns between rushing and passing also set a state single-season record.
Additionally, Worthy set the Shore Conference record for combined yards in a single game when he erupted for 635 yards and scored seven touchdowns in a 51-34 win over Nottingham in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. He ran for 419 yards and seven touchdowns on 32 carries and threw for 216 yards that afternoon.
Diving deeper into the absurdity of Worthy’s offensive numbers in 2017, he had a ridiculous 550 offensive touches season with 345 carries and 205 passing attempts. In a 27-20 win over Long Branch in Week 9, Worthy had 72 touches with 50 carries for 253 yards and 22 passing attempts for 252 yards. Worthy also had a 624-yard game against Howell when he ran for 338 yards and threw for 286. He had over 240 combined yards in every game, went over 300 combined yards nine times, over 400 seven times, over 500 three times and had two games of over 600 combined yards.
Worthy finished his career with 6,400 yards rushing, 2,963 yards passing, 826 return yards and 403 receiving yards for a staggering 10,592 all-purpose yards. He scored 119 touchdowns and added four interceptions. His 6,400 yards rushing is No. 2 in Shore Conference history behind Keyport’s Ken Cattouse, who had 6,676 yards in the early 2000s, and ahead of Middletown South legend and NFL first-round draft pick Knowshon Moreno.
He was a two-time first-team All-Shore selection and the New Jersey Offensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.