Farrell’s Flock: 2022 Manchester Township High School Football Preview
Following a season-opening win over Monmouth Regional, Manchester dropped seven of their next eight games in what was a disappointing season following a rare winning record in 2020.
Brian Wilkinson stepped down after two seasons as the head coach and this spring was replaced by Tommy Farrell, who at age 27 is one of the youngest coaches in New Jersey. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in enthusiasm and Farrell wants to grow with the program in the town he now calls home. It will not be easy as the Hawks have had only two non-losing seasons since 2011 and have never won an NJSIAA Playoff game.
Lost to graduation were quarterback Savon Meyers and receiver D’Maari Brown, who were the program's most dynamic players, but a host of starters and others who saw playing time return. Replacing Meyers will not be easy but Manchester has three players listed on the depth chart with 6’1 sophomore Aidan Lunn showing a lot of promise during the preseason. Pass game coordinator and former Hawks head coach Gerard O’Donnell also has junior Joe Horowitz and senior Eli Casalan, a converted running back, in the mix to lead their power spread offense.
Whoever gets the starting nod will be handing off to junior Josh Love, a three-year starter with great vision and the ability to make big plays. Kasai Pharmes, a junior, will also see action in the backfield and when the Hawks line up using a fullback it will be sophomore Dante Mortellite or junior Gio Tripodi. While Brown and his Shore Conference-leading 62 receptions are gone Manchester is high on sophomore slot receiver MJ Goins and at wide receiver there is a three-year starter in senior Tyrone Benjamin (11 receptions, 2 TD’s) and junior Nik Walters, who also saw action in 2021. Sophomore Kevin Harrell and junior Jaden Figueroa round out the group. Juniors Manny Swain and Matthias Payton return to handle the tight end chores.
The offensive line figures to be one of the strengths of the team with four starters back in senior center Calvin Spicer, guards Nahki Davis (295-lb senior) and Gavin Herr (285-lb junior), and senior tackle Tito Sobayo (280lbs). Junior Cooper Erli (6’4, 230) rounds out the expected starters with sophomores Jaiden Barber, Martin Kozikowski, and Spencer Placek along with Ryan Dunckley and Travis Jackson bidding for playing time.
The defense was a sore spot last season as they gave up nearly 27 points per game with Farrell to focus on this side of the ball. There is loads of experience here, especially up front where the four linemen all started or saw considerable action last fall. Herr and Davis should handle the inside in the 4-2 alignment with Spicer and Payton lining up outside. Sobayo, Martin Kozikowski, Walters, and junior Dillon Colon will also get their share of playing time. Swain and Tripodi return at linebacker along with Dante Mortellite while Pharmes and junior Chris Joyner are among those battling for time on the field. Benjamin (cornerback) and Love (safety) are both three-year starters who should anchor the defensive backfield along with Casalan and Goins while sophomores Kevin Harrell and Dom Rekus along with Figueroa will be in the mix as well.
Junior Joe Horowitz will handle both the kicking and punting duties.
Manchester moves from the Patriot to the Liberty Division along with Barnegat, Jackson Liberty, and Pinelands, who remain on their schedule. New division opponents are Matawan and Toms River East and the Hawks' non-division games include perennial power Manasquan.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=Returning Starter, 3RS=3rd Year Returning)
Offense: Power Spread
QB: Aidan Lunn, So.; Joe Horowitz, Jr.; Eli Casalan, Sr.
RB: Josh Love, Jr., 3RS; MJ Goins, So.; Kasai Pharmes, Jr.
FB: Dante Mortellite, So.; Gio Tripodi, Jr.
WR: Tyrone Benjamin, Sr., 3RS; Nik Walters, Jr., RS; Kevin Harrell, So.; Jaden Figueroa, Jr.
TE: Manny Swain, Jr., RS; Matthias Payton, Jr., RS; Dillon Colon, Jr.
LT: Cooper Erli, Jr.; Jaiden Barber, So.
LG: Nahki Davis, Sr., RS; Martin Kozikowski, So.
C: Calvin Spicer, Sr., RS; Spencer Placek, So.
RG: Gavin Herr, Jr., RS; Ryan Dunckley, Mason Davis
RT: Tito Sobayo, Sr., RS; Travis Jackson, Jr.
DE: Calvin Spicer, Sr., RS; Dillon Colon, Jr.; Ryan Dunckley
DT: Gavin Herr, Jr., RS; Tito Sobayo, Sr., RS; Jaiden Barber, So.
DT: Nahki Davis, Sr., RS; Martin Kozikowski, So.; Cooper Erli, Jr.
DE: Matthias Payton, Jr., RS; Nik Waters, Jr.; Mason Davis, So.
OLB: Manny Swain, Jr., RS
ILB: Dante Mortellite, So.; Chris Joyner, Jr.; Anthony D’Antonio, So.
ILB: Gio Tripodi, Jr., RS; Kasai Pharmes, Jr.; Pat McKay, Jr.
CB: Tyrone Benjamin, Sr., 3RS; Dom Rekus, So.
CB: Eli Casalan, Sr.; Kevin Harrell, So.
SS: Josh Love, Jr., 3RS
FS: MJ Goins, So.; Jaden Figueroa, Jr.
K/P: Joe Horowitz, Jr.
Head Coach: Tommy Farrell, 1st year
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Jeff Brown (Run Game Coordinator/OL); Gerard O’Donnell (Pass Game Coordinator/QB); Dimitrius Smith (DL); Bob Mussari (RB/ILB); Alex Lunn (WR/DB); Chris Blaine (TE/OLB); Alex Zulewski (Head Freshman Coach); Corey Lavin (Volunteer); Skip Cocci (Volunteer); Tiffany Rigati (Athletic Trainer).
PLAYER TO WATCH: Josh Love, Sr., RB/SS
Love will be a man on the move this season and will be counted on to provide big play ability as a running back and, despite being just 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, physical play at the strong safety position. Farrell says the senior is shifty with a high motor and great vision and opponents should expect much Love this season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: MJ Goins, So., WR/RB
Goins has big shoes to fill with the graduation of Brown. While he plays a different position (slot) he will need to contribute to both the passing and running game and has loads of potential. Described as speedy, shifty, and smart; which is a good place to start.
TOP POSITION GROUP: Offensive and Defensive Lines
Loaded with players who started at some point last season, the group is led by two-way starters Calvin Spicer, Nahki Davis, and Gavin Herr. Tito Sobayo is another two-way player along with Matthias Payton. Promising sophomore Martin Kozikowski figures to be in the mix on both sides of the ball.
RIVALRY GAME: Sept. 3 at Lakewood
Yes, it’s the season opener, and yes it's Farrell’s debut as head coach, but there is a lot on the line for both teams. There is a natural rivalry here as Manchester students went to Lakewood before establishing their own school. The coaches are also familiar with one another and since both teams will likely be searching for wins on their schedule this is one that is up for grabs. If the Hawks can prevail it will help the new coach establish a winning mentality for his program.
Sept. 3 - @Lakewood, 1 p.m.
Sept. 9 - @Toms River East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 - vs. Matawan, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 - vs. Jackson Liberty, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 - vs. Manasquan, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 - @Barnegat, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 - vs. Freehold Township, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 - @Pinelands, 7 p.m.