Fliers on the Wall: 2022 Neptune High School Football Preview
Coaching the Neptune football team over the past two seasons was not an easy job, so much so that the Scarlet Fliers had three coaches in three seasons from 2019 to 2021. When Brian Duffy took over the program in 2021, however, he quickly found out that the players were not the problem.
After a 0-3 start to 2021, Neptune went 4-2 over its final six games and with a slew of proven talent returning for 2022, the Scarlet Fliers are looking to use their strong finish as a springboard to a big upcoming season.
“I’m happy with where we are right now as opposed to last year,” second-year Neptune coach Brian Duffy said. “From year one to year two, you can kind of see as a program, we’re taking steps. We’re doing the little things. Everything we have been preaching, they are starting to buy in every day. From last year, everything is just night and day. The attitude is ten thousand times different and it’s just great being around these kids.”
Strict district COVID restrictions limited practice time before the 2020 season, so the young Scarlet Fliers had some catching up to do over the last calendar year and the furious finish suggests the program is indeed over that 2020 setback. It also doesn’t hurt that they will have some leaders back all over the field, enough speed emerging in an inexperienced receiving corps and a noteworthy amount of line talent for a program that is typically thin at that spot.
Duffy is a former offensive lineman and is eager to see what this year’s group can do while blocking for senior running back Davon Craft and senior quarterback Davionne Pearson. De’Ondre Banks, Jayden Rodriguez and junior Daniel Laughton are returning starters on the line and sophomore Adon Davis and senior Jalen Weeden will occupy the right side of the line.
“I’m very happy with the line, I think we’re progressing in that part of the game,” Duffy said. “That’s always been a problem here: we have athletes, but we don’t have enough linemen, so we’re starting to get guys who know what position they have to play and they’re buying into it.”
With so many pieces already in place and plenty of optimism at practice coming off last season’s 4-2 finish, Neptune’s expectation is to hit the ground running in 2022 and carry that momentum all the way into the NJSIAA Group III Playoffs.
“I’d like to think 4-5 is never acceptable for me, but coming off the COVID year and still dealing with that, being a first-year coach, trying to revive the program, I was happy with that,” Duffy said. “The kids started to see the results of what we’re doing: working hard, coming to practice, staying together and they started reaping the benefits.”
Neptune at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter; 3RS=Third-Year Starter; Fourth-Year Starter)
Returning Starters: 6
QB: Davionne Pearson, Sr. RS
RB: Davon Craft, Jr. RS; Trevon Green, Sr.
WR: Jasean Johnson, Sr.
WR: Messiah McMillian, Sr.; Cameron Stoutts, So.
WR: Razier Whitting, Sr.; Samji Pennington, Sr.
TE: Anthony Banks, Sr. 3RS
LT: Jayden Rodriquez, Sr. RS
LG: De’Ondre Banks, Sr. 3RS
C: Daniel Laughton, Jr. RS
RG: Adon Davis, So.
RT: Jalen Weeden, Sr.
Returning Starters: 2
DE: Kwan Grier, Sr.
NT: Issac Thomas, Sr.
DE: Adon Davis, So.
OLB: Messiah McMillian, Sr.
ILB: De’Ondre Banks, Sr. 4RS
ILB: Anthony Banks, Sr. RS
OLB: Trevon Green, Sr.
CB: Yasir Hubbard, Sr.
CB: Cameron Stoutts, So.; Jasean Johnson, Sr.
SS: Samji Pennington, Sr.
FS: Razier Whitting, Sr.
K: Jack Nataliano, Sr. RS
P: Jack Nataliano, Sr. RS
Head Coach: Brian Duffy, second season
Career Record: 4-5
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Jeremy Balina (Def. Coordinator), Mike Seber (Special Teams/QB), Shane Bigelow (OL/DL), John Pacowski (DL), Frank Iachetta (OL/DL), Netanis Bean (RB/DB), Mysonn Ledet (RB/DB), Mike Mahoney (WR/OLB), Ron Puryear (Film), Mike Randolph (Director Football Operations), Amanda Kelly (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Davon Craft, Sr., RB
Coming off a 1,000-yard junior season running the ball, Craft is an established feature back with a returning quarterback, experienced offensive line and enough depth on the team to rest him on defense. Those conditions suggest that Neptune’s senior back is poised for an even bigger 2022 and the Scarlet Fliers offense will certainly give him a chance to rack up the yardage and touchdowns while controlling the game on the ground.
“We’ve got a few leaders out there: De’Ondre Banks, Davon Craft, Daniel Laughton,” Duffy said. “Each one does a little something different. Not everybody is really vocal. With Dre and Craft, they’re so talented and they go about their work and the kids see that and follow their example.”
Under the Radar Player: Davionne Pearson, Sr., QB
Craft and Banks are the leaders on the team and the players who are returning with the All-Division and All-Shore buzz, which means Pearson has been able to go about his business coming off a solid season in his own right. The senior signal-caller completed better than 50 percent of his passes (55-for-101) for 857 yards and eight touchdowns against seven interceptions – numbers that figure to improve with an experienced offensive line back in front of him and a talented senior running back behind him.
Top Position Group: Linebackers
Neptune is set to trot out an all-senior group of linebackers in its 3-4 scheme, led by top returning tackler from 2021, De’Ondre Banks. Coming off his 65-tackle junior season, Banks will lineup alongside fellow returning starter Anthony Banks on the inside and new starters Messiah McMillian and Trevon Green on the outsides. McMillian and Green will bring a speed-rush element to the linebacker group while the Banks boys snuff out tackles, tight ends and slot receivers in the middle of the field.
Big Shoes to Fill: Jasean Johnson, Razier Whitting and Samji Pennington, Sr., WR/DB
The senior trio of receivers will be replacing a group of capable players that were ahead of them on the depth chart, most notably top receivers Matteo Andrews and David Glisson. The senior group will benefit from having an experienced senior in Pearson throwing to them and each of them has shown enough speed and ability to put Duffy at ease with the options his senior quarterback will have.
Rivalry Game: Oct. 8 vs. Red Bank
The Neptune seniors and juniors will welcome their former coach, Shane Fallon, to Neptune in early October. Fallon lasted only one season at Neptune before leaving the Scarlet Fliers for Red Bank following the 2020 season. Neptune was the most impacted program by COVID restrictions and the schedule was challenging, to say the least, leading to a 2-5 finish. Since Fallon’s departure, Duffy has come in and helped bring a blend of calm and fire to the program and his players will surely be excited to show their old coach what he is missing out on.
Thursday, Sept. 1 at Point Boro, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 9 vs. Ocean, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 16 vs. Brick, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 23 at Brick Memorial, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 8 vs. Red Bank, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 14 at Long Branch, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 21 at Toms River South, 6 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 24 vs. Asbury Park, 10 a.m.