Football – Big Game Hunting: 2016 Mater Dei Preview
Ever since staring over the edge of the cliff that was the school’s impending closing in 2015, Mater Dei Prep has not rested on its laurels when it comes to athletics.
Right after it was announced the school was remaining open, the baseball team won its first outright division title in 12 years. The following season, behind a complete overhaul of the program, the basketball team won its first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship and finished ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.
Although the renaissance had not quite reached the gridiron to that level, the football team appeared on its way. After a 3-7 season, the Seraphs were set to return nearly the whole team in a Shore Conference Class B Central division that could be more up-for-grabs this year than in past years.
With an opportunity to take the next step, once again, the Mater Dei board of trustees and the athletic department pounced this past spring by hiring Dino Mangiero as the new head coach. Mangiero is a former standout at Rutgers, spent six years in the NFL and turned Poly Prep in Brooklyn into a powerhouse program during his 15 years at the helm.
Since Mangiero’s hire, the Seraphs have added new talent to go along with all the returning players and are primed for a big season in Class B Central.
“Everything’s new: new offense, new defense - everything,” said Mangiero, who also spent time as an assistant at Indiana University and Wagner College. “We’re using a lot of spread on offense, a lot of stuff I’ve taken from some of the places I’ve been and some of the people I’ve come across, like Urban Meyer. The kids are working hard at it and it’s coming along.”
Although Mater Dei’s returning roster is the foundation of this year’s team, the arrival of junior quarterback George Pearson has increased the buzz around the program that followed Mangiero from Brooklyn. Pearson led Matawan to a Central Jersey Group III championship as a freshman in 2014 and settled into his sophomore season with the Huskies despite missing the start of the season due to injury. He briefly transferred to St. Joseph Regional in Montvale ahead of his junior year before heading back to the Shore Conference and Mater Dei in late July.
“It was a strain on my family going to school all the way up there,” Pearson said. “It was a great opportunity to go play up north where there is so much great competition, but I ultimately decided it was better for me and my family to be closer to home. This program is really up-and-coming and I’m excited I get to be a part of it.”
Pearson’s arrival at Mater Dei supplants incumbent Kyle Devaney, who performed admirably as a sophomore while trying to replace Christian Palmer – who enjoyed a record-setting career as the Seraphs quarterback. Devaney will remain the backup quarterback but will also contribute as a slot receiver after throwing for nearly 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.
Devaney joins a receiving corps that should thrive with Pearson on board, led by highly-sought-after recruit Eddie Lewis. Last season, Lewis caught 31 passes for 419 yards and four touchdowns and enters his senior year with 12 offers, including FBS schools Syracuse, Indiana, Duke, North Carolina, Rutgers, Iowa and Boston College.
Senior Marvin Pierre also returns after transferring from Rahway last year and catching 16 passes for 357 yards despite sitting out 30 days due to the transfer rule. Tight end Isaiah Henderson is another addition to the list of weapons Pearson will be targeting in his first year as a Seraph.
The Mater Dei backfield will have a new look this season with the spread offense in full effect around Pearson. Sincere Sanders is slated to be the feature back, with a number of players like Pierre, Jonathan Lubintus and Syncere Richardson providing depth. Mater Dei’s offensive line will also be a key to the offense as returnees Shane Mastro, Kevin Olausen, Mario Rodriguez and Alex Mercado adjust to a new quarterback and offense.
That stable of offensive lineman will also handle the work in the trenches on defense, where Mater Dei is looking to improve the most under the former NFL defensive tackle.
“We have a lot of young guys competing,” Mangiero said. “Guys are out here earning it, which has been good to watch.”
Three players followed Mangiero from Poly Prep to Mater Dei, led by junior linebacker Russell Ferrisi, who joins Pierre and Henderson in the group of linebackers. The addition of Ferrisi shifts Lubintus – a versatile athlete who played linebacker last season – to safety, which could have a significant positive impact in the Seraphs’ ability to stop the pass without giving ground in the run game.
Lewis, Sanders, junior Ryan Mandelbaum and junior Jon Leverock are also in the mix for time in the secondary. Mandelbaum was also a contributor at receiver last year and will figure into the mix on offense with Lewis, Devenney and Pierre.
The 2016 season was slated to be a significant one for Mater Dei with all of its talent returning from the 2015 season, which ended with an NJSIAA Non-Public Group II state playoff loss on a Hail Mary pass to top-seeded Montclair Kimberly. With Mangiero and Pearson now in the fold, the expectations have been ratcheted up even further.
“This was a great opportunity for me because this is an institution that believes in the same things I believe in,” Mangiero said. “There is an emphasis on education, which is what I like. You teach the kids in the classroom and get them ready for life. When they are out on the field, we’ll teach them the football.”
Head Coach: Dino Mangiero, first season (13th overall)
2015 Record: 3-7 (1-4 in B Central)
Big Shoes to Fill: Isaiah Henderson, TE/LB
It’s hard to find too many spots where Mater Dei either lost someone irreplaceable or does not have someone to fill in. Last year, Cole Hardy was a key cog in the passing game, so if Henderson can step in and make an impact along with Lewis, Pierre, Devenney and Mandelbaum, the Seraphs should not miss a beat.
X-Factor: Kyle Devaney, WR/DB
While adding George Pearson as the quarterback changes the dynamic of the Mater Dei offense, it’s not as though the position was a weakness last year. Devaney is still on the team for another two years and will look to make an impact as a slot receiver. If the Seraphs get a significant contribution from Devaney as a receiver, that makes the addition of Pearson an even bigger upgrade.
Glue Guy: Jonathan Lubintus, DB/RB
Lubintus played linebacker and fullback this season and now will shift to safety with the addition of Ferrisi as a linebacker. With the depth Mater Dei has in the backfield and at linebacker, Lubintus could end up switching positions and thriving.
Impact Newcomer: George Pearson, QB
Pearson burst onto the scene as a freshman for Matawan and after an early-season injury as a sophomore and a brief transfer to St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, he ended up at Mater Dei. With most of last year’s roster back and a potentially dominant receiver in Eddie Lewis still on board, Pearson should continue to be one of the Shore’s best.
Pivotal Game: Oct. 8 vs. Shore Regional
Although the Seraphs are coming off a 3-7 season, the expectations this season are to compete for division and state titles. Shore is the team to beat in B Central, so the early-October showdown between the Blue Devils and the Seraphs could ultimately decide the B Central crown.