Football – Finding Their Way: 2015 Lacey Football Preview
At this point last season Lacey was already down several starters for the season before it even began. Injuries decimated the Lions’ starting lineup, and the result was a rare losing season at 3-7.
Lacey is hoping just being healthy will help spark a turnaround in 2015. The Lions will be breaking in several new starters and will lean on a core of three linemen to guide them through the rigorous Class A South schedule.
During the last three seasons Lacey had former Howell and current Freehold Township head coach Cory Davies as its offensive coordinator. Davies’ pass-heavy offensive scheme left some imprints on what the Lions will still do in running their multiple offense, but the previous heart and soul of Lacey’s program, its power running game, will be featured more this season.
“I think the passing philosophy is a fine philosophy,” said Lacey head coach Lou Vircillo. “It’s not really me, but I can coach or be involved in any offense. I’m primarily an 'I' or pro concept guy even though we’ve evolved to use more spread formations. The run game will try to stay within that philosophy, and we’re hoping the mentality of practicing physically with the run game carries over.”
The strength offensively will be the line. Three starters return, including hulking right tackle Joe MacAvoy, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 315 pounds. He and left tackle Tarique Smith (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) have been starters since their freshman seasons. Along with senior Jacob Post at left guard, they will be the focal point of the Lions’ attack.
“Those three guys are the anchors of the team and everyone else is fitting in around them and developing,” Vircillo said.
“I think this season can be a whole turnaround,” Smith said. “We’re getting back to the Lacey tradition, and we have returning linemen to help out the skill players that are brand new.”
Junior Zach Larney will be the right guard and junior Anthony Ceglie is the center.
Taking over as the staring quarterback is junior Chase Stephensen. His main targets at receiver will be senior Aaron Boos, a returning starter, along with senior Scott Tutela and junior John Grosjean. The tight end is sophomore Jason Giresi.
In situations where a fullback is used it will be junior Liam Muzyka as the starter. The starting tailback will be junior Connor Wilson, a lacrosse standout, who started a few games at running back last season.
Lacey will try to get back to its roots defensively with a multiple 3-4 front. Senior Troy Dittenhoffer is a returning starter at nose guard while Smith returns as a starter at defensive end. MacAvoy will also play defensive end this season. He will certainly be a load for opposing linemen to handle, but playing both ways has presented its challenges.
“It’s definitely nice being on the other side and we’re looking really good there,” MacAvoy said. “It gets tiring though, don’t get me wrong.”
Post returns as a starter at outside linebacker where he is a sound tackler and a good pass rusher off the edge. He made 57 tackles and seven tackles for a loss last season. Senior Alex Peschock is the other outside linebacker while junior Bryan Scalia and senior Nick Caputo, who played some as a junior, will be the inside linebackers.
In the secondary, Grosjean and senior Vincent Cortese, a returning starter, are the cornerbacks with senior Corey Spatz also in the mix. Boos, who led the Lions in tackles last season with 75, starts as the strong safety while Stephensen, who had 71 tackles, is the free safety.
“On defense we’re pitbulls this year,” Smith said. “We may not be the biggest, but we’re real scrappy and we like to hit.”
“We start with an odd front and we try to develop our concepts off that, even if we have to shift to become more of an even front,” Vircillo said. “We’re not a 4-3 up-the-field type of defense, we’re more of a leverage team, and we try to get the kids to play that way no matter what alignment we’re in.”
Senior Pat Davis returns for his third year as Lacey’s kicker. He was 16-for-19 on extra points last season and kicked three field goals, including a long of 39. He will also be the punter.
Head Coach: Lou Vircillo, 35th season.
Career Record: 266-125-3.
Assistant Coaches: John Tierney (OL); Shane Allen (DL); Warren Smith (QB/LB); Joe Tobin (DB); Mike Stuppiello (DL); Watson Heleila, Chris D’Amico, Shawn McAndrew (freshmen); Jack Bush, Nick Scerbo (video); Lee Emery (athletic trainer).
2014 Record: 3-7 (1-6).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Chase Stephensen, Jr., QB
Stephensen takes over at quarterback, where Conor Davies was the Shore’s fifth-best passer in throwing for 1,636 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
X-FACTOR: Developing skill players
The Lions have a solid offensive line and will need their skill players to flourish in order to keep up with some of the top offenses in Class A South.
GLUE GUY: Jacob Post, Sr., OL/LB
An excellent tackler at linebacker and a stabilizing player along the offensive line, Post gives the Lions some much-needed talent and experience on both sides of the ball.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Connor Wilson, Jr., RB
Wilson saw some time late last season and will assume the starting running back job for the Lions, who are planning on using more power running this season.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 26 vs. Brick Memorial
Lacey has two very tough games right out of the gate with a loaded Toms River North team as its opener and then Jackson Memorial in Week Two. The Lions could be staring at an 0-2 hole when they welcome the Mustangs to town.