Football – Lancer Legacy: 2018 St. John Vianney Football Preview
Over the past four seasons, St. John Vianney has been the Shore Conference’s most dominant program and the only thing missing from the Lancers’ resume is a win in the final game of the season.
While winning that last game – a massive undertaking in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 3 bracket – remains a focus of the returning Lancers, it is the first game of the season that could mean the most to the legacy of this era in St. John Vianney football.
One day before the 2018 calendar even shifts to September, the Lancers will put a 38-game winning streak against Shore Conference opponents on the line when they host Red Bank Catholic in a game that pits two of the Shore's powerhouse programs.
If returning talent is any indicator, this game represents the greatest threat that St. John Vianney has faced since losing to Matawan in the final game of 2013. While the Caseys return a wealth of skill-position players, St. John Vianney graduated three-fifths of its offensive line, its starting quarterback, starting tailback, its entire starting receiving corps and all but one starter on defense. On top of the loss of talent on the field, head coach Derek Sininsky also stepped down at the end of the season.
“Everybody knows about the 18 seniors we graduated and all the talent those guys brought to the table,” senior right tackle and Rutgers commit C.J. Hanson said. “It’s never easy to replace that many guys but we have a lot of talent on this team and everyone is out to prove themselves. Everyone wants to win a spot and that’s made for great competition in practice.”
Although the names are different, St. John Vianney – now under the direction of longtime Matawan coach Joe Martucci – is still likely to be one of the Shore’s top teams. Martucci brings with him some key members of his former Matawan staff, including two former players Jay Bellamy and Charlie Rogers – both of whom played in the NFL. With three more wins, Martucci will hit the 200-win milestone and the talent on hand suggests it won’t take long for the Lancers to get Martucci his benchmark victory.
Only three starters return to the SJV offense, but two of them are on the right side of what has been a dominant offensive line. Hanson and senior classmate Paul Liseno will clear the way on the right side, with Hanson at tackle and Liseno at guard. Martucci expects the entire unit to be a strength again, despite losing projected starting left guard Gage Moellmann to a season-ending knee injury. Sophomore Dave Glass has made an impression at the left guard position, while juniors John DeFelice (center) and Jack MacCutcheon (tackle) man the other two spots.
“(Hanson) is obviously our leader in practice right now,” Martucci said. “He’s been here, he knows what’s expected of everyone and he’s making sure guys are in the right place and doing what they are supposed to do. He’s going to be a big part of what we do and one of our focuses has been getting everyone set around him to try to take some of the pressure off, but we know he can handle whatever we need him to do.”
Senior tight end Andrew McGimpsey is the only returning starter among the skill spots, with an entirely new backfield and group of receivers on board. Two of the newcomers are junior transfers from Ocean County, with quarterback and Toms River native C.J. Duell transferring in from St. Joseph Prep in Philadelphia and running back Kavon Chambers transferring from Central Regional. As a sophomore in 2017, Chambers finished fifth in the Shore Conference with 1,438 yards.
“Kavon is a quality back who can do a lot of good things, but we have three or four guys we comfortable putting in there,” Martucci said.
Duell, meanwhile, is a pro-style quarterback with enough athleticism to remain a threat to run the ball. He and Chambers have played youth football together and Duell is quickly getting acclimated with his group of receivers, as he showed in leading St. John Vianney to the Shore Conference 7-on-7 title over the summer.
“He’s starting to take control of the offense,” Martucci said of Duell. “He is making the right reads and getting us in and out of different plays depending on what the defense is doing. It’s a big step to be able to get out of a bad play and into a good one.”
Senior George Trimarche will handle the fullback duties and senior Mike Noble will also get some carries at tailback. Out wide, Zarren Stephens will be one of Duell’s main targets while juniors Evan Purty and Warren Griffith add to the inexperienced but promising crop of receivers.
The wild card in the receiving corps and in the secondary is freshman Jayden Bellamy, the son of Jay Bellamy. Jayden has the inside track to start at cornerback in his first high school season and is already polished enough to be one of Duell’s top targets on offense as well.
“Right now, he is playing above his years,” Martucci said of the younger Bellamy, whose father Martucci coached at Matawan before Jay went on to play at Rutgers and for the Saints and Seahawks in the NFL. “He’s had a lot of experience with his dad and his dad has taught him all the right things in bringing him along slowly. He’s in position to come in as a freshman and play on this level.”
Senior Damon Washington will play opposite Bellamy at the other corner while Stephens and senior Jack DeBold man the two safety positions. Purdy and Griffith with also figure into the secondary rotation.
Hanson and Liseno will be the two key cogs in Vianney’s four-man front, with Danny Fiorella and Trimarche jumping in to spell them at the two tackle spots. McGimpsey, DeFelice, Matt Mandarino and Nasiyah Nix are battling for time at defensive and, according to Martucci, will be part of a designed rotation on a line that will have to replace two-time First Team SSN All-Shore selection Nick Densieski.
Johnny Buchanan is arguably St. John Vianney’s biggest loss to graduation after the senior captain carried the load at tailback and handled the inside linebacker duties in 2017. While Chambers gives St. John Vianney a worthy replacement for Buchanan on offense, Noble will be tasked with taking over the middle linebacker job. He will be flanked by a combination of sophomore Julian Young, senior Jaden Duncan, junior Anthony Brett, junior Naron Alston and sophomore Blake Clayton. Young will play one of the two outside spots, with Duncan – a transfer from Colonia – looking like a possibility at strongside linebacker.
St. John Vianney’s talent is still eye-catching, but with a new coaching staff and an influx of new players – many of whom are juniors – there are more questions in camp heading into this season than there have been since the start of the streak in 2014. That doesn’t change the end goal for Vianney and it is quite possible that the Lancers have a team that is capable of learning from an early loss and turning it into a positive later.
The Lancers, however, have no desire to give their local rival a reason to celebrate over Labor Day weekend after ending the 38-game winning streak.
“We’re excited to start and grow as a team,” Hanson said. “We’ve had great competition so far – more than we’ve had since I’ve been here – and that’s going to help us in the playoffs. For now, we’re just trying to get better every day and be ready for RBC. It’s a big rivalry and we’re definitely looking forward to it.”
At a Glance
Head Coach: Joe Martucci, first season (29th overall)
Career Record: 197-91-1
2017 Record: 10-1 (6-0 in A Central)
Coaching Staff: Charlie Rogers (off. coord./WR); Jay Bellamy (def. coord.), Sam Turner (OL/DL); Mike Albreque (QB); Ed Hernandez (LB); Jason Wambough (OL/TE); Bill Hill (DB); Brian Lucas, Lou Libitore (freshmen); Matt Luzio, Dan Fiero, Joe Galamb, Pete Peerzillo (volunteers); Ruth Rutledge and Maya Kantor (athletic trainers).
Big Shoes to Fill: Mike Noble, Sr., RB/LB
Noble will be part of a running back picture that should be able to keep churning out production, but his biggest challenge will be handling the middle of the defense at linebacker, which Johnny Buchanan did masterfully.
X-Factor: Line depth
An injury to Gage Moellmann puts the Lancers in the hole, but they have a dominant right side of the line on offense and interior on defense. The depth will come into play not only in filling the open spots but giving returnees C.J. Hanson and Paul Liseno a chance to rest now and again and keep both fresh for the playoff push.
Impact Newcomer: Kavon Chambers, Jr., RB
After racking up more than 1,400 yards in his varsity debut as a sophomore at Central, Chambers brings his talent north to face an even tougher schedule on a team with expectations as high as any in the conference. Chambers moved to Monmouth County, according to Martucci, so he will be ready to roll against RBC on Aug. 31.
Pivotal Game: Aug. 31 vs. Red Bank Catholic
Speaking of RBC, the Caseys will march over to St. John Vianney on the final day of August in what could be the biggest clash of the Shore Conference regular season. It’s an odd set of circumstances for an inexperienced (but still loaded) Vianney team: the players have their sights set on the long haul, but the program’s 38-game-winning streak will be on the line right from the get-go against an RBC team frothing at the mouth to beat SJV. The opener is part of a brutal start to the season that includes games against Rumson-Fair Haven, Brick and Middletown North in the subsequent three weeks.