In having to replace a two-year starting quarterback, a dominating linebacker and a do-it-all utility player, it will be a season full of change for Matawan just two seasons removed from winning a state championship.

Versatile defensive back Shawn Ramcheran and tackling machine Aliem Shaw have graduated and moved on to Sacred Heart University. Quarterback George Pearson now resides in Class B Central as the quarterback for Mater Dei Prep. Even longtime offensive line coach Sam Turner isn’t with the team. Yet, as much as those losses factor in, the Huskies are ready to move forward with a mix of youth and experience as the program chase its eighth sectional title.

Matawan started 0-3 last season, but roared into the playoffs with seven straight wins before falling in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinals to eventual champion Rumson-Fair Haven. Two of the Huskies’ losses came to Rumson, another to Central Jersey Group II champion Raritan and another to Non-Public Group III finalist St. John Vianney. Even with some new starters at key positions, the Huskies should once again be a title contender within Class A Central and in the state playoffs.

Matawan seniors Andrew Conzo (56), Jake Burlew (2), Derrick Wiley (22) and Mike McHugh (63). (Photo by Ray Richardson).

A silver lining of Pearson being hurt to start last season and now no longer playing at Matawan is senior quarterback Jake Burlew comes into this season with valuable experience. Burlew was thrust into the starting role without much notice last season, and played the first three games. Now with an entire offseason to prepare he’ll be ready to command Matawan’s multiple spread offense.

“The coaches have prepared me well,” Burlew said. “The past three preseason games I’ve been getting a lot of reps and I’ve got the playbook down better this season. Last year I got thrown into it and was just going off what L.C. (Pearson) did. Now they have me running what I’m comfortable with.”

“He’s a different kind of quarterback so we’ll have a different personality on offense,” said Matawan head coach John Kaye. “You’ll see a little more zone read and throwing on the run.”

The Huskies also have promising freshman Russell Derector, who Kaye is very high on. Burlew is also a wide receiver, so the possibility is there Derector could get some playing time. It wouldn’t be the first time Matawan started a freshman quarterback, as Pearson led the Huskies to a state championship as a ninth-grader.

Sophomore Devin Williams will play fullback in the certain sets where the Huskies use one, while senior Derrick Wiley returns at running back after starting multiple games last season. Senior Jacob Signorile is the tight end while junior returning starter Devonte Spann leads the wide receivers. Seniors Ray Belony and Joe Beukers, and junior Jaleel Gopaul round the group of targets in the passing games.

The offensive line should be a major strength for the Huskies with three returning starters. All-division left guard Andrew Conzo returns as a three-year starter, and senior Jesse Haber solidifies the left side as another returning starter. Senior Mike McHugh is a returning starter at right tackle and junior Mike Karycinski saw plenty of playing time last season. He’s penciled in to start at center with senior Marc Panizzi nursing an injury. Upon Panizzi’s return Karycinski will shift to right guard. Junior Alex Calo will play guard, as well.

“We only have one kid that hasn’t started yet so we all know the plays,” McHugh said.

“It’s clutch to have those guys back,” Kaye said. “It’s a little different with Nick Christathakis coaching the offensive line and not Sam Turner, so we’re still evolving.”

Matawan’s 4-3 defense has six returning starters off a unit that finished 15th in the Shore Conference allowing 16.7 points per game. Conzo returns as a starting defensive tackle with McHugh and Karycinski in a rotation. The defensive ends will rotate, as well, with John Kemp and Royce Tucker, plus another highly-touted freshman, Amir Coleman, in the mix.

Williams started at linebacker as a freshman and will return to that role in the middle of the defense. Flanking him at outside linebacker will be returning starters Wiley and junior Ryan Rodriguez.

“With Williams there were times last year when he graded out higher than guys that were playing for three years,” Kay said. “He listens and he’s accountable. He’s going to be a really good player.”

The secondary will miss the shut-down presence of Ramcheran, but does bring back two starters at safety with Spann and Burlew. Belony is one cornerback with junior David Ogungbenro as the other.

Will Casagrande is back as the punter and will also take over the kicking duties.

For Matawan to return to championship form it will need its quarterback position to stabilize and plenty of first-time starters to rise to the occasion. But with a combination of experienced seniors and some very promising younger players, the Huskies still have the talent to be one of the top teams in the Shore.

RELATED: Matawan 2016 football schedule

Head Coach: John Kaye, fifth season (10th overall).

Career Record: 58-30-1.

Coaching staff: Jay Bellamy (def. coord./ST); Nick Citro (DL); Ken Mandeville (RB); Scott Davis (WR); Charlie Marsh (LB); Nick Christathakis (OL); Sal Spampanato (QB); Dave Monroe, Nick Vasilenko; Matt Goetz (athletic trainer).

2015 Record: 7-4 (3-3).


Belony steps into starting positions occupied last season by Shawn Ramcheran, one of the most dynamic players in the conference.

X-FACTOR: Jake Burlew, Sr., QB

The Huskies should have a strong running game with Derrick Wiley and an experienced offensive line, so if Burlew can be steady at quarterback, especially in the passing game, Matawan’s offense won’t miss a beat.

GLUE GUY: Derrick Wiley, Sr., RB/LB

A senior two-way standout, Wiley’s production will be extremely important on both sides of the ball.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Amir Coleman, Fr., DL

Coleman is slated to see some time at defensive end in his first season in high school as head coach John Kaye gushed about his potential. Freshman quarterback Russell Derector could also make a huge impact.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 9 at St. John Vianney

An intense rivalry that is also a crucial Class A Central game, a win here for Matawan over a top-five team in the Shore would be an excellent way to start the season.


Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.