Football – New Cast, Same Goals: 2016 Point Boro Preview
Point Boro returned to its winning ways last season after shaking off a pair of down years, but to keep the momentum going the Panthers will have to replace nearly all their starters under first-year head coach Matt Cilento.
Cilento was elevated from assistant to head coach following the resignation of Sean Henry in June. Cilento has been the Panthers defensive coordinator for the past few seasons.
“It’s been good, consistency-wise,” Cilento said. “I coach kids in football and baseball and as the defensive coordinator know the kids, so it has made the transition a lot easier. These are good, hard-working kids who will play hard no matter what. I’m lucky enough they are letting me take over this program and help keep it going in the right direction.”
Point Boro won eight games last season and claimed a share of the Class B South division title thanks to a standout senior class that helped turn the program back around. Those players have come and gone, leaving just a handful of experienced players on the Panthers’ roster.
“We lost a lot of seniors, but all the new guys are stepping up,” said junior quarterback James Fara. “We definitely have the skill players to back up what we lost last year, and the linemen are doing their best to get ready.”
Rebuilding years are part of the process at smaller schools, but the Panthers are hoping the 2016 season will be more of a reloading campaign that will allow them to compete for the division title.
Offensively, the Panthers remain in their flexbone option attack they’ve been running for over a decade. Fara steps into the starting role at quarterback that was occupied by Noah Husak, who expertly piloted the offense a season ago. Fara has good size and looked like a seasoned veteran during the preseason.
“James is a downhill runner and fits our philosophy very well,” Cilento said. “He is a gamer and has a lot of confidence, and that comes in big. With him and Tanner (Gordon) in the backfield we’re going to compete.”
“He’s a real intelligent kid when it comes to football,” said senior Hayden Frey. “He knows the offense well and makes the right reads. He’s been playing like he’s been on varsity for a couple years. He’s really taking charge of the offense and showing what he has.”
Gordon, a junior, will be the starting fullback while senior Kyler Rossi and junior Nate Chiarello are the slot backs.
“Tanner is also a downhill runner, but has a quick burst,” Cilento said. “He’s a kid that can break one and open up the field for us.”
Frey, a returning starter, leads the receiving corps and gives Point Boro a legitimate vertical threat to keep opposing defenses honest. He’ll be joined by senior Josiah Gliddon and junior Brandon Cipriano.
“Hayden is definitely a kid that extends the field for us, and you have to prepare for him,” Cilento said. “He opens the door for us to have some type of passing game to compliment our running game.”
Senior Aidan Connolly is the only returning starter on the offensive line and will start at right guard. Junior Anthony Bonavito is the left tackle, the left guard is either senior Liam McCarthy or junior Conor Landis and the center is junior Gabe Fattizzi. Senior Justin Rafi will line up at right tackle. Joe Hynes, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound senior, has been battling an injury, but will start at left guard once healthy.
“We’re lacking experience but we have talented kids to keep the winning tradition going,” Connolly said. “I just try to hype the team up and teach the younger kids how to act on and off the field.”
Defense has been the calling card for Point Boro under Cilento’s direction. The Panthers were a top-five defense two years ago and were a ranked No. 8 in the Shore last season allowing just 12.2 points per game. Three starters return, starting wth Connolly, a three-year starter, at nose guard. Gliddon is the right defensive end and sophomore Trent Livolsi is the left end.
Rafi started at strong-side linebacker last season and shifts to the middle this year. The strong-side linebacker will be either Jarrett Howey or Tyler Sanchez, both juniors, or senior Matt Sulzer. The outside linebacker/strong safety hybrids, called ‘snakes’ in Point Boro’s defense, are Gordon and sophomore Garrett Romer.
In the secondary, Rossi returns as a starting cornerback and Frey will take over as a starter at the other corner spot. The safety is junior Trevor McNamara.
“(Cilento) is a defensive guy and he dummy-proofs our defense, so we all know what we’re doing,” Frey said. “It really shows. He’s on top of everything and everybody buys in.”
“As long as our kids stick to their assignments and show that intensity we’ll be fine,” Cilento said. “The young kids have bought into taking ownership of the defense and they’re starting to find their identity.”
Sulzer will handle both the kicking and punting duties, taking over for three-year starter Collin Ansbach.
Replacing so many key starters and seniors is certainly a challenge for Point Boro, and leaves the team with numerous question marks. Class B South looks to be wide open again this year, which means the Panthers can go into the season knowing they can compete to win it all.
“With B South you never know what you’re going to get, and it’s always very competitive,” Cilento said. “If we fly around and compete on both sides of the ball, anything can happen.”
“I think we have what it takes to win the division, and I’m sure every other team does too,” Frey said. “It’s just a matter of fighting each game and seeing what the season holds.”
Head Coach: Matt Cilento, first season.
Career Record: 0-0.
Coaching staff: Tom Orrok (co-off. coord./WR); Brian Staub (co-off. coord./QB); Ryan Canary (OL/DL); Shane O’Connor (RB/DB); Dave Johnson, Dan Drzymkowski, Ty Hughes (volunteers); Pat Brady, Dave Drew (freshmen).
2015 Record: 8-2 (6-1).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: James Fara, Jr., QB
The starting quarterback position is particularly crucial in an option offense, and Fara steps in for two-year starter Noah Husak.
X-FACTOR: Offensive line play
When the Panthers have had a good offensive line their offense has performed well. With just one starter returning it’s still a big question mark.
GLUE GUY: Hayden Frey, Sr., WR/DB
A key two-way starter that can turn the tide with a big play in the passing game, Frey is one of the few experienced holdovers from last season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Tanner Gordon, Jr., RB/LB
There are several potential newcomers that can play critical roles, and Gordon could be one of the biggest with his starting spots at fullback and outside linebacker.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 16 vs. Lacey
The Lions are back in Class B South from Class A South and are expected to be a division title contender. If the Panthers can get a win here early in the season it will say a lot about their title hopes.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.