Football – New Direction: 2016 Central Regional Preview
Willie Jacobs won 19 games over three seasons at Central, so it was a surprise to many when the Golden Eagles alum stepped down as head coach in April.
Enter 34-year old Justin Fumando, who left a powerhouse program at Manalapan and is seeking to build one just off Exit 77 in Bayville. This might be Fumando’s first head coaching job, but his resume is an impressive one and in speaking with him you quickly get a sense his goals and plans are ambitious. A 2000 graduate of Middletown North, he went on to play at Kean University and shortly after graduating there he spent two seasons as an assistant at Manalapan. It was back to Kean for two years followed by one season at St. John Vianney before Fumando returned to Manalapan for a five-year stint as the Braves’ defensive coordinator. That experience has set the foundation for his arrival at Central and it did not take him long to realize the main difference between being an assistant and head coach.
“It’s all the administrative stuff, dealing with paperwork and understanding that you are responsible for every player and coach in your program,” Fumando said.
Fumando is a big believer in off-season strength and conditioning programs and only had a couple of months to install his, but he hopes it will pay off.
“When we first started in April the turnout was not great, but as time went on more and more kids started to buy in to what we are trying to do here,” Fumando said. “You don’t win championships in the fall, but in the winter before.”
As if becoming a first-time head coach is not enough of a challenge, Fumando takes over a program that is making the big leap from Class B South to Class A South. Instead of going up against programs with 40-50 players the Golden Eagles will now battle those with 50-70 players. It’s not just numbers but the physical nature of teams like Toms River North, Jackson Memorial and Brick that provides a daunting task.
“It’s a physical division and you don’t get any easy weeks, so our guys have to be ready” Fumando said.
Of course, it helps that Central returns one of the Shore’s top running backs in Mike Bickford, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior who followed up a school-record 2,052 yard season as a sophomore with nearly 1,600 yards last fall. While defenses set their sights on stopping him, Bickford was still the focal point of the offense although it did open things up for graduated quarterback Michael Miserendino, who accounted for 1,800 yards of total offense. Replacing him will be either 6-foot-3 junior Eli Allen or promising sophomore Joe Fowler. There is also senior Shane Black, who could see action at wide receiver in addition to handling both the kicking and punting chores.
While Bickford will get most of the carries in the Pro-I set, when he does take a break don’t be surprised to see freshman Kavon Chambers and senior Brandon Mickens get some touches. Both will be helped by fullback Ryan Emmetts, whose main job will be as a lead blocker. Nate James will also see action at fullback as last season’s starter Denis Corbin has been moved to tight end. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior will hopefully provide running lanes for Bickford while also catching passes. It was his incredible catch that helped set up the winning touchdown in overtime during last season’s opener at Southern. Corbin could become a favorite target for Allen or Fowler along with senior wide receiver Anthony Holloway, junior Jahmal Barney and sophomore Darius Martorano.
Central’s offensive line was a largely inexperienced group in 2015 but they are a year bigger and stronger, as well as battle-tested. Alex Maj, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior, will anchor a group that returns four starters and includes senior John Matuska (6-foot-1, 210-pounds) and junior Brandon Voss (6-foot-1, 280-pounds) at guard along with junior tackle Blake Horgan (6-foot-3, 230 pounds). Rounding out the line is senior 6-foot-2, 215-pound tackle Waylon Spear. The performance of this group will go a long way to determining the Golden Eagles’ success in A South.
Defensively, Central will line up in a 3-4 and leading the way will be Corbin and Bickford from their defensive end and outside linebacker spots, respectively. Expect both to be very active and looking to make plays in the backfield. Corbin will be joined on the defensive line by 240-pound sophomore nose guard Troy Warren, junior Vance Pelino and Matuska.
The group of linebackers appears to be a solid one with Horgan teaming up with Bickford on the outside and junior Lino Delgiudice and senior Andrew Kelly handling the middle. Sophomore Javaugn Mayers will also see action.
The defensive backfield will be led by Holloway and juniors Jonathan Gonzalez, Jonathan Banks and Neil Harrington along with sophomore Curtis Lively.
Central will get some help from Donovan Catholic transfer Jared Giamo, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound two-way tackle who must sit out the first few games before he is eligible to play.
The Golden Eagles swing into action early, visiting Southern on Friday, Sep. 2 in one of two Week Zero games, and Fumando expects his team to be ready. He also admits to being a bit nervous heading into his head coaching debut, but, like his players, that will likely be gone after the opening kickoff. What will not be gone is the intensity he hopes to instill in his team and belief that he and his young staff are building a program that will eventually make opposing teams nervous when they visit Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field.
Head Coach: Justin Fumando, first season
Career record: 0-0.
Coaching staff: Chris James (off. coord./QB); Jarrett Pidgeon (def. coord./LB); Dennis Pidgeon (DL/RB); Terrance Hardy (OLB/TE); Anthony Barone (DB); Alex Iachetta, Matt Kiefer (OL); Rocco Manfre, Pat Reilly (freshmen).
2015 Record: 6-4 (5-2)
Big Shoes to Fill: Eli Allen/Joe Fowler, QB
Replacing all-everything Michael Miserendino will not be easy, especially at quarterback where he had an outstanding season. How quickly junior Eli Allen or sophomore Joe Fowler can take charge of the offense will be a key. They will have to be able to throw with some success as defenses put eight men in the box to stop Bickford.
X Factor: Physicality
It is a big move up from Class B South to Class A South and Central’s success will likely depend on their ability to match up with bigger and deeper teams. Coach Fumando stresses strength training but only had a couple of months to implement his off-season workout after being hired.
Glue Guys: Mike Bickford, Sr., RB/LB and Denis Corbin, Sr., TE/DE
Bickford has run for over 3,500 yards in two varsity seasons and clearly teams will be stacking the box to stop him in his tracks. He needs to provide a consistent ground game for the Golden Eagles and also will be counted on to the lead the defense from his outside linebacker spot. Corbin has flown under the radar, but look for him to shine as both a blocker and pass rusher.
Impact Newcomer: Kavon Chambers, Fr., RB
Why pick a freshman running back at a spot where you have Bickford? Chambers has a lot of ability and just might provide a change of pace. Tough to play in A South as a freshman but he could be something special.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 9 vs Toms River East
Central’s first home game as a member of Class A South comes against a Raiders team that is coming off a one-win season and also features a new coaching staff. Early season wins are vital for both teams but at home Central needs to get a “W” here.