Football – Over-Knight Overhaul: 2017 Wall Preview
Wall senior quarterback Eddie Scott believes in his ability to make plays and considering he has already won an NJSIAA sectional title as a starting quarterback, he has no reason not to.
Now that his team returns this season with a completely new offensive line, a new head coach and minus an All-Shore running back, Scott is ready to show off the full range of his skills.
“I feel like we can throw and attack this year,” Scott said. “We ran last year because we could and I think this year, instead of throwing because we had to, we’re going to take advantage of our passing game more.”
First-year head coach Tony Grandinetti wouldn’t mind Scott closing out his high school career with a bang, but he is also not looking for Scott to stray far from the player who has quarterbacked the team for the better part of the past two seasons.
If all goes according to the initial plan laid out by Grandinetti – the offensive line coach on last year’s South Jersey Group III championship team – Scott will not have to throw the ball much more than he did last year, when his primary job was to manage a running game that overwhelmed most of its opposition during a 10-2 campaign.
“Eddie is a three-year starter, so we feel very good about putting the ball in his hands in any situation,” Grandinetti said. “With that being said, we still want to be a team that gets a push up front and can pick up yards on the ground. Ultimately, that’s going to make Eddie more effective as a quarterback, so even if he’s going to throw it more, it still has to start up front with the line.”
Although Wall will have to replace 1,500-yard rusher Sean Larkin, senior Brady McNally returns with experience carrying the ball and even started a game at tailback when Larkin was injured. Versatile senior Chavesse Covin also returns and will be a primary option in the Wall offense last year after serving as a change-of-pace to Larkin out of the slot.
Wall will be working in plenty of new pieces around Scott, McNally and Covin, including junior receiver Dylan Richey. Richey returns with experience in the defensive backfield as well as some at wide receiver, but he figures to be a more integral part of the offense this year as a potential lead option in a passing game that is likely to account for more of the offense.
Junior running back Kamaal Cofer and senior tight end Dean Collatrella also return with a little bit of varsity experience, while junior tight end Tanner Powers and sophomore receivers Teddy Sharkey and Mike Galos figure to see their first varsity action this year.
The key to all of the weapons on offense working out as planned is, of course, the overhauled offensive line. Wall started five seniors across the 2016 line, as well as senior tight end Gene Scott, so this group is as inexperienced as there is in the conference. Grandinetti, however, knows the players well and saw them practice last year while they were blocked by a talented senior unit.
“I had these (lineman) last year when they were playing behind that senior group so I know what they are capable of,” Grandinetti said. “They have everything it takes to make up a quality offensive line at this level. They only thing they don’t have is the experience doing it on Friday nights. Once they get out there and get that part out of the way, they’ll be just fine.”
Junior Joe Fardella and senior Tyler Pappas have the inside track on the two tackle spots, senior Chris Buono and sophomore Ian Ackerman are set to take over the guard spots and junior Brady Scott is Grandinetti’s projected starter at center. Senior Brian Shulman is also competing for time at center while junior Tommy Schneider has earned reps at guard and will be part of the rotation.
“It’s going to be a learning experience to begin with but they are really coming together,” Scott said. “They really haven’t missed a beat. You would think that they were playing together since they were really young. It’s a mix of seniors and younger guys and they are really working well as a unit.”
“You could see already that they really feed off each other,” McNally said about the offensive line. “One of them makes a good block and it energizes the whole offense and makes everyone want to do it on the next play. When you get that feeling going, that’s what makes guys keep working and keep pushing to get better.”
Wall’s offensive line also accounted for the defensive front last season, so the likes of Fardella, Ackerman and Colletrella will have to step in this year. Senior defensive end Travis Aylett will also make an impact on the defensive line, while senior Grant Berardo will also see time up front.
The strength of Wall’s defense should be in the linebacker corps, led by returning inside linebacker Tim McKernan. As a junior last year, McKernan was second on the team with 72 tackles and will share the middle this year with the tandem of Schneider and senior Ryan Kellet. Wall will platoon at the two outside spots as well, with Shulman and Powers on one side and Covin and McNally on the other.
Richey leads the group in the secondary after breaking into the lineup last year and will account for one of the two starting cornerback spots. Senior Josiah Schucht will occupy the other corner, while Cofer and senior Mike Cassidy take care of the safety spots.
While the offensive line is an obvious variable for the Crimson Knights heading into the year, the coaching shakeup is also something to watch for Wall. Dan Curcione took the head coaching job at Donovan Catholic and took offensive coordinator Chip LaBarca, Jr. with him, so two of the architects of last year’s championship season are no longer on staff.
Grandinetti, however, was also on the staff and Wall will be under the watch of a 2017 staff that has plenty of experience together. Grandinetti also brought on former Middletown North head coach Joe Trezza as defensive coordinator.
In a deep, dangerous Class B North division, Wall will have its hands full as it hopes to reload on the line while remaining in the hunt for the postseason and the public division championship. With Scott, Cover, McNally and McKernan providing some stability during the retool, the Crimson Knights have a chance at a worthy follow-up to the 2016 championship season.
“There are a lot of new faces here but the atmosphere is great,” Scott said. “It’s exciting to come to practice every day and see who is going to step up.”
Head Coach: Tony Grandinetti, first season
Career Record: 0-0
2016 Record: 10-2 (4-2 in Class B North)
Assistant Coaches: Joe Trezza (Defensive Coordinator), Mike Cerminaro (QB), Bob Grace (RB), Derek Gardner (TE), Fred Sprenger (WR), Joe LaFerlita (LB), Tim Heaney (DL), James Cadigan (OL), Jim Rochford (Head Freshman), Bill Pietsch (Freshman), Mike Galos (Freshman)
Big Shoes to Fill: The offensive line
With an entire offensive line and a starting tight end lost to graduation, Wall has some serious overhauling to do on the line this year. Grandinetti sees seven reliable players on the line, so there is optimism in the Crimson Knights camp that while the line won’t be as imposing as last year’s group, it will still be a strength of the team.
X-Factor: Chavesse Covin, WR/RB
Covin was a change-of-pace runner out of the slot as a junior and an effective one at that. Not only will Covin likely get more touches in the running game due to the graduation of Sean Larkin, but he could also be a greater weapon in the passing game if Wall decides the best course is to call for Scott to throw the ball more often.
Glue Guy: Brady McNally, RB/LB
McNally filled whatever role Wall needed during his junior year and as a senior this season, he will get a chance to be the featured running back in the offense. While his role in the backfield will likely limit his snaps on defense, McNally will still play a key spot on the other side of the ball at outside linebacker.
Impact Newcomer: Tanner Powers, TE/OLB
Last year, quarterback Eddie Scott had his brother, Gene, as his tight end and while there won’t be a sibling connection this year, Scott still has capable weapons at his disposal at that position. Powers has impressive Grandinetti and his staff so far and could get the bulk of the tight end snaps despite only being a junior.
Pivotal Game: Oct. 13 at Middletown North
It’s always hard to pinpoint one game in Class B North that is any more important than the others, but Wall’s mid-October trip to Middletown North might very well turn out to be a make-or-break game. The Crimson Knights play an imposing Red Bank Catholic squad the week earlier and regardless of whether they are sitting at 4-1, 3-2 or 2-3 coming out of that game, the Middletown North game will have huge implications. If Wall is 4-1 or 3-2, a division title and a first-round home game in the NJSIAA Playoffs could be in play, while a 2-3 mark would make it a virtual must-win to keep in the postseason hunt.