Football – Plenty of New Faces: 2016 Toms River South Preview
Casual fans of Toms River South football will clearly need a program to find out who is wearing the maroon and white this fall as the Indians replace most of the key contributors from a team that went 5-5 and earned a spot in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV playoffs.
Gone are leading rusher Dashaun Alexander, offensive lineman Kyle Hebrew and two-way standouts Jaden Kosh and Tyler Sosa. To make things even more challenging for head coach Ron Signorino Jr., the two leading candidates for the starting quarterback position did not come out for football and are instead playing baseball in the fall.
Signorino is not asking for pity but will need fans to be a little patient as he and his coaching staff put together the pieces of a team that can hopefully hold their own in the rugged Class A South division. While the names might be unfamiliar now, the sixth year head coach has a good feeling about the current group of 60-plus players.
“When we started six years ago I was asked about expectations but I really never had them,” Signorino said. “What I had was a vision of where I wanted to the program to go and we are almost at the point.”
Signorino said this year’s squad is one he likes working with very much and they have done what has been asked of them heading into their September 10 opener against Lacey at Detweiler Stadium.
Senior leadership will be a key factor for a team with so little experience, and Signorino was lavish in his praise of senior captain Todd Stueber, a standout on the offensive line and at linebacker.
“He is as good a leader as we’ve had and is like having another coach on the field and in the locker room,” Signorino said.
The 6-foot, 225-pound Stueber will help mentor younger players, as will the other captains in Nick Page, a 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker and offensive lineman, and Cooper Guzzi, a slot back and safety.
Three seniors are vying for the starting quarterback position in South’s flexbone option attack with Drew Laing the favorite over T.J. Rockhill and Dominic O’Brien, but all three could see action.
There is little experience at running back where the “A Back” will get the bulk of the carries. The group of candidates is headed up by sophomore Sam Akinlolu and senior Zack Applegate, a transfer from Florida. Applegate played as a blocking fullback before arriving at South but the coaching staff feels like he can make the adjustment to being a featured ball carrier. Senior King Ruiz and sophomore Jalen Hibbert could also see action in the backfield, while Guzzi and senior Tim Velazquez get the bulk on playing time at slot back.
Don’t expect the Indians to air it out often but when they do the top targets figure to be junior Hunter Roberts, senior Nykie Lofton and sophomore Jorien Harris. The starting tight end will be 6’4, 215 pound senior Mike Faone who will be counted on heavily as a blocker. Joining Stueber and Page on the offensive line will be junior center Justin Minniti along with juniors Andre Knowles, Nick Florio and Isaiah Guthridge and senior AJ Alvarez.
With so many new faces on offense it will be up to the defense to carry the load, especially in the first few games. Leading the charge is junior defensive tackle Teddy Suarez, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound fireplug who has dominated preseason action. He comes off the ball with a lightning quick burst that is tough for interior offensive lineman to handle, and will be counted on to cause havoc in the backfield. Joining him upfront will be a solid corps including Knowles, Guthridge, Faone and junior Corey Conner.
Heading up the group of linebackers will be Page, Applegate, Stueber, Alvarez and Minniti as many Indians will be two-way players.
The defensive backfield will include Guzzi, Velazquez, Rockhill, Lofton, Roberts and Hibbert. As it stands now, Lofton will handle both the kicking and punting duties.
For Toms River South to return to the playoffs it will likely need to win its first two games against Lacey and Toms River East, because the in the following five games they will face the Class A South gauntlet in Brick Memorial, Jackson Memorial, Brick and Toms River North.
The task is a challenging one, but Signorino is confident that his group will come together and give Indians fans plenty to cheer about at one of the Shore’s top best home fields, Detweiler Stadium.
Head Coach: Ron Signorino Jr., sixth season.
Career Record: 25-26.
2015 Record: 5-5 (3-4).
Assistant Coaches: Matt Martin (off. coord./DB); Bill Rankin (QB/ST); Bill McDonnell (def. coord./LB); Kyle Austin (OL); Joe Kelly (WR/LB); Ray Guzzi (WR); Jimmy Drackowitz (DL); Bill Malast (OL/DL); Dan Cicala (DB); Joe Zaccone (RB/strength and cond.); Brett Hardie, Dave Fanslau, Trevor Signorino (freshman).
Big Shoes to Fill: Sam Akinlolu, So., RB and Zack Applegate, Sr., RB
The main two candidates to fill the key ‘A Back’ spot and replace the graduated Dashaun Alexander, who rushed for well over 1,000 yards last season.
X-Factor: Quarterback play
With Drew Laing, TJ Rockhill and Dominic O’Brien vying for playing time and leadership of the offense, the quarterback position is a big question mark heading into the season.
Glue Guy: Todd Stueber, Sr., OL/LB
A captain who is without question the team leader on and off the field, Stueber will be counted on to provide guidance to an inexperienced group of players.
Impact Newcomer: Teddy Suarez, Jr., DT
Has caused havoc during the preseason and spends a lot of time in the backfield. One of the quicker players on the Indians roster, he will lead what should be a staunch defense.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 10 vs. Lacey.
The season opener on a Saturday night could set the tone. While Lacey is now in Class B South, this battle with the Lions figures to be a toss-up and a big one if South hopes to return to the state playoffs.