Football – Praise-Worthy: 2017 Freehold Boro Preview
Before last season, Freehold Borough head football coach Dave Ellis thought running back Ashante Worthy had a chance to be the best running back he has coached by the end of his senior year.
Now that Worthy is entering his final high school season, Ellis has changed his tune somewhat.
“He’s the best athlete I’ve ever been around,” Ellis said of Worthy.
An early-season injury forced Ellis to move Worthy from tailback to quarterback, a move Ellis never would have imagined making were his hand not forced. It’s not hard to understand why considering that as a sophomore, Worthy logged 1,300 yards on the ground as a tailback.
“We were having trouble getting him the ball so we just figured let’s snap it right to him and go from there,” Ellis said. “I wasn’t really thinking about him throwing the ball.”
It turns out he can do that as well.
“I’ve had running backs who can throw the ball enough to run a halfback pass and I knew he could do that,” Ellis said. “I had no idea he could throw the ball like he can.”
“I could always throw the ball,” Worthy said. “It was just a matter of getting my I.Q. better and throwing the ball in the right spots.”
In his first year playing quarterback since he was nine, Worthy threw for 838 yards and nine touchdowns. While that’s a pretty good year for a running back, the numbers he put up as a runner were flat-out staggering: 2,036 yards and 30 touchdowns.
In a first-round win over Pennsauken in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV Playoffs, Worthy set an NJSIAA record for most points in a playoff game by accounting for 10 total touchdowns. He rushed for 465 yards and eight scores while throwing for 71 yards and two more touchdowns.
“Growing up, high school, college, coaching – I’ve never seen anybody who can kick touchbacks on a kickoff, who can kick a 40-yard field goal, who can punt it 40 yards, who can throw a fade 50 yards on the dime and who can run the ball like he does. I’ve seen people do one or two of those things, but to be able to do all of those things is pretty amazing.”
Now that Ellis knows Worthy’s skills on the football field aren’t limited to just running, he will be the Colonials quarterback from the outset in 2017, as well as the focal point of the Freehold Boro running game. He will operate behind an offensive line that will look to fill in around returning starters Tyler Bennett and junior Alex Verardi. Junior Vincent Manning, junior Zac Wiles, sophomore Jake Larsen, senior Dalton Burdge and senior Seth Linares all figure into the other three spots.
Freehold will once again look to spread the formation with receivers, with Worthy as the lone backfield option on many of the team’s plays. Junior Quincy Davis, senior Matt Krauss and senior Jahvonte Hair have all built a rapport with Worthy over the offseason and return with a chance to impact the passing game even more this year.
“We’re more up-tempo now,” Hair said. “We’re on the same page, so now we can just get to the line and go. Ashante’s a great player, so we just have to do our jobs.”
A new weapon in the offense will be freshman Ahmad Dixon, whose older brother, Josh, ran for more than 1,500 yards in 2014, when Worthy was a freshman. Dixon can play wideout or in the backfield, which could give him a chance to take pressure off of Worthy the same way Worthy carried a part of the load for Josh.
Senior Matt DaSilva, junior Savion Macon and sophomore Andre Kelly are also lined up for time at receiver.
The strength of Freehold Boro’s defense will be in the secondary, which makes sense given the depth the Colonials have at wide receiver. Hair will man one of the cornerback positions, while Worthy, Macon and senior Lucas Staples will cycle in at the other one. Krauss returns as the free safety and DaSilva and fellow senior Yahsan Calhoun will play the two hybrid safety spots in Freehold’s 3-3-5 defense.
Larsen, junior Knox Stokes, Zach Neely, Jaylin Canada and sophomore Zach Rodriguez will account for the traditional linebacker spots, while Linares, Verardi, senior Kenny Tomkovich, junior Nelson Mejia and junior Quajon Everett comprise the rotation on the defensive line.
“We’ve addressed some things on defense,” Everett said. “We were scoring some points at the end of last year, but defense wins championships. I’m not happy with how we played on defense last year and a lot of it wasn’t personnel. A lot of it was mental mistakes and that just goes back to being mentally tough.”
Although Worthy and the Colonials made headlines late in the season, the team had a start to forget in 2016. Freehold Boro opened the season with four consecutive losses and have to claw its way back into the playoff picture, which it did. Although the Colonials once again face a difficult start to the season – its first four games are against Freehold Township, Howell, Neptune and Manalapan – they expect to be more prepared this time around and to put themselves in a better position for the second half of the schedule.
“There were guys talking about giving up and how we don’t have a chance to make the playoffs,” Worthy said. “Coach told us, ‘That’s not true. Keep working hard at practice and we can make a run.’ Hot, cold, rain, snow, whatever: we came out and turned the season around.”
As long as Freehold Boro can reach the postseason again, the Colonials should again be a dangerous team, as long as the offensive line can minimize the big hits its quarterback takes. If Worthy is relatively fresh heading into mid-November, the Colonials have a chance to build on their one playoff win last year and near-win at Brick in a 24-23 sectional semifinal loss.
“We made plays last year and came up a little short,” Hair said. “This year, we’re fighting to get that ring.”
Head Coach: Dave Ellis, seventh season
Career Record: 26-35
2016 Record: 6-5 (2-4 in Class A North)
Assistant Coaches: Mike D’Antonio (WR/Pass Game/OLB), Jason Blum (Run Game/OL/DL), John Kinzel (OL/DL), Matt Whalen (RB/DB), Mike Stoia (Freshman Head Coach), Nick Rice (Freshman), Jim Lee (Freshman), Mike Stehl (Athletic Trainer)
Big Shoes to Fill: Alex Verardi, OL/DL
With some new starters on the offensive line and a dynamic quarterback to keep upright, an experienced lineman like Verardi will be key. The defensive line will also have some relative inexperience so the Colonials are looking for Verardi to join Bennett as a leader on the line.
Freehold has a chance to knock off most teams on its schedule because of how much of a weapon Worthy is. Of course, keeping him healthy will be paramount and Everett will have to balance utilizing his best weapon with keeping him fresh. While the Colonials might love to maximize Worthy’s carries, he can’t be a weapon if he’s not on the field.
Glue Guy: Matt Krauss, WR/DB
Krauss was one of Freehold Boro’s top tacklers as a junior and will be a steady influence on the defense at his free safety position. He will also be one of several capable weapons in the passing game, which should be even better this season now that Worthy and his receivers have spent an entire offseason together in their current roles.
Impact Newcomer: Ahmad Dixon, WR
The younger brother of former standout running back Josh Dixon, Ahmad Dixon is aiming to make an immediate impact as a freshman. Freehold Boro should be pretty deep at the wide receiver position, but Everett would like to find a role for another talented up-and-comer for the Colonials.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 9 vs. Freehold Township
For the second straight year, Freehold Boro’s schedule is front-loaded with the toughest opponents on its regular-season schedule, namely Howell in Week 2 and Manalapan in Week 4. Jumping out to a good start against Freehold Township would send the Colonials into the Howell game on a positive note and put them well ahead of last year’s 0-4 pace through four games.