Football: Preseason Camp Preview – Class A Central
With Shore Conference football camps set to get rolling in August, Shore Sports Network will take a look at each of the six divisions as we head into the preseason, continuing here with Class A Central.
We will have in-depth previews of each team in the Shore Conference starting in mid-August as camps get underway.
CLASS A CENTRAL
Who’s in, who’s out? Division champion Red Bank Catholic has been realigned to Class B North and replaced by Matawan, which was previously in Class B North.
Random fact: Rumson-Fair Haven senior running back Charlie Volker will try to become just the second running back in Shore Conference history to post back-to-back 2,000-yard rushing seasons. Former Keyport star Ken Cattouse, the Shore Conference's all-time leading rusher with 6,720 yards, did it in 2002-03.
Returning All-Division players
Charlie Volker, Sr., RB, Rumson-FH (SSN 1st team All-Shore)
Frank Condito, Sr., LB/RB, Holmdel
(From B North) Aliem Shaw, Jr., LB, Matawan (1st team All-Shore)
(From B North) Khalil Haskins, Jr., DB, Matawan (transferred to St. John Vianney)
Who is the front-runner now that defending champion Red Bank Catholic has switched divisions?
Rumson-Fair Haven looks like the team to beat after a school-record 11-win season where the only blemish on the Bulldogs’ record was a loss to RBC. They return the Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year, senior tailback Charlie Volker, who went nuclear for a school-record 2,108 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns to lead the Shore Conference in rushing in his first year as the starter last season. A workhorse running back, he has improved his speed in the offseason and most likely will land at an Ivy League or Patriot League program. Rumson did graduate SSN first-team All-Shore picks Donald Bedell (Rutgers) at defensive end, Peter Righi (Monmouth) on the offensive line and Tom Martello (Princeton) at safety/linebacker as well as several other talented seniors, but this is a deep program that has shown the capacity to reload and has a strong sophomore class coming up to varsity. RBC is no longer on the schedule because the Bulldogs dropped their longtime Thanksgiving rivalry with the Caseys to start a new rivalry with Shore Regional. That means the first 12-0 season in school history is achievable if Rumson repeats as Central Jersey Group II champions, but it won’t be easy against a quality schedule. Their formula is simple under head coach Bryan Batchler – pound teams with Volker and play great defense. They will look to repeat that in 2014.
What does Matawan’s return to the division mean?
It means some great rivalries get restarted after a short hiatus and another contender jumps right into the mix. The Huskies and Rumson have played some classics in recent years, which included splitting a pair of Central Jersey Group II championships. Also, the Matawan-Manasquan rivalry has also been an exciting one over the years featuring some tremendous teams slugging it out. Both will be renewed this fall.
The Huskies will be especially hungry heading into this season after finishing 7-3 last year but not earning a state playoff berth, while several sub-.500 teams in other brackets made it. They lost All-Shore kicker/punter Mike Creamer and some defensive stars like Dartmouth freshman Nick Tomkins to graduation and junior defensive back Khalil Haskins to transfer (St. John Vianney), but they still return a solid nucleus of talent. Junior linebacker Aliem Shaw exploded on to the scene last year to earn SSN first-team All-Shore honors after leading the Shore Conference in sacks (17) and tackles for a loss (30). With the return of senior quarterback Jimmy Pierce and other weapons, the Huskies hope to improve an offense that averaged 18.9 points per game. They had one of the Shore’s most swarming and physical defenses last year in allowing only 8.9 points per game, so if they can pick it up offensively, they should be right there in the mix in the division and state playoff races.
Manasquan was on the doorstep to a state final before falling to eventual champion Delsea in the South Jersey Group III semifinals last year and should be right in the thick of this division race as usual. Last year marked the first time Manasquan had a senior class go through all four years of high school without the program reaching a state final since 1985, which shows how insanely high the bar is set at one of the Shore Conference’s traditional powers.
The Warriors have to replace starting quarterback Tucker Caccavale, top wideout Joe Fittin, top linemen Matt Forst and Monte Sinisi and 1,000-yard rusher Joe Murphy, but do return James “Bubba” McAlary, who was a solid complement in the backfield to Murphy after quitting soccer and coming out for the team last year. Senior tight end/linebacker Tanner Cowley, a Virginia recruit, is another offensive weapon who also will be called on to lead the defense after the graduation of leading tackler Blaine Birch. There are going to be a lot of new faces in the starting lineup, but this is a program that has shown it can weather graduation losses. The bad news down the road is that the loaded Delsea team that won South Jersey Group III last year isn’t going anywhere, so the Warriors will have to bring it up several notches to return to glory on the state playoff scene.
Who is the sleeper team of the division?
The two that have received the most buzz are St. John Vianney and Monmouth, but I would also put Raritan in this category. I would define being a sleeper in this division as finishing in the top three and making the state playoffs (although St. John Vianney will always make the state playoffs because there are only nine teams in the Non-Public Group III classification).
The Lancers have brought aboard head coach Mark Ciccotelli, who took Freehold and Neptune to state titles in the last four years, so clearly there are expectations that they will show immediate improvement after a 4-6 season. They have not won a division title since 1982, but they return junior quarterback Anthony Brown as a key building block, and they also got back senior lineman Clay Kemp, who transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, but then returned in August. They also have added five talented transfers who will see significant time at tailback, slotback and wide receiver. The question is depth and the performance of the line on both sides. Ciccotelli’s flexbone is primarily run-based, which is a far cry from the wide-open passing attack the Lancers used the last few seasons, but he has adjusted it to fit quarterback’s talents like with Neptune and rifle-armed Ajee Patterson in 2012. If Brown becomes as prolific in this offense as past dual threat quarterbacks under Ciccotelli and if the defense improves, the Lancers could be a factor.
Monmouth has some top individual talent coming back like dual threat quarterback Jimmy Green, versatile wideout/defensive back Isaiah Searight (committed to Fordham), running back Eli Velez and cornerback Darryl Gamble, so it’s more about depth for the Falcons after a 3-7 season under Rich Mosca. A defense that gave up 26 points per game will have to improve to make a push for the upper echelon of the division, but the individual skill talent is there to get better. The more depth the Falcons can build so that their top players aren’t playing heavy minutes on both sides of the ball, the better chance they have to surprise.
As for Raritan, the Rockets are looking to get back to the state playoffs for the first time since 2009. They have the ingredients to do it with a schedule that is not as brutal as it has been the last two years and the return of senior quarterback Riley Sullivan, who threw for 1,385 yards and 9 touchdowns in nine games last year. Also returning is senior wideout Dylan Dewysockie, who will be a match-up problem for opponents, linebacker Sean Ennis, who showed playmaking ability as a sophomore, and senior defensive back Colby Jones. Also, junior Jahciere Jones, who battled injuries last season, looks to be another weapon at wideout. The Rockets open with Manasquan, which routed them 42-3 last year, so we’ll see right away if they can close the gap with the division front-runners.
Who is the division’s most underrated player?
Holmdel senior running back/linebacker Frank Condito had a disappointing, injury-plagued season last year, but he has the potential to be one of the Shore’s best linebackers with a healthy senior season. He is a four-year varsity player and one of the few known talents on a Holmdel team that has a new head coach in former Keyport assistant Jay Graham. The Hornets have struggled in the last two seasons, so Condito’s name hasn’t necessarily been up there with some of the top talents in the Shore, but when healthy he is a first-team All-Shore candidate at linebacker and a potential 1,000-yard rusher.