Football: Preseason Camp Preview – Class A North
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, starting with Class A North.
We will have in-depth previews of each team in the Shore Conference starting in mid-August as camps get underway.
CLASS A NORTH
Who’s in, who’s out?: Colts Neck has been realigned to Class B North and replaced by Freehold Boro.
Returning All-Division players:
Chad Freshnock, Jr., RB, Middletown North (SSN 3rd-team All-Shore)
Joe Sellmeyer, Jr., OL, Manalapan (2nd-team All-Shore)
(From B North) Josh Dixon, Sr., RB, Freehold
John Cheung, Sr., RB/KR/PR Manalapan
Mike Caggiano, Sr., K/P, Manalapan (1st-team All-Shore)
Joe Mendez, Sr., LB, Manalapan
Troy Thompson, Sr., TE/DB, Middletown North
Dan Debner, Sr., RB/DB/PR/KR, Manalapan
Random fact: Manalapan is trying to become the first Shore Conference team to win five straight division titles since Middletown South won seven straight from 1999-2005.
Can anyone stop Manalapan’s reign atop the division?
The Braves have won 25 straight games against Shore Conference competition and have not lost a divisional game since 2009, racking up four straight division titles. Since they were realigned into Class A North in 2010, they have not lost a divisional game. Every time it looks like the graduation of a large and talented senior class makes it look like they might lose a step, they have come right back and won the division. They have reached three straight NJSIAA sectional finals and come up short, so the hunger is still there to get to the finish line and complete the job. They have 100-plus players in the program, so depth is never an issue. The Braves graduated another superlative senior class that included Penn State wideout Saeed Blacknall, SSN Defensive Player of the Year Chris Noesges, first-team All-Shore defensive lineman R.J. Krause and a host of other talent. They returned linebacker Joe Mendez and defensive back Dan Debner to lead the defense, while senior Imamu Mayfield looks to step in at tailback for graduated standout Tyler Leonetti as part of a strong backfield that includes Debner and senior John Cheung. Senior quarterbacks Dan Anerella and Charles Lombana, who split time last year with Anerella getting the majority of the snaps down the stretch, are also both back. They also have a major special teams weapon in Mike Caggiano, one of the state’s top kicker/punter combos. This team has shown it can reload in the past, so it has to be considered the favorite until someone takes the Braves out.
With Colts Neck now in Class B North, the likeliest challenger to Manalapan’s throne is a familiar one – Middletown South. The Eagles, who play at Manalapan on Oct. 17, have a talented junior class returning that gained a wealth of experience as sophomores and has a stellar sophomore class coming up. Which leads us to…
2. Is Middletown South ready to rejoin the Shore Conference elite?
Middletown South had its first non-winning season in 29 years last fall in finishing 5-5, so if that doesn’t stoke the fire among the returning group, nothing will. The core of the team is a junior class led by linebackers Dylan Rogers, Trent Giglio and Tom Coffey as well as running back/defensive back Cole Rogers, Dylan’s twin brother. Junior quarterback/kicker/punter Matt Mosquera is another key returner, while FCS prospect James Wilson, wideout/defensive back Nolan Pereless, lineman Dan Servidio and defensive end/tight end Pat Crowe head up the senior class. A freshman team that outscored its opponents 293-0 last year now looks to make an impact as sophomores. The main question with the Eagles is whether they are a year away, or whether they will rise up and vanquish Manalapan this year. These juniors and sophomores are the group that has been talked about as the one that will restore the Eagles to glory, so we’ll see if that means this year or next year.
3. Is Middletown North ready to make the leap?
After nearly 20 years of living in Middletown South’s shadow, the Lions started to gain some buzz on the other side of town last year when they reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs and gave Nottingham, which won the CJ Group III title in 2012, all it could handle in a 35-33 loss in the first round. In the first year under head coach Steve Bush, freshman quarterback Donald Glenn threw for 1,557 yards and 15 touchdowns, which both may be Shore Conference records for a freshman. His passing yards ranked fifth in the Shore and he was tied for fourth in touchdown passes in attempting the fourth-most passes of any quarterback in the conference. If he continues to mature and boost his production, he could make a serious run at the Shore Conference’s all-time passing yards record (6,619) set by former Toms River East star Colin Gaynor.
His return along with junior tailback Chad Freshnock (1,056 yards, 11 TDs) gives the Lions an explosive tandem in their pro-style offense. With wideouts Jordan Pitts and Troy Thompson also returning, this could be one of the more exciting teams in the Shore offensively. Now that he has a year of the system and the speed of the game under his belt, Glenn will look to improve his accuracy after throwing 16 interceptions and completing 48 percent of his passes last year. The Lions went 3-7 last year and lost 43-6 to rival Middletown South, so there still is a big gap to close. It will take a significant improvement to get to the seven- or eight-win mark, but the marquee players are there. It will mainly come down to how well the offensive line performs and a defense that has to get much better after giving up 30.6 points per game against a brutal schedule last year.
4. What is the division’s most intriguing team?
This is a toss-up between Howell and Freehold Boro to me, and I will go with Howell. The Rebels have a new head coach in former New Egypt coach Luke Sinkhorn, who played under late Hall of Famer Vic Kubu during his legendary tenure at Manasquan. Sinkhorn ran a multiple-I offense at New Egypt, and Kubu’s teams were all known for punishing opponents with an I-formation running attack to set up play action and screens. That’s a far cry from the five-wide, no-huddle spread passing attack that has characterized Howell since its rise in the mid-2000s under former coach Cory Davies. The Rebels kept that system under former coach Derek Reichenbecher, but this could be a new-look Howell squad that aims to play physical defense and go after teams with the running game. That instantly makes them a curiosity in the early-going as Sinkhorn looks to put his imprint on the program, which has not won a state playoff game since 2009.
As for Freehold, the Colonials move over from the smashmouth Class B North after a 2-8 season. What makes them interesting is that they return junior quarterback Jake Curry after he started some games down the stretch last year and they have senior Josh Dixon, one of the Shore Conference’s most underrated running backs. Also, former Raritan star Andrew Mandeville is now the offensive coordinator after coaching the quarterbacks, so the combination of those three and others look to boost the production of a unit that has been Freehold’s Achilles’ heel. Freehold averaged 13.9 points per game last year, including 10 points per game against opponents who made the state playoffs. If that can improve, they could be the sleeper team of the division.
Will Marlboro or Freehold Township make a move in the standings?
Both of these teams have found themselves in the back of the pack consistently, with Marlboro still seeking its first winning season since 1999 and Freehold Township trying for its first winning season since 2004. This is Marlboro's second season under head coach Jason Dagato after a difficult step back in a 2-8 season last year following a 4-6 campaign in 2012 in which they were in the running for a state playoff berth. They graduated top players Dustin Jensen and Chris Coyle, so it will be an uphill battle again this fall.
Freehold Township had a lot of young players in its lineup last season like quarterback Jack O'Brien and all-around talent Nate Corvil, so the hope is that taking some lumps in a one-win season will pay off this year.