Football: Preseason Camp Preview – Class A South
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 South.
We will have in-depth previews of each team in the Shore Conference starting in mid-August as camps get underway.
CLASS A SOUTH
Who’s in, who’s out?: The division remained the same after the Shore Conference realignment.
Random fact: With one victory, Lacey head coach Lou Vircillo can pass the late Vic Kubu of Manasquan and Middletown North fame for second all-time in career wins in Shore Conference history. Vircillo enters his 34th season as the only coach in Lions’ history tied with Kubu with 263 wins, second all-time behind retired Brick legend Warren Wolf, whose 364 wins are second all-time in New Jersey history.
Returning All-Division players
Carmen Sclafani, Sr., QB, Brick (SSN 1st team All-Shore pick)
Tymere Berry, Sr., QB, Toms River South (2nd team All-Shore)
Khaleel Greene, Sr., RB, Toms River South
Asante Moorer, Jr., RB, Toms River North
Adam Kakar, Sr., DL, Toms River North
Dashon Copes, Jr., DL, Toms River North
James Juliano, Sr., LB, Brick (3rd team All-Shore)
Jeff Wood, Sr., LB, Toms River East
Ray Fattaruso, Sr., RB/LB, Brick (1st team All-Shore)
Who is the favorite in one of the Shore Conference’s toughest divisions?
Given the firepower it has coming back from a state championship team, it has to be Brick. The Green Dragons roared back to the Shore Conference elite in winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title last year for their first state championship since 1994 and the seventh in their illustrious history. Senior quarterback Carmen Sclafani and senior running back/linebacker Ray Fattaruso, a pair of Shore Sports Network first-team All-Shore picks a year ago, return as one of the scariest offensive tandems in the conference after they both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year. They also return their top wideouts, Joe Phillips, Ja’Quez Johnson and sophomore Jazir Taylor, as well as standout tight end Simon Bingelis, so this looks to be one of the Shore’s most explosive and balanced offenses.
Fattaruso is also a star defensively, where top tackler James Juliano returns at linebacker along with standouts like senior defensive lineman Jake Layton, junior linebacker Dan Finelli, defensive back Tom Leech and Johnson at cornerback. The ingredients are there for this team to make a serious run at 12-0, but it has to avoid the inconsistency and injuries that plagued it at times last year. Also, last season they were still floating under the radar in the preseason. This year they will enter as a top-five team in the Shore with a bulls’ eye on their back, so we’ll see how they handle being the hunted from Day One in a very competitive division. This was the Shore Conference’s most entertaining division by far last year, with crazy scores every week, so running the gauntlet unscathed is no easy task.
Jackson Memorial is the defending champion, but will have a tall order in replacing some outstanding talent like SSN first-teamers Ken Bradley and Khani Glover, along with linebacker Vinny Celidonio, wideout Marcus Ademilola and others from a great senior class. Senior quarterback Joe DeMaio returns, but the void left by Glover, a 1,400-yard rusher, will have to be filled in the backfield. A solid group of linemen return led by senior Brad Greenway along with standout tight end/defensive lineman Brody Graham and senior linebacker Zach Tetro, so there are some building blocks there to keep the wins coming. It mainly comes down to the offense being able to weather the loss of Glover and Bradley, who had 278 of the 385 rushing attempts by the Jaguars last season, and the defense being able to overcome the loss of one of the best linebacking groups in the Shore.
Will Toms River South claim a title to complete its resurgence?
There might not be a hungrier team in the Shore returning than Toms River South after the way the Indians’ playoff run ended. They were up 24-0 at halftime on Shawnee in the South Jersey Group IV semifinals, seemingly on their way to their first state final since 1998 before the Renegades roared back to win 28-24 and then went on to win the sectional title. Despite graduating stars like defensive back/wideout Darrius Hart and linebacker/running backs Otis Kearney and Russell Messler, the cupboard is far from bare. Senior Tymere Berry returns as one of the Shore Conference’s best and most exciting quarterbacks and senior Khaleel Greene is poised for a big season after sharing carries in a talented backfield last year. The offensive weapons are there, so the main question is defensively, where the Indians just couldn’t come up with stops in the fourth quarter of big games last year in allowing 21 points per game. The offense is so explosive that the defense might barely be sitting down before Berry rips off a 70-yard touchdown run and they have to go back out there, so conditioning and depth are crucial. Their run defense will need to improve after being gashed by Brick, Shawnee and others last year. If that unit makes a jump forward, the Indians should be right in the hunt for a division title to give them a championship to show for helping pull the team from the abyss of the program’s first winless season since 1963 in 2010.
Can Lacey bounce back after collapsing at the end of last season?
Last year, Lacey essentially had the same season Brick Memorial had in 2012. They started 5-0 and looked like one of the Shore’s top five teams and then the bottom fell out and they were blown out in listless performances down the stretch. The Lions lost five straight to end the year and allowed 40 points per game in those losses, including giving up a school-record 62 in a wild 62-44 loss to division champion Jackson Memorial. It was a far cry from the typically hard-nosed, stingy defensive teams that have characterized Lacey under Hall of Fame coach Lou Vircillo.
They graduated the school’s all-time leading passer, Tom Kelly, and 1,000-yard receiver Christian Tutela, so the offense lost its two biggest stars. However, senior Conor Davies has multiple starts under his belt during his career because of injuries to Kelly so he will slide right into the starting spot full time. The main question is defensively, where Tutela and graduated lineman Matt McGovern were two of the leading tacklers. They do return junior linebacker Jacob Post, who had 60 tackles as a sophomore, but fellow returning linebacker Lucas Sirotniak tore his ACL during lacrosse season so he might not be available in the early going. Junior Tarique Smith, the younger brother of UMass star lineman Tyrell Smith, is heading into his third year on varsity and looks to make a bigger impact this season. On paper, this team is not quite up there with the favorites, but Lacey always seems to be in contention.
What teams may surprise?
Brick Memorial was one second away from pulling the biggest first-round upset of the playoffs last year when it nearly shocked Manalapan as the eighth seed in a 14-13 heartbreaker in Central Jersey Group V. The Mustangs are used to being in the mix for championships, so the past two years have been frustrating, especially given the rise of rival Brick in a town the Mustangs ruled for nearly a decade. They bring back senior Joe Hans, an all-around athlete who played some quarterback last year in the triple option offense, and playmaking wideout Karl Kumm. Senior fullback Connor Owen also returns, so the offense has a good amount of experience after suffering some inconsistency last year with position changes. They have to replace star linebacker Jake Lombardo and first-team All-Shore safety Mike Basile on defense, but do return junior defensive lineman Mike Nobile and Hans at cornerback to lead that unit. They play Brick in the season opener, so their chance to send a message is immediate.
Like Brick Memorial, Southern is a steady program that is always well-coached and physical, but the question remains if the Rams have the talent to make a serious run in a division loaded with it. They graduated one of the best offensive weapons in the state and one of the best players in their history in Penn State freshman tight end Mike Gesicki, as well as defensive stalwarts like linebackers Mason Fazekas and Bailey Bellissimo and defensive back Logan Sheehan, who was also the quarterback. Defensive linemen Clay Robinson and Pat Ferraro will be counted on to lead the defense, but this will be one of the more inexperienced teams in the division, and one that has to replace its top three leading rushers, its leading passer and its leading receiver from a .500 team.
As far as the team with the most potential to take a leap forward in the win column, that has to be Toms River North. The perennial power stumbled to a 1-9 season last year, but a lot of young talent took its lumps, so the hope is that experience starts to pay off this year. The defense has to improve after giving up 30 points per game last year. The building blocks are there with the return of senior linebacker Jordan Craig, who boasts multiple FBS offers, senior defensive tackle Adam Kakar, a four-year starter who should be one of the Shore’s best, and junior defensive end Dashon Copes, an All-Division pick as a sophomore. Mike Husni learned on the job at quarterback last year as a freshman and looks to be improved with a year under his belt, and sophomore Darrion Carrington is a weapon at wideout along with Craig at tight end. Junior Asante Moorer is also poised for a big year at tailback after gaining the interest of several FBS programs in the offseason and could emerge as one of the Shore’s best.
Toms River East has the biggest uphill battle of anyone after graduating a senior class that had been on varsity for three years and comprised the majority of the starting lineup, particularly on offense. The biggest void is star running back Matt Gudzak, who is now at Villanova. The main returner is senior running back/linebacker Jeff Wood, who is the returning leader in rushing yards and tackles and will be joined at linebacker by junior returner Avery Del Valle, who made 50 tackles as a sophomore. Junior tight end/defensive end Brandon Burdge also looks to take on a bigger role after seeing time as a sophomore, and senior Ryan Wasilick anchors the secondary.