Football: Preseason Camp Preview – Class B 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, continuing here with Class B North.
We will have in-depth previews of each team in the Shore Conference starting in mid-August as camps get underway.
CLASS B NORTH
Who’s in, who’s out?: Red Bank Catholic is now in the division after being realigned from Class A Central, and Matawan has replaced the Caseys in Class A Central. Colts Neck enters the division from Class A North, and Freehold has moved to Class A North to replace the Cougars.
Random fact: With two more 1,000-yard seasons, Ocean junior Tyler Thompson can become the second running back in Shore Conference history to have four 1,000-yard seasons, joining Middletown South legend and current Miami Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno.
Returning All-Division players
Royal Moore, Sr., QB/DB, Ocean (transferred to Neptune) (SSN 2nd-team All-Shore pick)
Tyler Thompson, Jr., RB, Ocean (2nd team All-Shore)
Jaree Parrish, Sr., RB/LB, Neptune
Sadiq Palmer, Jr., WR, Red Bank
Hunter Baillie, Sr., LB/DE, Long Branch (3rd team All-Shore)
Dahmiere Willis, Sr., RB/DB, Long Branch
Hunter Daly, Sr., K/P, Neptune (2nd team All-Shore)
(From A Central) Ryan Kroeger, Sr., OL, Red Bank Catholic
(From A Central) Eddie Hahn, Jr., QB/DB, Red Bank Catholic
(From A Central) Jamie Gordinier, Sr., LB, Red Bank Catholic (1st team All-Shore)
(From A Central) Mike DeMonte, Sr., DB, Red Bank Catholic
(From A Central) Mike Cordova, Sr., RB/DB, Red Bank Catholic (2nd team All-Shore)
Can anyone stop Red Bank Catholic from a march to its fifth straight division title?
Just like Manalapan, the Caseys are bidding to become the first Shore Conference team to win five straight division titles since Middletown South won seven in a row from 1999-2005. Now in Class B North, they become the immediate favorite, entering the season having won 33 straight games against Shore Conference competition. They will begin the season ranked No. 1 in the Shore once again after having claimed that ranking for three years running. The Caseys graduated another superlative class led by Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and SSN first-team All-Shore picks Tim O’Hara, Larry Redaelli and Shawn McCord, but are still stocked with talent. Another first-team All-Shore pick, Miami-bound senior linebacker Jamie Gordinier, returns along with senior running back/safety Mike Cordova, a second-team pick, and junior quarterback/defensive back Eddie Hahn, who already boasts a North Carolina State offer. The latest scholarship players from the Caseys’ offensive line assembly line are senior Ryan Kroeger, who is committed to Fordham, and junior Liam Smith, who has multiple FBS offers. Senior defensive back Mike DeMonte is another top returner on a defense that has been the Shore’s most ferocious in recent years.
With RBC and Colts Neck moving into an already tough division, this could be the Shore's deepest and toughest group of teams. As you can see from that list of returning talent above, it's also packed with top players.
The main intrigue is whether RBC will unleash Hahn, a dual threat with a strong arm who split snaps with graduated senior Pat Toomey last year. The Caseys only attempted 7.4 passes per game last year because they were able to continue their dominance in the ground game, where they racked up 3,074 yards rushing as a team on a ridiculous average of 8.9 yards per carry. The quest continues to find a way to beat the reigning No. 1 team in the state, St. Joseph-Montvale, which has handed them their only loss of the season for two years running in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinals. RBC has scored a total of 19 points in those two losses, so boosting the offense to face an elite defense like St. Joe’s is the next step in the Caseys’ evolution. First they have to handle business in a tough division.
Is there a better group of running backs than the one in this division?
It’s a good debate between this division and Class A South, which has Brick’s Ray Fattaruso, Toms River South’s Khaleel Greene and Toms River North’s Asante Moorer returning. I still lean toward Class B North because the group of Ocean’s Tyler Thompson, Neptune’s Jaree Parrish, Red Bank Catholic’s Mike Cordova, and Long Branch’s Dahmiere Willis is impressive. Every one of them has the ability to rush for 1,200-plus yards this fall. Plus, Colts Neck senior Abdul Quddus showed explosiveness in running for 532 yards and four touchdowns on a whopping average of 11 yards per carry in spelling graduated All-Shore star Anthony Gargiulo last year.
Thompson is the most accomplished of the group, with two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt along with multiple FBS offers as one of New Jersey’s top backs in the Class of 2016. Ocean is the defending division champion but has to replace an outstanding senior class that included first-team All-Shore linebacker Dan Loizos and a host of other talent. With senior quarterback Royal Moore having transferred to Neptune, that most likely paves the way for sophomore Kenny Pickett, who saw some snaps as a freshman, which included throwing a touchdown pass to Moore. If Pickett can establish a solid passing game and the offensive line can weather graduation losses, that will help keep teams from stacking the box against Thompson. The offensive production is going to have to be as good or better than last year because it’s going to be hard to ask a defense that lost so much talent to graduation to duplicate last year’s dominant performance. The Spartans do return building blocks like senior linebacker Frank Henry and some experienced defensive linemen, but the loss of Moore also hurts the secondary as he was one of the Shore’s top defensive backs last year.
Among the other top running backs, Parrish ran for 703 yards on 7 yards per carry despite not becoming the primary back until about mid-season for Neptune, so he could double that with a big senior year. Willis is a three-year starter mainly known as being a standout defensive back, but he has shown flashes of rushing brilliance, like his 276-yard eruption in a win over Freehold last year. Cordova is next in line in RBC’s star-making tailback spot after spelling standout Larry Redaelli last year and should put up big numbers.
Conversely, if you’re looking for a lot of passing, this is probably not the division for you. Colts Neck senior quarterback Christian Sanchez has the most returning passing yards of any signal-caller in the division with 961, and he played in Class A North last year. The leading returner who played in this division last year is Moore, who threw for 533 yards (ranked 33rd in the Shore) and seven touchdowns for Ocean.
How will the three teams with new coaches look?
Wall, Colts Neck and Neptune are all under new leadership entering this fall, so the preseason is especially crucial for those teams.
Dan Curcione has ascended to the head spot at Wall after serving as the Crimson Knights’ defensive coordinator last year, and he inherits a team that graduated its starting quarterback, top wideout, and leading rusher from last year, although that unit averaged only 13.6 points per game. They also graduated their top defensive player, defensive end Geoff Horwitz, so there will be a lot of new faces behind senior outside linebacker Joe Onulak, who had 61 tackles and 18 tackles for a loss as a junior. With so many new players in the lineup, this team will be a relative unknown heading into the season.
Neptune has the look of a contender in this division under new coach Rodney Taylor, who was an assistant under former coach Mark Ciccotelli during a great three-year run that featured a state title, two state final appearances and three trips to the playoffs. With Parrish returning and Moore now in the fold at quarterback, plus a veteran offensive line and wideouts Oshane Curate and Marcque Ellington returning along with standout senior kicker/punter Hunter Daly, the offense should be solid. The defense also returns plenty of experienced starters like Curate, linebacker Mi’Jaut Berry and senior safety Savior King. The Scarlet Fliers had a ton of newcomers last year after big graduation losses, so the feeling is that the experience gained last year translates to a deeper state playoff run this year.
Colts Neck has switched divisions after graduating the best senior class in program history and getting a new head coach in Peter Shaw, so it’s a season of change for the Cougars. Gone are stars like Gargiulo (Navy), lineman Ryan Wetzel (Monmouth), and first-team All-Shore linebacker/defensive end Nick Volpe, so there are plenty of shoes to fill from a school-record 10-win team that reached its first state final in history last year. The good news is that Sanchez returns as a dual threat at quarterback, Quddus returns with experience in the backfield, although top wideout Dan Calabro has transferred to St. John Vianney. Defensively is where graduation really took its toll, as the Cougars’ top three tacklers and several other standouts graduated, so they will look to regroup behind junior defensive lineman/linebacker Nick Gargiulo, Anthony’s younger brother, who had 98 tackles as a sophomore. Colts Neck’s job will be to prove the doubters wrong who believe they lost too much to graduation to make another run like last year.
Who is the division’s sleeper team?
I’m inclined to lean toward Neptune, but Long Branch is certainly a candidate as well. Generating offense against playoff-caliber teams has been the Green Wave’s Achilles’ heel in recent seasons because they have been one-dimensional. Teams are able to load up the box against their run game without fear of getting beat over the top in the passing game, so that area will have to improve. Willis is poised for a big year at running back, so if quarterback Jordan Rodriguez can raise his production after seeing time at the end of last year, that would be crucial. It also helps that senior Vinny Mota, one of the Shore’s more underrated kickers, also returns as a red zone weapon.
Long Branch has traditionally done well with a veteran offensive line and returns three starters this year, which is another positive sign. Defensively, this is always one of the Shore’s toughest, most physical teams, and that should be no different with Willis returning to anchor the secondary and senior linebacker/defensive end Hunter Baillie coming back as one of the Shore’s best. They did lose standouts like linebacker Deon Williams and safety Myson Pennington to graduation, but they have shown the ability to plug in new talent and keep producing. If they can boost an offense that only averaged 10 points per game against playoff opponents last year, they should be right in the hunt. The main problem for them is a schedule from hell, which includes nondivisional games against Carteret, which beat them in the first round of the playoffs last year, as well as defending Central Jersey Group II champion Rumson-Fair Haven and a tough Matawan team in addition to a challenging divisional slate.
Red Bank is a team with something to prove after a one-win season, and the Bucs are searching for their first winning season since reaching the Central Jersey Group III final back in 2004. They have to get better offensively to have a shot, as they averaged only 11.5 points per game last year. Their defense kept them right in games against playoff qualifiers like Wall, Barnegat and Long Branch as well as a quality Matawan team, but they didn’t crack double digits in any of those losses. With junior Jack Navitsky at quarterback and the division’s best wideout, junior Sadiq Palmer, the ingredients are certainly there for improvement. If they get better up front and can establish a consistent running game, they can surprise some people.