Football – Ready to Repeat: 2015 Manalapan Football Preview
For the first time in program history, Manalapan entered the preseason coming off a state championship. While that’s a nice title for the returners to come in with, they know it means nothing regarding their prospects for 2015.
“It was great, but we’d actually like to forget about it,” said senior lineman Reily Radosevich. “It just gets in the way of hard work. We want to keep working hard and go out there and get another (championship)."
“You can’t think about it because it’s over and done with,” said senior wide receiver/defensive back Anthony Bassani. “We have to reload and get ready for the future.”
The Braves are back and ready to contend for another state title after winning the program’s first last season with a 21-7 victory over South Brunswick in the Central Jersey Group V final. Getting the monkey off their backs after three straight state finals losses was monumental, and now the challenge shifts to doing it again.
“It validated the program and the fact that what we do, we do it the right way,” said Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri. “The program is in great shape and there’s a great foundation, so there’s been no slack or lack of effort getting ready for this season. They’ve worked just as hard as prior teams.”
The foundation of Manalapan’s success last season was its line play on both sides of the ball, and on the offensive side all five return for their senior season to lead the Braves’ multiple pro offense that averaged 37.3 points per game in 2014. At left tackle is 6-foot-4, 270-pound Jake Levine and at left guard is 6-foot-2, 220-pound Mitchell Trabb, who played half the games last season. Anthony Tardogno (6-foot-1, 275 pounds) is the center with Radosevich as the right tackle and Shore Sports Network first-team All-Shore selection Joe Sellmeyer at right guard.
“We have the whole offensive line returning and we’re going to lead the way,” Sellmeyer said. “We’ll go only as far as the line will take us.”
“It’s big because we have a new quarterback and some skill players, so the leadership and skill of the offensive line will help us grow,” Gurrieri said. “The offensive linemen are usually the best kids on the team because they’re usually not the most talented. They’re not just the best players on the field, they’re the best students. Three of them have a legit chance to go Ivy League. They’re just great kids and they lead by example. They know what it takes.”
It has been a competition at quarterback to see who will take over for Dan Anerella, who threw for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Senior Anthony Sciarappa, junior Cody Wiener and sophomore Luke Corcione have been battling it out for the starting job. Corcione has great talent and star potential and is back at Manalapan after playing at Red Bank Catholic last season. He played the entire year on the freshman team except for a few plays at the end of a postseason game, but will still have to sit out four games per the NJSIAA transfer rules.
The fullback position also has a competition between juniors Sal Casazza, Antonio Scala and Christian Isabella. Replacing the production of last year’s starting tailback, Imamu Mayfield, will be crucial. Mayfield ran for 1,837 yards and a conference-best 31 touchdowns. Manalapan has always done a great job of reloading in the backfield, and will look to do that with senior Marcus Salinas. Senior Dan Park and sophomore Naim Mayfield, Imamu's younger brother, will also get time at tailback.
The tight ends are 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior Sonny Hossain and senior Anthony Schimbeno with sophomore Chris Maksimik also in the mix. At wide receiver the Braves have senior Patrick Swaney as a returning starter and Bassani, who did not start but played a lot on offense and defense. Junior L’Jeron Holder (6-foot-4, 200 pounds), sophomore speedster Scott Scherzer and sophomore Symir Blacknall, the younger brother of Penn State wide receiver and former Manalapan star Saeed Blacknall, will also be in the mix for reps.
“It’s great to have our whole line back because it’s such a big part of our team,” Bassani said. “And we have competition at a lot of positions and that makes the whole team better.”
Manalapan will continue to run a 3-4 defense that was a fantastic complement to its high-scoring offense, allowing just 12.5 points per game. Radosevich is one of the defensive ends with Trabb or Hossain at the other spot. Juniors Michael Cardinale and Antonio Deleso are competing to be the starting noseguard.
Senior Lee Maksimik returns as a starting inside linebacker after making 60 tackles last season, and will be joined by Park. The outside linebackers are Holder and 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior Jonathan Pimentel.
In the secondary, senior David Blumenberg steps into a starting role at cornerback after seeing a lot of action last season. Senior T.J. Orrico will be the other starting corner. Bassani is one of the safeties with either Wiener or senior Chris Carnesi as the other safety.
The kicker and punter will be either highly-touted sophomore Dave Gelb or Weiner, who have to replace record-setting All-Shore talent Mike Caggiano.
There is plenty of work to do if Manalapan is going to repeat as Central Jersey Group V champions, and they also will have an uphill battle in Class A North with a loaded Middletown South team looking for revenge. The fact that the Braves have gone 43-5 over the last four seasons says everything about the program’s consistency and ability to reload, however.
“This group is just as hungry,” Gurrieri said. “I’ve been here almost 20 years. Kids come and go. I stay here. When last year’s group graduated they left. That was their team and this is this group’s team. They haven’t won anything yet, and they want to go out there and get a championship for themselves.”
Head Coach: Ed Gurrieri, 9th season.
Career Record: 70-20.
Assistant Coaches: Dan D’Avanzo (off. coord./QB); Justin Fumando (def. coord.); Dom Lepore (spec. teams/DB); Joe Tetley (OL); Bill Smith Sr. (LB); Jimmy Papcun (WR): Andy Sliwoski (football operations); Reggie Grant (asst.); Billy Smith Jr., Jon Harrison, Corey DeCastro,(freshmen); Shannon Tomasula (athletic trainer).
2014 Record: 11-1 (6-0).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Marcus Salinas, Sr., RB
Imamu Mayfield was one of the best backs in the Shore Conference last season with over 1,800 yards and 31 touchdowns. Running back has been the glamour skill position in the Braves’ offense, and Salinas will get his chance to shine behind a veteran offensive line.
X-FACTOR: Skill position development
The Braves have a talented and experienced offensive line, so if the new skill players can develop quickly, they will be right back where they were last season.
GLUE GUY: Joe Sellmeyer, Sr., OL
A three-year starter on the Braves’ standout offensive line, Sellmeyer is one of the Shore Conference’s best linemen and a leader on and off the field.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Luke Corcione, So., QB
He has to sit out four games because of the NJSIAA transfer rules and is competing with two other players, but Corcione has great talent and is the Braves’ future at quarterback. He could see the field this year and have great success.
PIVOTAL GAME: October 15 at Middletown South
This game has decided the Class A North division title every season since 2010 and Manalapan has won each time. The Eagles are loaded with talent this season and will be a huge test. It will be one of the marquee games of the Shore Conference season.