If anyone understands the football culture at Keyport High School, it is new head coach Jay Graham. He grew up in Keyport, played for the high school and served as defensive coordinator and associate head coach under longtime coach Mike Ciccotelli for 12 years.

Graham, however, does not return to the program with any urgency to restore that culture but rather to continue its resurgence. Last year, the Red Raiders were 16 minutes away from advancing to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I title game as a No. 7 seed, only to squander a 20-point halftime lead en route to a 35-34 loss to Palmyra.

This year’s team must replace six key seniors, including two running backs who combined for nearly 2,000 rushing yards a year ago, but the motivation stemming from that sectional semifinal loss, as well as a majority of this year’s starters returning from last year’s team is reason for Graham to be optimistic in his first year as the head coach of his alma mater.

“Other than the first few weeks of the weight room, everything has been pretty much the same,” senior Jay Hansen said. “All the assistants are the same as they were last year and we’re running the same offense. We had a pretty good year and with the guys we have back, we’re going to try to keep doing what we’re doing.”

Photo by Ray Richardson

The Red Raiders have a fair helping of experience back, but losing the tandem of Desmond Underwood and Ky’Sun Pryor will test the offense. Underwood rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns and Pryor ran for 873 and nine scores, which leaves the Red Raiders 1,900-plus yards to make up. Sophomores Devin Wallner and Shykim Treadwell will take on the tailback duties this season, while Hansen leads the way at fullback.

“We lost some key guys, but we have a lot of young guys stepping up and making plays,” Hansen said. “It’s going to be a good year.”

“Most of the guys here got some burn at some point last year, so we all know what we’re doing,” senior quarterback Chris Hogrefe said. “Everybody has been putting a lot of time in.”

Senior Chris Hogrefe won the quarterback job last season, a competition that was opened up in order to allow Underwood to shift to a running back position. After managing the offense last year, Hogrefe will have more of a leadership role as a senior and more of a chance to create plays on his own with the Red Raiders looking for weapons to emerge on offense.

“It’s just been a lot of offseason work,” Hogrefe said. “A lot of weights, a lot of footwork, working on my throwing mechanics. I wanted to make sure I was as prepared as possible.”

Senior Cody Young accounted for 10 of Hogrefe’s 28 completions last year and averaged more than 23 yards per reception. He will be the primary target in the passing game, with junior Joey Kay-Flagg and senior tight end Eric Frick joining the mix as well.

Eric Nellis, David Parks and Jarrett Hourihan make up a returning senior trio to the offensive line, while sophomore Kyle Roberts and freshman Devon Meza join the group.

Nellis and Frick also anchor the defensive line, with Nellis at one defensive tackle spot and Frick on the end. Junior Brandon Tate will be the other tackle, while Antonio Collila will play the end opposite Frick.

Hansen will lead the group of linebackers that also includes sophomore Greg Robinson and seniors Dejour Cockeran and Skye Blanks. Robinson is also in the picture for time at fullback and Cockeran and Blanks will split time at one of the outside linebacker spots.

Young and Kay-Flagg will be the safeties, while senior Christian Smith and junior Zach Walker man the corners. Walker will also play some tight end on the offensive end as well.

The Red Raiders players are aware of the task at hand when it comes to working in new players at key spots on offense, but the bitter taste left behind by last year’s narrow playoff loss has them driven to find a way. A win would have set Keyport up for a championship showdown with Shore Regional, the team that beat Keyport in week one.

“It’s tough playing a team like that in week one and with some of the injuries we had and with the way we got better as the season went on, it would have been interesting to play them in the final,” Nellis said.

This year, the Red Raiders do not play Shore until the final weekend of the regular season and the Red Raiders wouldn’t mind getting another shot at the defending Central Jersey Group I champion Blue Devils a few weeks late in a playoff game.

“It’s definitely a motivating factor to get back there,” Hansen said of falling just short last year. We didn’t finish last year and if we did, we would have been playing Shore for the championship. It gives us motivation to finish every game this year to try to get back.”


Head Coach: Jay Graham, first season

Career Record: 2-8

Assistant Coaches: Dominick Amoroso (RB/DL), Jayson Gletzman (DB), Pete Miller (QB/LB), Jerry Hourihan (OL/DL), Steve Bower (WR/DB), Jimmy McGuire (QB/DB)

2015 Record: 6-5 (3-2 in B Central)

Big Shoes to Fill: Devin Wallner and Shykim Treadwell

Keyport lost a vast majority of its production with the graduation of Desmond Underwood and Ky’Sun Pryor, who combined for more than 1,900 rushing yards. The sophomore tandem of Wallner and Treadwell will handle the primary tailback duties for the Red Raiders and while the same production might be a pipe dream for this season, the tandem could get to that level down the road.

X-Factor: Chris Hogrefe, QB

One way to help overcome the loss to two standout rushers is to lean more on the returning quarterback. Hogrefe took the job and ran with it last year and will look to expand upon his role now that he has a full year of experience. Hogrefe developed the makings of a good rapport with senior wide out Cody Young.

Glue Guy: Jay Hansen, FB/LB

Another way to help the running game stay on course is to make use of Hansen as a runner and lead blocker. On top of contributing on offense, Hansen will play an integral role in leading the defense.

Impact Newcomer: Greg Robinson, LB/FB

In addition to Wallner and Treadwell, Robinson will earn time as a sophomore and will figure in more prominently on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker. He will also see some time in the backfield at fullback.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 17 vs. Asbury Park

Both the Red Raiders and the Blue Bishops have a host of skill talent to replace, so the week two Central Jersey Group I quarterfinal rematch will be a test to see which program can bounce back the quickest.