Football – Senior Wave: 2017 Long Branch Preview
In other divisions, in other years, the 2016 Long Branch football team might have had a chance to lay the groundwork for a successful two-year run with its junior-heavy roster.
In the Shore Conference Class B North, however, the Green Wave juniors could not stand up to the day-in, day-out grind against teams like Middletown South, Manasquan, Red Bank Catholic, Middletown North, Ocean and Wall.
The good news for the Long Branch players is that those coming back for 2017 will get another shot at solving B North and making the NJSIAA Playoffs this season now that most of the team – particularly at the skill positions – is comprised mostly of upperclassmen.
“Going against the best seniors last year and coming back as seniors this year – it just feels like it’s our year,” senior tight end and defensive end Kaymar Mimes said. “We lost some tough games against some really good teams, but it always felt like we were getting better. Everyone has been excited about this year and we’ve but a lot of work in, so we’re all looking forward to it.”
The Green Wave finished 2-8 a year ago with a host of juniors on the field, but the one prominent spot in the lineup that will be open is tailback. Keith Cooper did an admirable job replacing 2014 Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year Dahmiere Willis and now it will be a pair of sophomores who attempt to carry on the legacy of quality running backs. Coincidentally enough, one of those young guns is Jermaine Corbett, the younger brother of Willis. Jah’kwan Gordon is also competing for time at running back.
“There is quite a bit of resemblance,” head coach Dan George said, comparing Corbett to Willis. “He had a really good year on an undefeated freshman team. Jermaine’s got a lot of likeness to Dahmiere in the early stages: great defensive player, very good offensive player. He’s still learning the one-back and two-back schemes but he’s a very hard worker, especially in the weight room. We’re excited about that.”
While the Green Wave will look different at running back, there are familiar faces everywhere else. Senior Juwan Wilkins is back at quarterback for his third season as a starter and will have a whole host of receivers to target. Seniors T.J. Fosque, Pasa Fields and Matt Clark make up the receivers and senior Kevin Porch can figure into mix once he recovers from a training camp injury, which George expects he’ll do by the end of Sept.
Mimes is back at tight end and continues to draw FBS interest thanks, in part, to his athletic 6-foot-5 frame. Long Branch also has an experienced fullback tandem to pair with its young running backs, with senior Eli Sherin and junior La’Qym Morris competing for snaps.
“For our offense, I honestly think the sky is the limit,” Fosque said. “All of our receivers are back. Our quarterbacks had a ton of in-game experience last year, so it’s all going to contribute to our team moving the ball up and down the field.”
“I look around at practice and there is talent everywhere and it’s mostly seniors,” Wilkins said. “You’ve got Kaymar back, T.J. back, Pasa, Kev (Porch). Then you’ve got the younger running backs – it’s crazy how good they’ve been. We’re strong everywhere.”
In addition to the young running backs, junior Marc Dennis could be a wild card for the Long Branch offense. The Green Wave’s No. 2 quarterback will likely find himself playing in the secondary, but could also find his way on to the field as a slot receiver to give Wilkins another option. He entered camp competing for the starting job each of the past two seasons, but goes in this year as the definitive No. 2 behind Wilkins.
“There’s no question that Juwan Wilkins is our starting quarterback and Marc Dennis is going to play every game,” George said. “He’s going to play a lot. He’s going to play all over the field and he looks very good at quarterback. It just makes us stronger and makes us better. With our schedule, you can never count on anything. Going into the season, you’ve got to have some depth because you’re not going to have it coming out.”
Long Branch’s offensive line returns four starters in center Tracy Taylor, left guard Hunter Metzler, left tackle Kevin Cerruti and right guard Brian Santiago. Senior Gabe Carasquillo will be the right tackle and Santiago could concede time to Lydell Craig as George looks to balance the snaps on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Long Branch’s offense came on strong as the year progressed, with the Green Wave scoring 20 points or more in five of the final six games and 34 or more in two of them. Unfortunately for Long Branch only one of those six games ended with a win.
“Knowing that we can put up points on offense is a motivating factor for us to pick up the slack on defense,” Mimes said. “We’ve been working a lot on tackling and it’s made a big difference in practice and in scrimmages. Guys have that fire on that side of the ball that we had on offense last year, so I think it’s going to be a lot different this year.”
Metzler, Santiago and Craig are in line to be the three inside lineman in Long Branch’s front five, with Mimes and Cerruti lining up on the ends. Morris and fellow junior Luke Arnold, meanwhile, will handle the duties at linebacker.
“We tried to be analytical about last year and the way you do that is you watch film,” George said. “We played pretty good offensive football last year and we struggled defensively. We gave up a lot of points, we weren’t in good position and we missed too many tackles. So the No. 1 message so far has been tackling and getting in the best position to make the tackle, we has been much better so far.”
Long Branch’s secondary is shorthanded while Porch – one of the starting safeties last year – is on the mend. The Green Wave still have enough to get by, however, with Sherin, Corbett, Clark and Latrell Bennett looking to pick step in. Fields, Fosque and Dennis will handle the cornerback position, as will the odd man out in the safety competition.
“As they say, defense wins games,” Fosque said. “Our defense wasn’t where it needed to be and we didn’t win games. During seven-on-sevens, we tried to take a lot of lessons to make the defense stronger and better. Our secondary is all coming back so we’ve got that experience to where we should be able to know what we’re doing and go out and just play ball.”
During George’s 21 seasons as head coach at Long Branch, his teams have not endured long stretches of losing and the talent on hand is suggests the two straight losing seasons won’t turn into three. In Class B North, though, with so many potential powerhouse teams on the schedule, the Green Wave and every other team in the division are going to have to earn every win.
“What we’ve learned is that this division, along with the Group IV schools is just a more physical place to be than we were in with Group II and in the old B North,” George said. “You have to have numbers, you have to have tough people, or you can’t compete.”
Head Coach: Dan George, 21st season
Career Record: 134-79
2016 Record: 2-8 (0-6 in Class B North)
Assistant Coaches: John Jasio (DL), Chad King (QB), Terry King (RB), Kris Parker (WR), Nick Tranchina (Def. Coordinator/LB), Ben Woolley (OL), Sean Brown (Freshman), Greg Penta (Freshman), James Reilly (Freshman)
Big Shoes to Fill: Jermaine Corbett and Jah’kwan Gordon, RB
The only noteworthy loss on offense for the Green Wave was Keith Cooper at tailback, so it stands to reason that the position most in question until proven otherwise is running back. Then again, Corbett and Gordon have looked ready to roll in camp, so the effectiveness of the offense may have more to do with the continued development of the offensive line and Wilkins at quarterback.
X-Factor: Marc Dennis, QB/WR
Wilkins is set to be the starter at quarterback, but Dennis is versatile enough to find a niche in the offense even if he is not playing his primary position. Whether it’s at quarterback, out of the backfield, in the slot or on defense, Dennis can make a difference and how George and the staff decides to use him will be a factor in the Green Wave season.
Glue Guy: Kaymar Mimes, TE/DE
Mimes has not put up huge numbers as a high school player and while that makes his impact less measurable, it doesn’t diminish it. He is a dominant blocker in the runner game and his size commands double teams as both a receiver and a defensive end. Now that he’s a senior leader playing on a senior-heavy team, the production should follow.
Impact Newcomer: Jermaine Corbett, RB/DB
The younger brother of Shore rushing record holder Dahmiere Willis, Corbett is making the jump to varsity as a sophomore and has impressed the coaches enough that he will get carries.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 29 at Wall
In a division that is as loaded as Class B North is, a team like Long Branch that returns most of its starters has to beat a team like Wall that has lost most of its starters. The Green Wave will have to knock off a number of teams that finished higher in the standings last year and games against Manasquan on opening night and against Ocean and Middletown North later in the year will be big. If Long Branch can’t, however, beat Wall, there is a good chance its season will begin 2-4 or even 1-5 and be past the point of saving with respect to the NJSIAA Playoffs.