With the Shore Conference football season about to get underway it’s time for a yearly staple that always incites plenty of debate and is sure to go up in smoke in about five minutes: the Shore Sports Network preseason top 10 rankings.

The Shore Conference has six returning sectional champions for the second straight season and several more teams that should be in the running for championships, so the conference looks to have great depth. Middletown South went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the Shore last season and begins the season at No. 1 yet again. It’s the Eagles’ spot until someone proves otherwise.

Middletown South's championship picture
Middletown South is the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 after going wire-to-wire last season. (Photo by Eric Braun).

Right on Middletown South’s heels, however, is a loaded Toms River North squad that captured the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V title last season and could be even better this season. After a down year by its standards, yet a season that still featured a trip to the sectional semifinals, Manalapan is ready to reclaim its spot among the Shore’e elite behind an outstanding junior class.

Middletown South and Toms River North were easy picks for No. 1 and No. 2, and Manalapan has the pedigree, coaching staff and talent to justify its position. After the top three is where it gets a little murky.

St. John Vianney graduated dynamic quarterback Anthony Brown and hard-hitting linebacker Calvin Beaty, among others, but returns the state’s No. 2 recruit and Rutgers target, two-way lineman Micah Clark, plus Villanova-bound running back Chris Chukwuneke. The Lancers still have plenty of talent. Jackson Memorial has earned everyone’s respect by now after winning back-to-back Central Jersey Group IV titles, and the Jaguars return the franchise in running back Mike Gawlik behind an experienced offensive line. The defense is always physical and the coaching staff seems to push all the right buttons when it matters most.

No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven is trying to join rarified air as it goes for its fourth straight state title behind Colgate-bound senior quarterback Mike O’Connor and University of Massachusetts recruit Mike Ruane at linebacker.

Ocean has one of the state’s best quarterbacks in University of Pittsburgh recruit Kenny Pickett along with standout receiver Joey Aldarelli. The Spartans figure to have a potent offense, and while playing in Class B North will be a huge test, Ocean has plenty of chances to prove itself.

No. 8 Middletown North begins the season in the top 10 for the first time in several years as senior quarterback Donald Glenn and receiver Brendan Kube lead an experienced roster looking to make a big jump.

There are several candidates for the bottom two spots, but we ultimately went with Shore Regional and Brick Township. I have no problem saying Shore has been the best Group I team in the state over the past few years, and is coming off back-to-back Central Jersey Group I titles. The Blue Devils have won 20 games in a row, and even though they have a ton of key players to replace, they have the reputation of getting it done.

Brick is among the Shore Conference’s most storied programs, and after a few middling years the Dragons have consistently produced winning teams. Temple recruit Ja’Sir Taylor, an explosive playmaker at wide receiver, leads an underrated group of skill player. The defense is always good, so Brick should again be a factor in Class A South.

These words may not mean much next Sunday, heck they could be worthless by tomorrow morning if Monmouth Regional has anything to say about it. So it goes when ranking a 44-team conference with some of the best football New Jersey has to offer. Anyone feeling slighted can remember it’s about where you finish in December.

Good luck to all the Shore Conference teams this season.


Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10


1. Middletown South

The Eagles went 12-0 last season and won the North 2, Group IV state title for their 10th sectional title in program history, finishing as the No. 1 team in New Jersey. Despite the loss of standout two-way player James McCarthy to a season-ending knee injury and the graduation of  several key starters, Middletown South returns a ton of talent as it looks to defend its crown. Running backs Maxx Imsho and Samson Dube and wide receivers Jeremy Joyce and Jeff Lewandowski lead an offense that also returns experienced linemen Michael Wilson, Will Gulick, Adam Markmann and Robert Burke. Their customary shutdown defense is spearheaded by senior linebacker Kevin Higgins, junior lineman Jake Krelin plus Gulick and Imsho. The Eagles move to Class B North this season and have nondivisional games against Toms River North, Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney, so the schedule is loaded. First game: The Eagles travel to Count Basie Field to take on Red Bank Catholic in a Class B North showdown on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.


2. Toms River North

The reigning South Jersey Group V champions are loaded up again for a run at another state title as well as the top spot in the Shore Conference. The Mariners have an embarrassment of riches on offense, starting with four-year starting quarterback Mike Husni, a first-team SSN All-Shore selection last season, who is trying to become the first player in Shore Conference history to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. He has a pair of Division 1 wide receivers in Rutgers recruit Bryce Watts and Darrion Carrington, plus senior running back Parker Day has transferred back after spending last season at Manasquan. Junior linebacker Daryn Blackwell is a star in the making on defense and senior Pete Laquaglia leads the way at middle linebacker. This team should be incredibly fun to watch on both sides of the ball and will play in plenty of big games. Did we mention Toms River North and Middletown South play each other in Week Seven? First game: The Mariners host Southern Regional in a Class A South matchup on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.


3. Manalapan

The Braves were expected to take a bit of a step back last season after graduating a ton off the program’s first sectional championship squad, and while Manalapan finished 6-5 it was seconds away from taking down eventual Central Jersey Group V champion South Brunswick in the sectional semifinals. Its highly-touted sophomore class played great down the stretch and is back this year to lead what should be a dynamic offense and stingy defense. Quarterback Luke Corcione looks ready for a breakout year with plenty of playmakers surrounding him, such as Temple recruit L.J. Holder at wide receiver, fullback Chris Maksimik and tailback Naim Mayfield. Nose guard Mike Cardinale, linebacker Jonathan Pimentel and safety Cody Weiner lead what is usually a top-flight defense. First game: The Braves open the season on the road against district rival Marlboro in a Class A North contest on Saturday Oct. 10 at noon.


4. St. John Vianney

The Lancers will look much different on offense without current Boston College freshman quarterback Anthony Brown piloting a wide-open, spread offense, but the Lancers will still pack a punch. Former Colts Neck and Holmdel head coach Greg LaCava is now the offensive coordinator under head coach Derek Sininsky, so expect more of a power rushing attack. That fits their personnel well with Rutgers-bound offensive linemen Micah Clarke Jamaal Beaty and Villanova recruit Chris Chukwuneke at running back. Replacing Brown at quarterback will be either senior Matt DeGennaro or Edison transfer Haaziq Daniels. First game: The Lancers host rival Matawan in a Class A Central game on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.


5. Jackson Memorial

In winning back-to-back Central Jersey Group IV titles in impressive fashion the Jaguars have earned plenty of respect from us here at Shore Sports Network. Considering the surprising run they went on last season to win another championship, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. That’s not to say Jackson doesn’t return key players. They bring back two-time, first-team All-Shore running back Mike Gawlik and an experienced offensive line. Senior quarterback Dan Barker also returns as the Jaguars try to become the sixth Shore Conference program to win three straight NJSIAA state titles. First game: The Jaguars start their season against crosstown rival Jackson Liberty in a nondivisional game on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.


6. Rumson-Fair Haven

The Bulldogs can become just the third Shore Conference program to win four straight NJSIAA state titles this season, joining Manasquan and Middletown South. Jerry Schulte takes over for Brian Batchler as head coach, but Rumson shouldn’t miss a beat with its longtime defensive coordinator now at the helm. Colgate-bound senior quarterback Mike O’Connor, senior running back Matt Veccharelli and senior lineman Tim Leonard lead the way on offense. UMass recruit Mike Ruane, a first-team All-Shore linebacker last season, leads a defense that also features standout defensive tackle Liam Adams and three-year starting safety Mike Murdock, another first-team All-Shore player. First game: It will be a battle of returning state champs in Week One as the Bulldogs host Central Jersey Group II champs Raritan in a key Class A Central game on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.


7. Ocean

The Spartans have reached the Central Jersey Group III semifinals three years in a row but have failed to reach the sectional final, so they have a chip on their shoulders entering the season. Ocean also has one of New Jersey’s best quarterbacks in University of Pittsburgh recruit Kenny Pickett. He’ll team with senior wide receiver Joey Aldarelli to form a dangerous combination. Senior Anthony Tedesco steps in at running back and is also the leader of the defense at middle linebacker. Ocean will be tested weekly in Class B North, but has the goods to make a run at the division title and finish the job in the state playoffs. First game: The Spartans are one of four teams to open the season in Week Zero, hosting rival Monmouth tonight at 7 p.m.


8. Middletown North

The Lions are coming off consecutive winning seasons for the first time in 19 years and have high expectations despite playing in one of the Shore’s most stacked divisions. Senior quarterback Donald Glenn and senior wide receiver Brendan Kube, the conference’s leading receiver last year, form one of the area’s top duos. Junior running back Connor Welsh was great in filling in for injured starter Chad Freshnock, now at Bucknell, last season and should be a top back. Senior defensive back Dwight Wilkerson, senior tackle Jake Goldfarb and senior linebackers Nick Kish and Brock Zenker lead the defense. First game: The Lions open the season with a nondivisional game at Neptune, which switched spots with Middletown North going from Class B North to Class A North, on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.


9. Shore

The Blue Devils have won 20 straight games and, like No. 5 Jackson Memorial, are trying to join a select group of Shore Conference programs that have won three straight state titles. A host of major contributors graduated, but the cupboard is far from bare. Senior Matt Pennell returns at quarterback with senior running backs Josh Campi and Mark Russo, and senior lineman Mike Devine leading the offense. Senior linebacker Paul Christopher, junior lineman Mike Rosati and Pennell at safety lead a defense that has been among the best in the conference over the last few years. Several underclassmen, such as sophomore Gil Goldsmith, could made an immediate impact. First game: The Blue Devils open the defense of their titles at Asbury Park on Friday Sept. 9 at 6 p.m.  


10. Brick

The Dragons had an outstanding defense last season that led the way to an 8-2 record and a share of the Class A South division title. In a reversal of last year, Brick now comes into the season having to replace key linemen on both sides of the ball, but with several returning skill players. Senior wide receiver Ja’Sir Taylor, a Temple recruit, leads a group that includes running backs Jay Obenauer and Rashan McCall, receiver John Prato and quarterback Anthony Costanza. Seniors Jack Finelli on the line and Dean Helstowski at linebacker lead what is usually a ferocious unit. First game: One of the Shore’s most intense rivalries commences in Week One when the Dragons travel to Brick Memorial on Saturday Sept. 10 at 1 p.m.


Teams to watch:

Red Bank: The Bucs graduated nearly their entire starting lineup from last year’s team that went 11-1 and reached the Central Jersey Group III final, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep it going with several new starters. Senior lineman Connor McCarthy is the lone returning starter on offense while senior linebacker Chris Outterbridge, senior lineman Jack Haytaian and senior defensive back return to lead the defense. First game: The Bucs will take on JFK-Iselin in a nonconference game on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.

Raritan: The Rockets enter the season as the defending Central Jersey Group II champs thanks to a remarkable playoff run. They hope the magic carries over to this season. UConn recruit Ryan Dickens, a senior linebacker, leads the defense while senior quarterback Marc Carnivale leads the offense after throwing for 1,600 yards last season. First game: The Rockets get a stern test right out of the gate with three-time defending sectional champion Rumson-Fair Haven on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.

Freehold Township: The Patriots made the playoffs for just the second time in school history last season, so expectations are high in their second year in head coach Cory Davies’ Air Raid offense. Charles Sabbagh takes over at quarterback with UPenn recruit Anthony Lotti at wide receiver. First game: The Pats open up with rival Freehold on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.

Neptune: The Scarlet Fliers were young and inexperienced last season and stumbled to an 0-4 start. They closed strong, however, to win four of their final six games. Junior quarterback Chase Fairbanks, 6-foot-3 senior wide receiver Kahmar Rice and blazing speedster Marvin Morgan lead Neptune’s spread offense, while linemen Damien Valentine and Gary Hoover spearhead the defense. First game: We’ll find out right away home much Neptune has improved as they host No. 8 Middletown North on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.

Mater Dei Prep: Perhaps the most intriguing team in the Shore is Mater Dei, which hired a big-time head coach in Dino Mangiero and also had former Matawan quarterback George Pearson transfer in during an eventful offseason. Pearson and senior wide receiver Eddie Lewis, an FBS recruit, will be a load for teams to handle, especially in Class B Central. Linebacker Marvin Pierre figures to have a huge year and leads the defense. First game: The question of what has Mater Dei morphed into will be answered on Saturday Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. when the Seraphs host Keansburg.

Brick Memorial: The Mustangs are coming off a season in which they claimed a share of the Class A South division title and reached the Central Jersey Group IV final. The problem is they graduated quarterback Tim Santiago and four players off an outstanding offensive line. The Mustangs will move from their usual flexbone offense to more of a pistol look, which should serve junior running back Tony Thorpe well. He ran for over 1,300 yards last season. Junior Grant McKelvey steps in at quarterback, 6-foot-7 senior Justin Szuba anchors the lines on both sides and junior Blaine Netterman will play key roles at H-back and defensive back. First game: The atmosphere is always great when Brick and Brick Memorial get together, and the rivals will meet in Week One on Saturday Sept. 10 at 1 p.m.

Red Bank Catholic: The Caseys aren’t the juggernaut they were two seasons ago, but that may change sooner than later. Frank Edgerly is back for his second stint as Caseys head coach after several seasons on NFL staffs and the Caseys have some promising underclassman who could make an impact. Harvard-bound senior defensive end Nasir Darnell leads the defense while either Tommy Lang or Steve Lubischer will take over at quarterback. First game: Edgerly is welcomed back home by the Shore’s No. 1 team, Middletown South, right away as the Eagles will come to Count Basie Field on Friday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.


Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights. 


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