Football – Surviving the Storm: 2015 Marlboro Preview
Every team in every high school sport hopes to compete and qualify for the state tournament, and if that dream falls by the wayside, it can sometimes be hard to muster the motivation to compete for the remainder of the season.
En route to an 0-10 season in 2014, Marlboro opened its season with five consecutive games against teams that finished with winning records – two of which (Middletown South and Manalapan) were top-five teams in the Shore Conference, and another (Freehold Boro) that began the season 7-0. Before the young, rebuilding Mustangs could even face an opponent on similar footing to their own, their chances at making the playoffs were essentially squashed.
With an identical schedule to open the 2015 season, coach Jason Dagato and his staff are preaching persistence, resilience and the importance of competing in every single game – both against the early-season gauntlet, as well as the tail-end of the schedule when the Mustangs could only be playing for pride.
“It’s really important for us to be competitive this year,” Dagato said. “With the way our schedule is, if you let yourself get down because you get beat up by a team like Manalapan or Middletown South, it’s going to be a long year. By the time we started to figure things out, we were already 0-5 and wondering where the season went. You have to keep trying to get better, and I think this year, our guys understand that it’s a 10-game season and it’s important to bring your best effort for every single one of them.”
That focus has permeated through practice during the preseason, and improved overall size and strength have Dagato and his players optimistic that this year will be significantly better than last.
“The intensity is so much better this year,” sophomore Johnny Helff said. “It’s pretty much night and day. We are a lot stronger, the practices have been a lot more physical and our attitude is positive. We know we have to get a lot better in order to be a playoff team and that’s where we want to get to.”
While the mood is still positive around the Mustangs, that attitude was tested last week when projected starting quarterback Mike Wolff injured his knee in a combined practice with Colts Neck. The junior signal-caller, who took over last year, is out indefinitely according to the last report by Dagato, and the Mustangs will turn to senior Jared Wright. Although he was slated to be the back-up, Wright has game experience at quarterback and will not be overwhelmed.
Marlboro will try to compensate for the loss of Wolff behind a solid collection of skill players, led by seniors Tyler Tanen and Jake Weiner, as well Helff. Tanen is back at wide receiver, while Helff returns at running back after working in around then-senior Mo Omar last year. Weiner played on the offensive line last year and will slide over to tight end, giving the 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior a chance to use his athleticism in the receiving game.
“I’m still going to be blocking a lot to help out the guys on the line, but we have enough size and depth up front to enable to me to get involved in the passing game,” Weiner said. “I like the switch, and I think it fits the players we have.”
Junior Ed Spinello has performed well in camp, according to Dagato, and will also see time at wide receiver, particularly in the slot. Justin Marcus is a 6-foot-4 sophomore who will also crack the lineup.
Senior Joe Leander and junior Riley Keating return to the offensive line, with Leander occupying one of the tackle spots and Keating playing center. Senior Bhanu Chadalawadu will start at guard and add a good deal of size to the line with his 6-foot-2, 290-pound frame. Dagato said the last two offensive line spots are still up in the air and could go in several different directions.
“It’s good competition,” Dagato said. “It’s a situation where we’ll go with the guys who earn the spots and whoever ends up winning the job will be a guy we like.”
Chadalawadu and junior Nnamdi Unachukwu will anchor the defensive line, Chadalawadu on the interior and Unachukwu at defensive end. Unachukwu is also an imposing figure on the line at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, so the Mustangs will have the physical ability to match a number of the offensive fronts they see.
Helff, Weiner and senior Chase Sandler lead the group of linebackers, with Helff returning to the middle linebacker spot after taking over the job as a freshman. Tanen is the lone projected senior starter in the secondary, with juniors Rob Semo, Cameron Caorsi and Gio Lisciandra joining the mix. Tanen and Semo will line up at cornerback, while Caorsi and Lisciandra man the safety positions.
With a handful of potential impact players who will be coming back next season, the Mustangs are set on getting in the win column this season and setting the program up to make a move toward the NJSIAA Tournament over the next several seasons. In the meantime, the seniors are eager to get back on the field against Manalapan and Middletown South to open the season and see how they stack up.
“I want to make a run at the playoffs in my senior year, but I also want to see this program turn things around,” Tanen said. “We really want to start to win and even if we end up where we were last year halfway through the season, we want to make sure we finish strong and make sure the young guys have something to build on.”
Head Coach: Jason Dagato, third season
Career Record: 2-18
Assistant Coaches: Steve Vella (Off. Coor.), Justin Bloss (OL), Bobby Weitecha (WR), Alex Vasilenko (DL), Ken Wernick (LB), Chris Van Curen (DB), Cory Varrial (Freshmen), Tyler Palagonia (Freshmen), Mark Bramble (Athletic Trainer)
2014 Record: 0-10 (0-6)
Big Shoes to Fill: Johnny Helff, So., RB
Helff was a breakout player during an otherwise forgettable season at Marlboro last year and will have to shoulder more of the carries out of the backfield this season with the graduation of Mo Omar.
X-Factor: The lines
The Mustangs will have to improve at the point of attack in order to begin their climb as a program and that has been a focus during the last two preseasons. With an injury at quarterback already ailing the offense, line play will be even more paramount.
Glue Guy: Jake Weiner, Sr., TE/LB
Weiner played on the line as a sophomore and junior but will get a chance to play tight end as a senior thanks to Marlboro’s improvement in its offensive line depth.
Impact Newcomer: Cameron Caorsi, Jr., Safety
Marlboro should boast a capable secondary, with senior Tyler Tanen back at cornerback and Caorsi impressing during camp as a junior at safety.
Pivotal Game: Oct. 31 vs. Howell
The early-season schedule does not present any favors for the Mustangs, and getting on a winning course by the end of the season is huge for the program. If A North plays out like it did last season, both Marlboro and Howell could be playing for an A North win in the season’s final division games.