Football – Taking to the Air: 2015 Freehold Twp. Football Preview
When Cory Davies was hired to be Freehold Township’s football coach, his impact was immediately felt before the Patriots even stepped onto the field.
“When he was first announced as coach and we had that first meeting, so many kids came and signed up, and have stuck with it,” said senior Tyler Von Nesson. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The excitement surrounding the Patriots thanks to Davies and the potential of his offense is evident in the massive numbers Freehold Township now has in its program. There are 95 players on varsity and another 50 or so at the sub-varsity level.
“Everyone is very excited, the school is excited, and they did a real good job of picking a coach quickly and getting a real darn good one,” said senior quarterback Jack O’Brien. “Everyone knows he’s had success in the past. Everyone wants to be a part of it, and we’re all looking forward to a great year.”
Davies, who was most recently the offensive coordinator at Lacey, was the longtime coach at Howell. It was there he installed his “Air Raid” passing offense that eventually led to the Rebels winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title in 2007 for the only state title in program history. The Patriots have used several offenses over the last 10 years, most recently an option offense and then one with spread concepts last season. What has Davies excited first and foremost is the quarterback he will get to work with this season.
O’Brien threw for 1,247 yards and nine touchdowns last season and will be a three-year starter this season. He knows this is his chance for a huge senior season.
“Coach Davies is a great coach, and he’s going to change things in this program for a long time,” O’Brien said. “We’re excited about the offense, it’s been proven to work. We have a talented group, and we’re excited to work with him.”
“It’s very encouraging when you have a guy with that much experienced, and he just has to learn the mental part,” Davies said.
The Patriots also appear to be loaded with potential starters at the wide receiver position, which is obviously good for a team that will throw the ball a ton with four- and five-receiver sets. The inside receivers will be 6-foot-2, 225-pound Nick Galanti and the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Von Nesson. Senior Austin Edelman and juniors Adrian Rybaltowski, D’Andre Sanders and Mike Ferdinandi will also see time there. Seniors Chris Gandy and Paras Bawa, and juniors Anthony Lotti, Tyrique Hall and Javier Rodriguez will be the outside receivers.
Galanti and Von Nesson clearly bring excellent size to the position and appear to be O’Brien’s main targets. Galanti has been impressive throughout the preseason.
“Me and Galanti are really close friends and have played since freshman year,” O’Brien said. “He’s always been one of my favorite targets. He’s big and athletic, and we’re looking for him to do real big things this year.”
Senior Rychard Hanshaw and junior Max Nowak will get the bulk of the carries at running back with Sanders also seeing some time there and sophomore Mike Cenname serving as a backup.
The Patriots offensive line has plenty of size to it, including 6-foot-2, 275-pound senior center Gianni Mazzone. Seniors Henry Bader (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) and Alex Schlumpf (6-foot-2, 280 pounds) will be the tackles. The guard positions are still being contested and has senior Anthony Papiomitis and juniors Matt Cruz, James Latona and John Lucas battling it out. Senior Adam Fadiga adds some depth to the tackle position and junior Matt Simpson and sophomore Jake White are the backups at center.
“This offense is so much fun, and it’s almost like playing backyard football,” Von Nesson said. “The no-huddle also puts teams on their heels. We’re in great shape now and will be in even better shape when the season comes. With a deep receiving corps we’re looking to take advantage of that.”
“It’s very exciting,” Galanti said. “There are a lot of option routes so you can never really be covered. It’s up to you to get open.”
The Patriots will use a 4-2-5 defensive front with Derek Reichenbecher, who played and coached under Davies at Howell before taking the head job after Davies left, serving as the defensive coordinator.
Bader and Galanti will be the defensive ends with Cruz, Lucas and fellow juniors Riley Crowley and Anthony Iacovino as the backups. Mazzone, Papiomitis and the 6-foot-7, 315-pound roadblock that is Fadiga will be the defensive tackles. Schlumpf, Simpson and Latona are also in the mix at defensive tackle.
Senior Quin Cleary, a returning starter, is back as the middle linebacker after making 93 tackles last season. Senior Anthony Rivera will play alongside him and senior Cameron Height and junior Javier Castro will serve as the backups. Nowak and Cenname could also see time there. The strong safeties/outside linebackers are Von Nesson, a returning starter, along with Edelman and Ferdinandi. Sanders, Adrian Rybaltowski and Nowak will see time at the other spot. Sophomores Eric Quarterly and Damian Rybaltowski could also see some time.
Gandy, Hanshaw, Bawa and seniors Sheldon Rose and Jake Dudics, along with Hall, are battling it out for the starting cornerback jobs. Lotti shifts from corner, where he started the last two seasons, to free safety. Adrian Rybaltowski will play both strong and free safety and senior Neil Avani and Rodriguez may also see time in the secondary.
“We are considered an offensive team but we know without a defense we can’t accomplish what we want,” Von Nesson said. “We’ve been focused a lot on defense. We need it to be the backbone.”
On special teams, Galanti will be the punter and now also the kicker. Last season he was a Shore Sports Network third-team All-Shore selection at punter and was a major weapon for Freehold Township in the field position game. Hanshaw, Lotti, Hall and Adrian Rybaltowski will be the punt and kick returners. Junior Jon O’Brien is the long snapper.
The pieces seem to be in place for the Patriots to experience a turnaround. Plenty of challenges lie ahead, however. Freehold Township hasn’t had a winning season since 2004 (6-4) and has had several one- and two-win seasons since. The Patriots have qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs just once. There is plenty of optimism, however, and the entire program is ready to see it all play out on the field.
“Obviously it would be really good to win in our final year as seniors,” Galanti said. “We’re not going to surprise ourselves because we know how good we can be, but others will be surprised at what kind of team we have become.”
Head Coach: Cory Davies, 1st season (22nd overall).
Career record: 95-115
Assistant Coaches: Derek Reichenbecher (def. coord./LB/OL); Gene Blanco (RB/LB); Bill Dague (OL/DB); Dan Shine (OL/DL); Mark Migliori (WR/DB); Ed Von Nesson (OL/LB); Tom Mandese (WR/DL); Mark Burlew, Kevin Popek, Andrew Jones, Mike Kinsella (freshmen); Gene Blanco Jr. (def. asst.); Sean O’Reilly (off. analyst); Tom Martin (def. analyst); Cindy Carter (athletic trainer).
2014 Record: 4-6 (2-4).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Tyler Von Nesson, Sr.,. WR/LB
The Patriots have basically all their impact players returning, but in stepping into a wide receiver role Von Nesson has to help replace the production left by the two starters that graduated last season.
When Davies’ offenses have had a defense to complement them, they have had great success. The offense still has to come around and put points up, however, and that is no guarantee, especially early in the season.
GLUE GUY: Jack O’Brien, Sr., QB
O’Brien will be a three-year starter at quarterback and has a chance to be a star. His teammates rave about his leadership and smarts.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Adam Fadiga, Sr., OL/DL
At 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds, Fadiga is a massive individual who can be a space-eater inside to help in run defense while also potentially seeing some time along the offensive line.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 12 at Freehold Boro.
It’s a rivalry game against another team in the district, but more importantly it is the first look we will get at the revamped Patriots. They have Manalapan the following week, so this is a chance to start a new era on the right foot.