By Ella Brockway - Student Contributor

As the clock ran down and Red Bank’s 2015 season ended in a shutout loss to Rumson-Fair Haven on a chilly night at Rutgers University last December, Bucs head coach Nick Giglio looked ahead.

Giglio recalled the high moments of his team’s best season in recent history: the upset win over Red Bank Catholic for the first time in eleven years (which was named Shore Sports Network’s Top Shore Conference Sports Story of 2015), winning the school’s first division title since 1977, and advancing to the state championship game for the first time in thirteen years. He also knew that the 2016 season would be different, without the thirty-one seniors who had led the Bucs in 2015, but was confident that the foundation they’d built for the underclassmen was solid.

“It (this season) has jump-started a whole community and a whole school,” Giglio said after the 21-0 loss to Rumson. “And you know what, we’re not done there. We’re not just going to stop and say ‘that’s all’. We hope to do this for years to come.”

Red Bank quarterback Chris Brannagan. (Photo by Ella Brockway).

Eight months later and just weeks before the Bucs kick off their first season in Class A Central, Giglio and his players are still optimistic about their team’s chances for the 2016 season, even in a rebuilding year.

“We’ve got young kids, new guys and new leadership, and we’re getting better every day,” said Giglio, in his eighth year at the helm of the program. “Every day, these guys come out to learn, practice hard, and make their mistakes, but then continue. If we do that all throughout the year, then we’re going to have a chance in November.”

“We’ve got a lot of young guys, so it’s a lot of staying on them and making them work hard,” said captain and two-way starter Chris Outterbridge. “We’ve got a good coaching staff, and they’re getting these guys in shape and ready for the season.”

Outterbridge is one of five overall returning starters for the Bucs. The 6-foot-1 senior, who had a team-high 102 tackles and was named to the Shore Sports Network All-Shore second team last season as a linebacker, will be working on both sides of the ball this fall, taking snaps at fullback and commanding the young defense.

Outterbridge is one of two remaining starters from last season returning to the Bucs’ offensive unit. Senior Connor McCarthy, a three-year starter, is the lone returner on the Bucs’ offensive line, but he is joined by a group of talented upperclassmen who make up for their smaller size with their smarts.

“They may not be the biggest offensive line, but they have been extremely bright for the past three years,” said Giglio. “It’s like having five assistant coaches on the field, and because of how smart they are for us, I think it’s going to go well.”

Senior Bryce Barnes joins McCarthy at the tackle position, and senior Kevin Laughlin, who started at long snapper last season, will start under center.

One of the Bucs’ biggest challenges for the 2016 season will be filling the holes in the offense left by Sadiq Palmer and Jack Navitsky. Both Palmer and Navitsky are now playing college football for the University of Massachusetts and Marist, respectively. Navitsky threw for 957 yards and ran for 227 yards last fall, while Palmer caught 48 passes for 660 yards and seven touchdowns, and ran for 452 yards and nine touchdowns.

Senior Chris Brannagan will vie for the starting quarterback job with junior Stephen Navitsky. Both Brannagan and the younger Navitsky took some snaps last season, and have the tools to succeed in the Bucs’ run-oriented, zone-read spread offense.

The Bucs’ backfield options run deep, with five different players - sophomores Dontrell Alston and Kashaun Turner, junior Noah Mickens, and seniors Outterbridge and Tyrese Morris - all able to line up at running back.

Red Bank wide receiver Omar Steward. (Photo by Ella Brockway).

Seniors Omar Steward, Jaden Mack, Danny Wagner, and junior Nick Arnone will lead the receiving corps for the Bucs. Arnone returns after making several appearances at wide receiver last fall.

The Bucs return three starters, including Outterbridge, on the defensive end, where they’ll set up in a 3-4 front. The Bucs’ defense in 2015 gave up just 10.2 points per game, the fifth-best mark in the Shore. Two-year senior starter Jack Haytaian, who had 9.5 sacks last season, is joined on the defensive line by Turner, senior Matheus DeFarias and junior Quran Malloy. Senior Jalen Willis also returns at the cornerback spot, and Steward has shown promise during camp at the strong safety position.

“We’re dealing with a new group, so I’m going to try to get (the defense) on the same page as last year, but do it in a different style,” said Outterbridge.

Last year’s team put Red Bank football back on the map, and now, the 2016 team is looking to stay there.

“Even if they weren’t full-time players last year, whether they were back-ups or just on the sidelines in practice every day, the guys learned about (having) confidence in themselves and knowing how to practice every day,” said Giglio. “The bar’s been raised, and we now have to continue that.”

RELATED: Red Bank 2016 football schedule

Head coach: Nick Giglio, eighth season (16th overall).

Career record: 58-94.

2015 record: 11-1 (6-0)

Assistant coaches: Steve Turner (WR/JV); Phil Greene (RB/LB); Cory Giddings (DB/off. coord.); Danny Mendoza (DL/TE); Adam Bobertz (OL); Matt Norman (freshman); Christina Emrich (athletic trainer).

Big Shoes to Fill: Chris Brannagan, Sr., QB

Following in the footsteps of a quarterback (Jack Navitsky) who threw for close to a thousand yards last season won’t be easy, but Brannagan is up for the task. Brannagan’s ground game will be solid in the Bucs’ run-oriented offense, and Giglio’s looking for him to not only fill the shoes of last year’s QB, but be his own person in that role.

X-Factor: Offensive Line 

The Bucs lost four of their five starting offensive linemen from last season to graduation, but Giglio says that while this year’s offensive line isn’t the biggest, it may be the brightest he’s had. If the linemen can stay healthy, their football IQ alone may help the Bucs win some games.

Glue Guy: Chris Outterbridge, Sr., OLB/FB

Giglio didn’t need to think twice before he called Outterbridge the leader and voice of this Red Bank team. The linebacker, who was also named to the Class B North Coaches’ All-Division team last fall, will be one of the Bucs’ most versatile players, playing a major role on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Impact Newcomer: Omar Steward, Sr., WR/SS

A 6-foot-1 transfer from Monmouth Regional in his first season at Red Bank, Steward has shown promise on both sides of the ball in camp. It looks as though he’ll fill the holes left by last year’s first-team All-Shore and current UMass wide receiver Sadiq Palmer in both the Bucs’ offense and their secondary.

Pivotal Game: September 23 vs. St. John Vianney

The Bucs move into the competitive A Central division this year, which means they’ll face three 2015 state finalists - Rumson-Fair Haven, Raritan and St. John Vianney. They’ll play Rumson-Fair Haven, crosstown rival Red Bank Catholic and Raritan in consecutive weeks in October, so this early-season matchup with the Lancers will show if the Bucs have what it takes to play with the best in the A Central.


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