Football – The Bucs Start Here: 2015 Red Bank Football Preview
Entering the eighth game of their 2014 season, Red Bank’s players took the field against Manchester optimistic that a win would be enough to clinch them a spot in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III playoffs.
The Bucs got their win and reached the .500 mark, but missed the playoffs by four power points, finishing behind three teams – Ocean, Hamilton West and Lawrence – with 3-5 records.
The heartbreak of 2014 has fed the drive for the postseason for 2015 and this year’s version of the Bucs – which returns the vast majority of its offense and defense from a year ago – is equipped to finish the job against a challenging schedule. After failing to pass the power-points test last year, the message going into the new season is to not let it come down to a handful of points.
“We don’t care about the points,” senior captain and two-way lineman Ricky Wild said. “We want to throw points on the board, but in order to do that, we have to keep putting wins on the board. That’s all it comes down to is winning. That’s the whole game. Winning or losing.”
Wild and fellow senior Sadiq Palmer lead a wealth of returning seniors, which has coach Nick Giglio and his team optimistic that the results will be different this season. A large portion of this senior class started as a sophomores and endured the growing pains that come with a 1-9 season.
“It allows us to think outside the box a little more,” Giglio said of the experience. “We don’t have to think about their behavior and what it’s going to be. We can think ahead and plan things in advance more and know that these guys are going to do what’s expected of them. It’s nice to know that if we had to turn our backs for a second because of an injury or something like that, those guys are going to make sure everything’s good. There’s a trust factor. We trust them and they trust us.”
“We had a very young team,” Palmer said. “We had mostly underclassmen starting, and we only had about three or four seniors who played. So the whole team was young and we barely knew what we were doing so know it’s more senior- and junior-based, so we all know what to do on the field this year.”
Palmer is one of the top returning players in the Shore Conference after committing last spring to play at Syracuse University next season. The 6-2 receiver will be the No. 1 target of senior quarterback Jack Navitsky and will also be the captain of the secondary from one of the strong safety positions. Palmer, who earned SSN first-team All-Shore honors as a junior, caught 36 passes for 748 yards while scoring 13 total touchdowns – seven of which were receiving touchdowns.
“I’m trying to become more of a leader and show my teammates that they’re more important than I am because I need them more than they need me,” Palmer said. “I need them to get a championship ring. They don’t need me to do it.”
Over their varsity careers, Palmer and Navitsky have developed a deep-rooted chemistry on the field that stems not only from their work together as high school football players, but in youth leagues prior to high school as well as on the basketball court, where both star for the Bucs basketball program. Last year, Navitsky threw for 1,114 yards and 11 touchdowns, and more than half of his 59 completions on 106 attempts went to Palmer.
“Those guys know each other as well as two players can,” Giglio said. “That has been growing in a positive way from the beginning. The more they learn about the game of football, the better they are. Two years ago, they would connect on plays that would be broken plays. They’d both scramble around and still know where each other would be. Now, they know where they’re supposed to be within the scheme, and it’s just so much better.”
Wild, meanwhile, leads an experienced group that returns to the offensive line. Senior center Colin Young, senior guard Tyriik Murad and junior tackle Connor McCarthy all started last season, with Young moving from guard to center. Senior Phil Banano slides in at guard with some experience under his belt from last year as well.
“This is going to be my third year starting varsity and these are the best workouts we’ve had, and it’s the most hitting we’ve done,” Wild said. “We hit all day and we’re going to have an aggressive team. Even though we play more of a speed game, it’s going to be more physical this year.”
With an older line that Wild expects to be considerably more physical, the Bucs will look to better establish their running game, featuring the backfield tandem of senior Alim Godsey and junior Tyrese Morris. Godsey has been getting most of the first-team reps, but Giglio’s vision is for both to be featured.
“Both split time last year so we’re really happy with those two,” Giglio said. “When they’re focused, they can be as good as anyone.”
A better running game will serve to broaden Navitsky’s options at quarterback, as the Bucs also return senior receiver Matt Reardon to the passing game while adding 6-foot-4 senior receiver Ben Sprauer and 6-3 senior tight end Sean Naiman. Junior Chris Outterbridge is also back at fullback and can help move the ball when he’s not clearing the way for Godsey or Morris.
Wild, Outterbridge and Reardon will all be leaders on the defense along with Palmer, as the Bucs look to build on a solid finish to the season as a defensive unit. After a 53-0 drubbing at the hands of Red Bank Catholic, the Bucs surrendered an average of 17 points per game over their final five games, which followed an average of 26.4 over the first five.
Naiman, junior Jack Haytain and senior Righteon Johnson will join Wild on the defensive line, with Outterbridge and senior Brian Fagan anchoring the linebacker corps. Senior Teddy Mitchell returns at one cornerback spot to go with Reardon and Palmer as fellow returnees in the secondary. Junior Jalen Willis has the inside track at the other starting cornerback spot, according to Giglio.
With so much senior experience, the youth coming through the program can serve as depth instead of being thrown into the fire like in 2013. After some ups and downs and ultimately heartbreak last year, the Bucs expect the rebuilding phase to be over and for the results to begin to show this year.
“I really believe we have the talent to beat some of the better teams in the conference,” Wild said. “I think we can beat Red Bank Catholic this year. It’s a big statement, but we have as many good players as they do. Part of our line is a little smaller, but we have toughness to make up for size.”
“There is more of a chip on our shoulder,” Palmer said. “We’ve got something to prove to everybody – ourselves, our coaches, our school. So this year, we’re coming. No more talking.”
Head Coach: Nick Giglio, seventh season (14th overall)
Career Record: 47-93
Assistant Coaches: Steve Turner (Assistant Head Coach), Cory Giddings (Off. Coor.), Phil Greene RB/LB/Special Teams, Shane Bigelow (OL/DL), Matt Norman (TE/DB), Terrence Scanlon (QB), Jeff Mauro, Dan Mendoza (Freshman), Christina Emrich (Athletic Trainer), Brian Chamberlin (Manager/Quality Control)
2014 Record: 5-5 (2-4)
Big Shoes to Fill: Matt Reardon, WR/TE/S
Reardon is already an established player for the Bucs, but if there is one role they need to fill, it’s the “jack of all trades” role that Jimmy Ferrogine brought as a senior last year. Giglio called Reardon his most versatile player, which presumably means that if his coaches find a soft spot, Reardon will be the armor.
X-Factor: Alim Godsey, Sr., RB
The Bucs have an experienced quarterback, a dynamic receiver and a more physical offensive line, which suggests they could have all the ingredients to take the running game to the next level. Godsey and junior Tyrese Morris will both get a shot, but as the senior with speed, Godsey has some upside given the conditions.
Glue Guy: Ricky Wild, Sr., OL/DL
A two-way lineman who stood out last year, Wild is a leader for the line and one of the leaders of the team overall. The message in camp has been to raise the physicality of the team overall, and Wild has been looking to set that tone for the line.
Impact Newcomer: Ben Sprauer, Sr., WR
There are not many players at a No. 1 spot on the depth chart whho don’t have some experience, so any breakout performances from a first-time varsity player would be a little surprising. At 6-4, Sprauer has a chance to make an impact in the passing game as a senior.
Pivotal Game: Oct. 2 vs. Neptune
The Bucs want to compete with the best of the best in B North and that opportunity will come later in October against crosstown rival Red Bank Catholic. Before that though, Red Bank faces Ocean and Neptune in back-to-back weeks, and if this year is going to be a big one for the Bucs, it stands to reason that they will have to win at least one of those two games.