A lot has changed in the Jackson Memorial football program over the last few months.

The program’s all-time leading rusher, Mike Gawlik, is now a freshman at Monmouth University. A coach that led the Jaguars to two state titles in the past three seasons has resigned. But if you think the Jaguars have any kind of identity crisis, well, think again.

“Our goal is always to win a state championship,” said senior two-way lineman Joe Hurle. “We lost some players, and Mike Gawlik was a big loss for us, but we want to show it wasn’t all him. We have a lot of guys back this year and we know we’re going to do well.”

Aside from it being the post-Gawlik era at Jackson Memorial, the Jaguars welcome a new head coach as former player and assistant Vin Mistretta takes over for Walt Krystopik. Mistretta coached at Sayreville last season and helped the Bombers win the North Jersey 2, Group IV sectional title. Two years ago, he was the defensive coordinator when Jackson captured the Central Jersey Group IV title. He was a defensive back on the 2005 Jackson team that won the Central Jersey Group IV title.

“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine and it has all come together,” Mistretta said. “Now that I have the job it’s time to go to work and do what we do.”

“He was here two years ago and he’s a Jackson guy, so it’s been a pretty easy transition,” Hurle said. “Not much has changed.”

It all starts with the running game in Jackson Memorial’s multiple-I offense, and that’s why moving on from Gawlik is such a big undertaking. He led the Shore in rushing last season with over 2,200 yards and was an incredible big-game player on two state championship teams. There isn’t one player that is going to replace his production, so the Jaguars are more focused on remaining efficient in what they do.

Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images
Left to right: Matt D'Amore, Tom Pellone, Leo Shimonovich, A.J. Tolmachewich. (Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images).

“What we have is a bunch of guys working their butts off to replace some of that production, and we have three or four guys we can give the ball to and feel comfortable,” Mistretta said.

Junior Leo Shimonovich will take over as the team’s starting tailback and will run behind an offensive line that features three returning starters. Hurle is a three-year starter and will be at right tackle, senior Devin Martinez is at left tackle and senior Brandon Giuliano is the left guard. Senior Luke Smith is the starting center and senior Naj’zir Humbert is the right guard. Junior Sean Sharo could also see playing time at center. Senior Tom Pellone is a returning starter at fullback and will be spelled by fellow senior Justin Martin-Culet. The tight ends are senior Brandon Hirsch and junior Chance Benjamin.

“We always want to play fast and physical up front,” Hurle said. “We want to play as mistake-free as possible, but if nothing else we’ll be physical and pound the ball down team’s throats.”

Working in at quarterback have been seniors A.J. Tolmachewich and Andrew McCarthy. The wide receivers are senior Matt D’Amore and junior Steven Vigliarolo with junior Joe Maffei and sophomores Jake McKown and Zack Novak also working in.

Whereas the running game is the identity of Jackson Memorial’s offense, a punishing, hard-nosed style is the calling card of its defense. Three starters and two others players who saw varsity time return in the Jaguars’ 4-3 base. Hurle is a returning starter at defensive tackle while Hirsch is back at defensive end after starting toward the end of last season. Humbert is the other defensive tackle and sophomore Colin McCarthy is the other defensive end.

Martin-Culet returns as the starting middle linebacker and will be flanked by Benjamin and Maffei. Benjamin saw time last season as a sophomore. Tolmachewich returns at cornerback after getting some playing time last season, and senior Elias Wilson will line up at the other cornerback spot. The safeties are Shimonovich and junior John Ghigna.

“We try to simplify it for them so they’re playing the same defense every year,” Mistretta said. “That way when it’s their time they can step right in and play at the varsity level.”

On special teams, the kicker is Justin Burkert and the punter is McKown.

Outside expectations for the Jaguars will vary from person to person, and Mistretta knows most will probably assume that without Gawlik, Jackson will take a step back. He hopes that notion drives his players.

“If they’re listening to me they’re going to have a chip on their shoulders,” Mistretta said. “Expectations around the Shore and the state are down for Jackson Memorial, and that’s fine. We’re going to take it one week at a time and try to win more games than we lose. Hopefully we’re back playing football at the beginning of December.”

At a Glance 

Head coach: Vin Mistretta, first season.

Career record: 0-0.

Coaching staff: Keith Anderson (off. coord./RB); Jeff Brown (OL); Brandon Vega (WR); Sal Mistretta (QB); Chris Rash (DL); Vin Mistretta (DL); T.J. Tkac (LB); Arnell Cozart (LB); Mike McCarthy (DB); Nicole Figaro (athletic trainer).

2016 record: 6-5 (3-4).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Leo Shimonovich, Jr., RB/DB

It doesn’t get much bigger than stepping into the starting spot left vacant by the program’s all-time leading rusher. Jackson doesn’t need Shimonovich to be Mike Gawlik, but they do need him to be productive.

X-FACTOR: A new playmaker emerging 

Whether it be Shimonovich at running back, one of the quarterbacks or wide receivers or a defensive player, the Jaguars need someone to step forward and be that player whom opposing teams have to account for in their game plan.

GLUE GUY: Joe Hurle, Sr., OL/DL

Hurle is a three-year starter on the offensive line and a two-year starter on defense. He was a starter on the 2015 state championship team and is a valuable senior who knows what it takes to win a championship.


Maffei is in the mix at wide receiver and tight end and is slated to start at outside linebacker.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 23 at Central

The Jaguars will head to Bayville for a game against a Central team that stunned them last season. The Golden Eagles figure to challenge for the division title, so this will be another good test for Jackson.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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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