Winning Feeling: 2018 Red Bank Football Preview
Ka’Shaun Turner and Evin Lawlor were just freshmen on the Red Bank Regional football team that won 11 straight games to reach the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 championship game, and while the senior presence on that team kept the two wide-eyed rookies off the field, the impact of witnessing that run up close has had a lasting effect on them.
Now seniors at Red Bank, Turner and Lawlor are the two leaders on a team that wants nothing more than to get back to that 12th game of the season.
“Us being up on that championship team our freshman year and seeing how they ran practice, I wanted to bring back what they used to do,” Lawlor said. Everybody was on the same page, everybody wanted to work hard at whatever they were doing and I wanted to bring that back as much as possible.”
“Everything we were doing with that team when we were freshmen, that’s how we’re running it right now,” Turner said. “You can see the difference.”
In order to reach the postseason and set up a potential playoff run, Red Bank must bounce back from a 2-8 season in 2017 and stop a precipitous slide that began with the 21-0 loss to Rumson-Fair Haven in the 2015 final. Since that loss, the Bucs have posted a 4-6 record in 2016 before losing eight straight to open 2017.
The silver lining of last year’s struggles is that the season ended not only with two wins but with one of the biggest upsets of the Shore Conference season. After finally winning its first game of the season by beating Neptune, Red Bank knocked off Long Branch, 21-20, 10 days before the Green Wave beat Freehold to win the Central Jersey Group 4 title.
“Once we beat Long Branch, I think for the guys coming back, we were all motivated to build on it,” Turner said. “Beating them was probably the best thing that could happen to this year’s team.”
According to 10th-year coach Nick Giglio, the win changed the entire tenor of the offseason and has his players thinking bigger in 2018.
“We definitely noticed a difference in the maturity and the attitude late in the year and that really carried over into the offseason,” Giglio said. “Guys were in the weight room in December getting themselves prepared for this year and there’s no doubt winning that game against Long Branch and getting that taste of success fueled our guys to want to make that commitment.”
Lawlor and junior Zachary Peterson both return at the two tackle positions on the offensive line, which will start three new players on the interior with senior Colin Chatto, sophomore Brian Navitsky and junior Sam Wasserfall leading the collective effort to fill those three spots.
“We’re not the Monsters of the Midway on the offensive line, but we have guys who play to the whistle and they will battle you,” Giglio said.
Piecing the offensive line together will be crucial in freeing up Red Bank’s talented group of skill players that includes returning junior Makai Mickens and senior Nigel Mitchell. Mickens has stepped up as the leading candidate for carries at running back, while Mitchell returns at receiver after leading the Bucs in rushing and receiving as a junior.
“Everything is still the same, we just have to have the mindset that we’re going to dominate,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell is part of a group of wide receivers that has impressed Giglio and his staff this summer. Senior Luke Jurek, senior Jack Niesz and junior A.J. Abarno are three more promising players in that group that will be working with a new quarterback. Senior Donovan Turner and junior Jack Chamberlain have battled throughout the summer and Giglio could see both getting time.
“The good thing is we have two guys who we are very comfortable with,” Giglio said. “Both have done a really nice job competing for the spot and both have shown they can run the offense.”
Sophomore Nick Ferrogine and junior David Hicks will also factor into the offense as running backs.
Turner will anchor Red Bank’s base 4-3 defense as one of the defensive tackles, which marks his third year as a starter on the defensive line. Lawlor will be part of the defensive end rotation for the first time since his sophomore year. Junior Vincent DiLorenzi and senior Justin Gooding, meanwhile, will work in at defensive tackle.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to hit some people again,” Lawlor said. “I definitely missed it last year.”
Chatto will take over at middle linebacker in the absence of Kevin Weisman, who led the team in tackles last season with the Bucs in a 3-4 base. The loss of Weisman and Quran Molloy makes the linebacker group more of a question heading into this season, but Chatto has helped solidify the middle while senior Gavin Mahoney is in line to play an outside backer spot if he is not playing defensive end. Ferrogine and juniors Tyquan Crawford, Will Dal Pra and Kyle Weisman are all in the mix for snaps at linebacker, as well.
Mickens, Mitchell and Chamberlain will all factor prominently into the secondary, with Mickens and Chamberlain playing safety and Mitchell playing one of the cornerback positions opposite senior Robbie DeMarco. Abarno and Niesz are also in the cornerback rotation.
The Bucs will no longer have to contend with St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven during the regular season, but Red Bank Catholic and Long Branch are back on the schedule this year now as members of the Freedom Division instead of as nondivisional games.
Red Bank will still play three old Class A Central foes – Holmdel, Raritan and Monmouth Regional – from a year ago in its three nondivisional games, which means, for the most part, the Bucs know exactly what they are up against this season as they try to get back into the state playoff picture.
“I really feel like those first eight games last year weren’t a reflection of who we are,” Mitchell said. “I feel like we showed who we are at the end of the year against Long Branch and we’ve been working hard all offseason to make sure we come out and show people that’s the team we are week-in and week-out.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Nick Giglio, 10th season (17th overall)
Career record: 64-108
2017 record: 2-8 (0-6 in A Central)
Coaching staff: Dan Mendoza (Off. Coordinator), Steve Turner, Phil Greene, Shane Bigelow, Matt Norman, Jeff Mass, Adam Bobertz, Chris LeRoy, Christina Emrich (Athletic Trainer)
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Colin Chatto, Sr., LB
The Bucs lost two standout defenders in Kevin Weisman and Quran Molloy, so there will be a heavy onus on a number of Red Bank’s more experienced defenders, including Chatto. The senior will man middle linebacker as Red Bank switches from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front.
X-FACTOR: Offensive Line
As a team trying to build on a strong finish, forging a strong line with some inexperienced pieces will be a major factor for Red Bank. The Bucs have two proven offensive threats in Mackai Mickens and Nigel Mitchell, and if some linemen step up around returnee Evin Lawlor, the Bucs will have a more-than-competent offense.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Nick Ferrogine, So., RB/LB
Just a sophomore, Ferrogine has made an impression during camp both as a running back who can spell and complement Mickens and as one of the several candidates to take snaps at outside linebacker.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 7 at Toms River South
Red Bank’s schedule ramps up quickly after Week 1 against Toms River South, so securing a win in the opener could make or break the Bucs’ push for a spot in the NJSIAA playoffs. After opening in Toms River, Red Bank will have to play senior-laden Holmdel, No. 1 Red Bank Catholic and an improved Ocean squad. Beating the Indians on Sept. 7 would mean a win in any of those three subsequent games could light the fuse for said playoff push.