Forged Under Fire: 2020 Manasquan Football Preview
Losing seasons are few and far between at Manasquan, a program that has won a Shore Conference record 12 NJSIAA state sectional championships. Just five times since 1965 have the Warriors failed to win at least half their games, but last season was just one of those years where youth and inexperience added up to a 4-6 mark.
History is on Manasquan’s side, however. In the four prior instances of finishing below .500, the Warriors quickly rebounded to reclaim their throne. In 1988 under legendary head coach Vic Kubu, Manasquan finished 3-6 for its first losing season in 24 years. Two years later, Manasquan was 11-0 and Central Jersey Group 2 champions and backed it up with another 11-0 championship year the next season in 1991. In 2004, Manasquan finished 4-6 just two years after finishing off an unprecedented run of five straight sectional titles. The next season, Kubu led the Warriors to an 11-1 season and another Central Jersey Group 2 title and the following year in 2006, Manasquan went 12-0 and repeated as state champs Kubu’s final season.
It happened again in 2016. Manasquan suffered back-to-back 3-7 seasons in 2014 and 2015 but responded under current head coach Jay Price to go 10-2 and win the Central Jersey Group 2 title.
This brief history lesson is not to say Manasquan is bound for immediate glory, but rather the Warriors are primed to get back to their usual winning ways sooner than later.
“We were able to gain a lot of experience last year with many young athletes in the lineup, so we are hoping the game has slowed down for them,” Price said. “If we can mature and gel, we might be able to make some noise.”
Six starters return on offense and nine starters return on defense for the Warriors as they aim for a bounce-back campaign in a shortened season set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Price lamented the lack of the usual beefiness Manasquan has traditionally enjoyed in the trenches, the Warriors do return four linemen who saw starting action a year ago, including three who are still juniors. If the running game is clicking Manasquan is usually in great shape, so having experience up front certainly puts the Warriors in an advantageous position. Last season, it was not, and the Warriors averaged just 10.4 points per game, which was 41st out of 43 teams in the conference.
Also returning on the offensive side are wide receivers Robert Pendergist and Jack Collins. Pendergist will be in his third year as an offensive starter and is a great all-around athlete. At 6-foot-5, Collins is a huge target in the passing game. Both were second-team All-Liberty Division selections last season.
The backfield features promising sophomore Jhamier Howard, who saw playing time last season as a freshman, along with Pat Woodford and Jack Burns at tailback and Shayne Leddy, Ryan Burns and Christian Masonius working in at fullback. The quarterback spot is between junior Cole Kozlowski and sophomore Brett Patten.
While the Warriors’ offense struggled a year ago, its defense was among the best in the Shore allowing just 14.1 points per game, which was the seventh-best mark in the conference. Manasquan is strong in the back seven with all three linebackers – Leddy, Ryan Burns and Dylan LeBlanc – returning along with a fully experienced secondary that features Pendergist, Masonius and Woodford as cornerbacks, Kozlowski as the strong safety and Collins as the free safety. Along the line, JJ Cavanagh and Rob Marks anchor the front four from their defensive tackle positions.
How the 2020 season will play out remains an act of wishful thinking, in terms of both simply getting through the entire season and trying to gauge a particular team’s prospects for success. In both instances, the Warriors feel pretty good about their position.
“We’ve tried to control what we can this summer and our guys are as excited as they’ve ever been to get out there,” Price said. “They are working hard and competing in every rep. I’m just hoping they get a chance to get out there. The rest will take care of itself.”
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
QB: Cole Kozlowski, Jr. or Brett Patten, So.
RB: Jhamier Howard, So.; Pat Woodford, Jr.; Jack Burns, Jr.;
FB: Shayne Leddy, Sr; Ryan Burns, Jr; Christian Masonius, Sr.
TE: Dylan LeBlanc, Jr.; Andrew Solomon, Sr.
WR: Robert Pendergist, Jr., 3RS; Jack Collins, Sr., RS; also Mike Antonucci, Jr., Shea Keating, Jr.; Jack Dettlinger, So., Dan Hyland, Jr. and Mike Presbrey, Jr.
LT: Rob Marks, Jr., RS
LG: JJ Cavanagh, Jr., RS
C: Tommy Rice, Sr., RS or John Fonseca, Jr.
RG: Dom Razzino, Jr., RS
RT: Tommy Rice, Sr., RS or John Fonseca, Jr.
DE: Jack Burns, Jr.; Joe Franklin, Jr.
DT: JJ Cavanagh, Jr., RS; Ed Dingler, Jr.; Spencer Muly, Jr.;
DT: Rob Marks, Jr., RS; Jon Fonseca, Jr.
DE: Dom Razzino, Jr.; Andrew Solomon, Sr.;
OLB: Shayne Leddy, Sr., RS; Trevor Wells, Sr.
MLB: Dylan LeBlanc, Jr., RS; Tommy Rice, Sr.; Jack O’Shea, So.
OLB: Ryan Burns, Jr., RS; Alex Pilatos, Sr.; Jack O’Shea, So.
CB: Robert Pendergist, Jr., 3RS; Jhamier Howard, So.
CB: Christian Masonius, Sr., RS; Pat Woodford, Jr., RS;
SS: Cole Kozlowski, Jr., RS; Jack Dettlinger, So.
FS: Jack Collins, Sr., RS; Shea Keating, Jr.
K: Robert Pendergist, Jr. or Jack Dettlinger, So.
P: Christian Masonius, Sr., RS
Head coach: Jay Price, 10th season
Career record: 57-39
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Pete Cahill (Co-Offensive Coordinator/DB); Lou Certo (Co-Offensive Coordinator/WR); Brian Lee (QB); Bill Bertscha (OL); Darrell Falkinburg (RB); Eric Howland (LB); Eddie Kapalko (DL); Rich Griffith (freshmen); John Morris (freshmen); Bruce Bresnahan (video coordinator); Kevin Hyland (athletic trainer).
Player to Watch: Cole Kozlowski, Jr., QB/SS
A returning starter on the defensive side as the strong safety, Kozlowski is also competing for the starting quarterback position. As a junior, he appears to have an edge at winning the job under center but could be an impact player at multiple positions on the offensive side.
“He’s a complete football player who could play anywhere on the field,” Price said. “He’s a very intense competitor and a very coachable kid.
Player Under the Radar: JJ Cavanagh, Jr., OL/DL
“He did a great job working on himself in the offseason and has that combination of good hands, good feet and he plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Price said. “He’s going to be pretty good.”
Impact Newcomers: Jhamier Howard, So., RB/DB and Brett Patten, So. QB/WR/DB
Traditionally, Manasquan has one tailback who gets the lion’s share of the carries. Right now it’s a bit more of a by-committee approach, but Howard certainly has the ability to emerge as the feature back. The talent is there, it’s just a matter of whether or not he seizes the opportunity as a sophomore.
Patten is competing for the starting quarterback job but will be a factor on offense as a wide receiver should Kozlowski emerge as the starting QB. Manasquan is deep and experienced in the secondary but Patten could fill a role there if needed.
Top position group: Skill positions
Depth and youth don’t often go together, but that is the combination Manasquan has at its skill positions. The Warriors have three-year starting wideout Robert Pendergist and 6-foot-5 senior Jack Collins on the flank ahead of a host of solid underclassmen receivers. Jhamier Howard is a promising sophomore tailback in a backfield that is buoyed by seniors Shayne Leddy and Christian Masonius.
Big Shoes to Fill: Jack Burns, Jr., DE
One of Manasquan’s few holes opened by graduation is at defensive end where John Foreman was a first-team All-Liberty Division selection last season. Burns will look to fill that role and give Manasquan an edge presence alongside a pair of returning starters at defensive tackle.
X-Factor: Quarterback play
Whether it’s junior Cole Kozlowski or sophomore Brett Patten, Manasquan will have a new starting quarterback in 2020. Priority No. 1 will be to manage the game and avoid critical mistakes.
“You’re never going to lose the game by throwing an incomplete pass,” Price said. “We want to make sure our possessions end with a kick of some sort.”
“Kozlowski obviously has a year more than Brett under his belt. Both are tall but Kozlowski (6-foot-2, 195) is just a big, solid dude who has the confidence of a senior and is a good leader. Brett (6-foot-2, 175) is still a sophomore but he can run, he can throw; there’s nothing he can’t do. If he can get some confidence going he can be a good one.”
Saturday, Oct. 3 – vs. Asbury Park, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 9 – at Jackson Memorial, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 16 – at Point Boro, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 – vs. Neptune, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 30 – at Wall, 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 6 – at Barnegat, 7 p.m.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.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.