From Paws to Claws: 2020 Matawan Football Preview
After a successful run at Allentown, Jay Graber came to Matawan hoping to orchestrate another big turnaround, albeit at a program that has a richer tradition of championship football than Allentown previously had. After one year, the Huskies are eying a second straight winning season and have a wave of young talent ready to help them get there.
The Huskies – like every team in N.J. – won’t have a chance to get back into the playoffs – at least not a traditional playoffs – this season but with six regular season games and possibly two more in the NJSIAA’s modified postseason, Matawan has a chance to build on last year’s 5-4 showing that was sparked by a motivated group of seniors.
“Last year, we had a very motivated group of seniors who really committed to turning the program around and finishing their high-school careers on a positive note,” Graber said. “The younger guys who were around them got to see that commitment and it’s carried over to their offseason. This has obviously been a unique summer but the kids have done a good job controlling what they can control.”
While those seniors are gone, the Huskies still return starters at 14 positions including kicker and will work a promising group of five sophomores into the mix. Among the returning group is junior quarterback Dennis Buonagura and with a big step forward from the returning signal-caller, the Huskies could make the 2020 season a fruitful one.
So what would a fruitful season look like at Matawan?
“We never really talk about long-term expectations with the kids, even in normal seasons,” Graber said. “We always try to work on those things that make a team better every day and hopefully, if we stay with the process, it will show on the field and in our results.”
At a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=returning starter; 3RS=third-year returning starter)
QB: Dennis Buonagura, Jr. RS
RB: Adam Coleman, Sr.
FB/TE: Chris Hayes, Sr. RS
WR: Joe Hegel, Sr. RS
WR: Andrew Fanelli, So.
TE: Kyle Halliburton, Jr.
LT: Nick Winzer, So.
LG: Matt Bauer, Sr. RS
C: Baldemar Rojas, Sr. RS
RG: Nick Glende, Sr. RS
RT: Zion Spence, So. RS
DE: Brandon McCormack, Sr. RS
DT: Nick Glende, Sr. RS
DT: Tim Ryf, Jr.
DE: Tyler Lugo, Sr.
OLB: Chris Hayes, Sr. RS
MLB: Joe Bodin, So.
OLB: David Onuoha, Jr. RS
CB: Marvin Lovinsky, Sr. RS
CB: Nazir Abdul-Ghaffar, Sr.
SS: Aidan Glende, So.
FS: Adam Coleman, Sr. RS
K: Andrew Myerson, Sr. RS
P: Andrew Myerson
At a Glance
Head Coach: Jay Graber, second season
Career Record: 66-38
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Mohammed El Sherbini (Def. Coordinator/OL/LB), Scott Messler (OL/DL), Bob Wietecha (WR/DB), Robert Cordasco (OL/DL/Freshman), Nick Christathakis (TE/FB/Freshman), Anthony SanFilippo (RB/DB), Matt Gaetz (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Dennis Buonagura, Jr., QB
Buonagura took his lumps as a sophomore quarterback, throwing 12 interceptions to his seven touchdowns, but laid the groundwork to be one of the Shore’s more effective passers in 2020. He is back with more size (6-foot-1, 185 pounds), a better grasp of the offense and a dependable offensive line behind which to operate.
“Every kid is different but a lot happens in a year, especially for a quarterback going from sophomore to junior year,” Graber said. “Dennis has gotten taller, he has worked hard and he has changed his body to where he is stronger and more athletic, which should help him in a lot of ways.”
Player Under the Radar: Brandon McCormack, Sr., DE
Matawan should be a lot to handle on both lines and McCormack is the player opposing offensive coordinators will have to be aware of leading up to a matchup vs. Matawan. As a junior, McCormack chased down eight sacks, which was tied for 14th in the Shore Conference.
Impact Newcomer: Joe Bodin, So., MLB
Matawan could have as many as five sophomore starters on opening day and the spots on the depth chart in which the youth jumps out are at middle linebacker and the two tackle positions (more on that below). Bodin takes over at middle linebacker as a sophomore and will play in between two experienced, proven players in Chris Hayes and David Onuoha (69 tackles in 2019) while replacing leading tackler Vincent Guarino (101 tackles).
“This sophomore group played together on the freshman team last year and they have really committed to what we’re preaching,” Graber said. “They have given themselves a chance to contribute this year and it’s going to be up to them to keep working through the process of getting better.”
Top Position Group: Offensive Line
The Huskies return four big dogs up front and add a fifth to what should be a capable unit. At 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, sophomore Nick Winzer fits the profile of a left tackle despite his youth and will play opposite of 6-1, 225-pound returning starter Zion Spence. The two sophomores will bookend three senior interior linemen (Matt Bauer, Baldemar Rojas and Nick Glende) on a good front five that should continue to get better.
Big Shoes to Fill: Adam Coleman, Sr., RB/FS
Coleman is a returning starter on defense and will be a leader in a promising secondary, but his new role as the team’s No. 1 tailback has him attempting to replace the production of 2020 graduate Marc Gagneron. After Gagneron put up 900-plus yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Huskies, Coleman will look to be a steady backfield option to complement the team’s rising junior quarterback.
Matawan has talent and experience up front on both sides of the ball, three promising linebackers, an up-and-coming quarterback and a seasoned secondary. Where the Huskies have a lot to prove is in their playmaking ability, with most of last year’s top yard-gainers gone to graduation. The top two rushers and the team’s No. 1 receiver all moved on to graduation and while the secondary is experienced and senior Marvin Lovinsky collected four sacks from the cornerback spot, the group didn’t have a player with more than two interceptions.
Friday, Oct. 2 at Ocean
Friday, Oct. 9 at Red Bank
Friday, Oct. 16 vs. St. John Vianney
Friday, Oct. 23 at Raritan
Friday, Oct. 30 vs. Holmdel
Friday, Nov. 6 vs. Keyport