Galvanized for Success: Freehold Twp. 2019 Football Preview
Not that long ago, a 5-5 record at Freehold Township would be cause for celebration. The Patriots endured rough times, annually licking the wounds inflicted by a streak of 11 consecutive losing seasons.
Times have changed dramatically for the Patriots. A breakthrough in 2016 marked by a 7-3 showing and a berth in the state playoffs snapped the string of disappointment, harkened a football renaissance and was the prelude to an even-more impressive performance a year later, when they stamped an 8-3 mark with a run to the Central Jersey, Group 5 semifinals.
Thus, that .500 record last fall - though more than respectable considering it finished 3-2 in the rough-and-tumble American Division - was a refreshingly poignant revelation to those in and around the program that mediocrity is no longer the striving point, replaced with becoming a recurring guest in the playoff party.
Only eight returning starters are in the fold this season, but forget about that. Instead, take note of a hungry group of eager upperclassmen galvanized to steer Township back into the thick of the November title hunt.
Player to Watch: Lorenzo Chirichella (Jr. QB 6-2, 190)
The Patriots did the future a favor by getting Chirichella game action last season as a sophomore. And, it wasn’t against slouches either. He got to stand behind center, looking down the barrel of fierce defenses like Manalapan and Toms River North...and didn’t flinch. The backup to ‘19 grad Nick Reardon, Chirichella completed 33 of 48 attempts for 319 yards and two TDs. More importantly, the time logged against formidable opponents planted verifiable evidence he’s ready to assume the gear shift on the Air Raid in promising fashion.
“To have him get in there last year for a little bit of playing time was huge for him and huge for us,” said Davies. “He got some confidence seeing he could do what we needed from him. He did very well and has that ability.”
He’ll have plenty of attractive options to explore. Seniors Jake Cancela (5-11, 165), Brendan Doel (5-11, 170) and Jayson Nami (5-10, 160) headline a promising receiving and corps as well as...
Player to Watch, Part II: Nic Nasso (Sr. RB 5-9, 185)
The leading rusher for the Patriots in each of the last two seasons, Nasso accumulated 805 yards and eight touchdowns during that span and there’s plenty more to come. An alert back who follows blocks, squares his pads and makes the most of holes, his hash mark consumption isn’t limited to running lanes. Freehold Twp. is exceptional disguising his look out of the gun, capitalizing on his chip blocks against rush (his pass protection is easily overlooked) before leaking Sasso out of the backfield on the delay screen.
Player to Watch, Part III: Jarrid Markowitz (Sr. RG/DT 6-1, 225)
The Patriots have an abundance of senior leadership working both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage and Markowitz is a proud member of that collection. At defensive tackle, he’ll congest the middle and leads the welcoming party for backs as they seek daylight shrowd by his shadow. He piled up 53 tackles and a sack as a junior. Markowitz will be just as instrumental on the offensive line.
Players Under the Radar: Jake Mollica (Sr. LT/DE 6-3, 220) and Zach Rodriguez (Sr. RT/DE/OLB 6-1, 215)
For Freehold Twp. to run its offense at maximum efficiency, a lot depends on the guys up front and these two are proven veterans ready to set the example. Mollica and Rodriguez are bookends on the tackles who fend off the edge rush to form the pocket and blow open holes to lure runners to seek gains off their hips. What they deny on the offensive line is exactly what they seek as the defensive ends on front four and their intellect for trench warfare is an asset for the Patriots within their double duty.
Area of Strength: Running game
Any good Air Raid needs reliable ground support and the Patriots are excited about what they can accomplish within their running attack. Nasso boasts a proven track record and senior backfield partner Matt Levine (5-11, 175) is a complementary rusher who can ease some of the load as he anticipates his to increase. While their avenues for exploitation may hinge between the tackles, each can pop a run outside. Township also has other means to stretch to the periphery, notably utilizing wide receivers Jayson Nami and Brendan Doel on jet sweeps.
“We like our ability to run the ball with Nasso, which is a little different from what we’ve done in the past,” said Davies. “We’re trying to blend that in with our passing game."
Freehold Twp. will be successful if…
The defense rises to the challenge. There are only two returning starters within the unit but 10 of them are seniors who’ve patiently waited to show their grit and know what’s expected. The Patriots conceded 22.4 points per game in ‘18. More pointedly, they yielded 16.2 in their five victories. Closing the gap against the better teams on the schedule will revolve around how stingy the defense develops into. Senior inside linebacker Duke Young (5-11, 195), who recorded 50 tackles, 1 ½ sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble, could be the compass guiding his crew in the proper direction.
Mollica, Rodriguez, Markowitz and senior defensive tackle Frank Figueroa (5-10, 310) will headline the rotation across the front with Young flanked by senior Connor Petrula (6-0, 240) and lone junior Matt Arway (5-10, 175) at outside linebackers. Doel and Rob Laguerre anchor the corners with Nami and Francesco Amato (6-1, 180) stationed at safeties.
Swiss Army Knife
Count on Brendan Doel doing just about everything asked of the 5-11, 170-pounder senior. Versatility might be his finest quality and enough to entice Davies to get exoctic with his schemes to maximize his well-rounded game.
“He’s a jack of all trades,” said Davies. “He’s going to play some receiver, he plays quarterback and defensive back. He returns kicks and punts. The guy is pretty athletic.”
Snappy attire required
Perhaps a red carpet would be the best way for the Patriots to enter the field this fall. Their new uniforms certainly warrant such fanfare. Navy blue home jerseys are accentuated with piping in the upper sleeve represented by the traditional school colors of Columbia blue and gold. Players lobbied for new uniforms and their request was granted.
Change of Scenery
Freehold Twp. moves out of the American Division and into Constitution. It will maintain some familiar rivalries against district schools Howell and Marlboro while having to deal with Brick Memorial, Southern and Middletown North.
AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: Cory Davies, 6th season (26th overall)
CAREER RECORD: 114-132
Derek Reichenbecher (Def. Coordinator/LB)
Bill Dague (OL)
Ryan Davies (QB/WR)
Matt Hardison (Special Teams/DL)
Todd Bitsko (DB)
Gene Blanco (JV)
Mike Verrochi (OL/DL)
Ed Von Nessen (Def. Assistant)
Jesse Heubel (Freshmen)
Vince Tesi (Freshmen)
Rebekah Bernard (Athletic Trainer)
2018 RECORD: 5-5 (3-2 in American Division)
OFFENSE: Air Raid
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Lorenzo Chirichella (Jr. QB)
To say the quarterback is instrumental in the Air Raid is the epitome of an understatement. Despite being the understudy to Nick Reardon last year, Chirichella managed to get acclimated to the role with a good amount of playing time as a reserve, giving him a head start in assuming the lead role of the offense.
Nothing intricate here. Head coach Cory Davies insists the most important factor is finishing with one more point than the opposition. Sounds simple enough, but it will take a combination of staunch defense against a rigorous schedule and sharp, consistent offensive execution to accomplish the job.
IMPACT NEWCOMERS: Jayson Nami (Sr. WR/RB)
Nami returns to where his football career began. After his freshman year with Township, he spent the next two at Jackson Liberty but is back in the ranks of the Patriots. His diversity adds depth as well as a hint of mystery to the Air Raid.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 14 at Freehold
The annual battle for The Duke, the coveted trophy bestowed upon the winner, brings out the best in these neighbors. Freehold Township has been the proud processor for the last three years and has no designs on relinquishing its grip.
Follow Shore Sports Network on Twitter @ShoreSportsNet and on Instagram. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.