Gridiron Classic: Jackson Memorial Contingent Leads the Way for Ocean County
JACKSON - On the heels of Jackson Memorial's best season in nearly a decade and the final No. 1 ranking in the Shore, it's no surprise that the Ocean County squad in next week's U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic bears the stamp of the Jaguars.
Six Jackson Memorial stars as well as head coach Walt Krystopik and his coaching staff are part of the Ocean County team that will look to win its second straight Gridiron Classic when it squares off against Monmouth County at 7 p.m. on July 16 at Long Branch High School. In the 38th edition of New Jersey's oldest all-star high school football game, the players and coaches who helped the Jaguars finish 11-1 and capture the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV crown will look to put the cherry on top as they suit up together one last time.
Linemen Brad Greenway and Ryan Frasier, fullback/linebacker Cole Collins, linebacker Zach Tetro, quarterback/defensive back Joe DeMaio and wide receiver/defensive back Matt Castronuova make up the Jaguars contingent under Krystopik, who is Ocean County's head coach after earning Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year honors in the fall. The group was even bigger at first, but first-team All-Shore defensive end/tight end Brody Graham and offensive lineman Tyler Rauch as well as standout lineman Glenn Kipila and wide receiver/defensive back Aaron Curet will not be participating after initially being selected to play.
"It's definitely fun to see some of the kids come back who you've played with for so long and grown up with,'' said Greenway, who will continue his career at Bentley University. "A lot of us are going our separate ways, and some are playing football in college, so it's definitely awesome playing one last time with everyone."
Krystopik leads the Ocean County squad after helping his alma mater win its fourth state title in history and finish No. 1 in the Shore for the fourth time. This also marks the final game for longtime Jackson coach Mike Smith in his 20-year coaching career. Smith, who was the head coach of the undefeated 2005 state championship squad and an assistant on the latest state title team, was recently approved as the new athletic coordinator at Jackson Memorial.
"It's a great opportunity to coach in this game, and I've really enjoyed getting a chance to meet all the kids from these other teams,'' Krystopik said. "All the kids we've had are here working hard, and it's fun to coach our guys one more time."
The Jaguars get to practice on their home field one last time as they gear up for the big game. It caps a year in which they captured their first state title since 2005 and ended Red Bank Catholic's 40-game winning streak against Shore Conference competition on their way to finishing No. 1 in the Shore and in the top three in the state in various rankings. They also avenged their lone loss, a regular-season setback to Brick, with a 44-0 win over the Green Dragons in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals.
"It's very fun to look back and reminisce on the season we had, and now we're all back together one last time,'' said Frasier, who will continue his career at Ave Maria University.
"We had a lot of great competition,'' Tetro said. "Having a second shot at Brick was big. Our last four or five games were really memorable."
Tetro was a first-team All-Shore selection by SSN and the Class A South Defensive Player of the Year at linebacker after leading the team with 108 tackles and nine sacks, Greenway was a two-way standout on the line who was an All-Class A South selection, and Collins was an SSN third-team All-Shore pick with 105 tackles at linebacker who also was a punishing fullback in the run game.
DeMaio was an SSN second-team All-Shore pick at defensive back in addition to throwing for 1,079 yards and eight touchdowns and running for 408 yards and five touchdowns as the Jaguars' starting quarterback. He is expected to see snaps at quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback in the Gridiron Classic.
Castronuova was a second-team All-Shore pick at defensive back while also serving as an explosive offensive threat on special teams and in the passing game, and Frasier was a key cog on the Shore Conference's best offensive line, which produced two 1,000-yard rushers.
"It really does speak volumes to the quality of the players and coaches that we have here at Jackson,'' Collins said about the Jackson presence on the Ocean County squad.
Castronuova spent the first three years of his career at rival Jackson Liberty before transferring before his senior year. After sitting out the first four games via the NJSIAA transfer rule, he made his presence felt with 69 tackles, including four for a loss, and an interception in eight games. Also a home-run threat as a receiver, he caught 17 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries. In his first all-star game of this summer, he returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown in the Phil Simms North-South All-Star Classic last week.
"From the first day I was here, I was welcomed in,'' said Castronuova, who is headed to Monmouth University. "I saw how they worked hard, and we just took it from there. We got it done and won a state championship."
The Gridiron Classic week also means former foes are now on the same team. The Jaguars had a fierce rivalry with Brick in some high-profile games the past two years in Class A South, but now the Green Dragons have several standouts, including first-team All-Shore quarterback Carmen Sclafani, suiting up alongside the Jackson players on Ocean County.
"It is a team from Brick, and we don't really like Brick, but now that after the fact it's all said and done, you just shake hands and call it a day (with the rivalry),'' Tetro said.
"It's kind of weird to see them in the same locker room as us, but we're all friendly now, and the season's over,'' said DeMaio, who is headed to Iona to play baseball. "We wanted to rip their heads off during the season, but it's fun to be around them now and see what everybody is like and what their skills are like. We want to have fun, but we want to beat Monmouth County."