Gridiron Classic Notebook: Hall of Fame, Sam Mills Awards, 7-on-7 Final and More
BERKELEY TOWNSHIP -- Manalapan offered an early glimpse of what is expected to be one of the top teams in the area this upcoming season during the Thursday night's Shore Conference 7-on-7 championship.
With a standout junior class led by quarterback Luke Corcione and senior FBS recruit L.J. Holder at wide receiver, the Braves have an impressive collection of skill players they believe can lead them back to a championship. Corcione tossed three touchdown passes to lead Manalapan past Brick, 22-16, to claim the tournament title in a game that preceded the U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic at Central Regional's Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field.
"It was a really good way to get some extra practice against good competition," Corcione said. "Brick is good and obviously has a good defense. We won today and we're excited about the season."
Corcione attended Red Bank Catholic his freshman year and transferred back to Manalapan last year. He was forced to sit the first 30 days as per the NJSIAA's transfer rule and played in five games as a sophomore. He threw for 589 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception while completing 59 percent of passes. If he has a breakout season the Braves will be right there competing for division and state titles.
He will have plenty of weapons, including the Braves' top four leading receivers. Holder, who recently picked up his first FBS offer from Temple, was the leading pass catcher last season with 22 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. Juniors Scott Scherzer and Symir Blacknall at wide receiver, junior fullback Chris Maksimik and junior tailback Naim Mayfield, plus emerging senior wide receiver Mike Taylor give Manalapan a diverse skill set on offense.
"We have a lot of talent on the team and we can do what it takes to win a state championship," Holder said.
Manalapan won the 2014 Central Jersey Group V title for the first sectional title in program history, but had to replace all its starting skill players heading into last season. The Braves had a down year by their standards in finishing 6-5, but still nearly reached a fifth straight sectional final before falling to eventual champion South Brunswick, 27-21, on the final play of the game in the sectional semifinals.
"We're coming back with a purpose this year," Corcione said.
Hall of Fame
It was a special evening for Steve Antonucci, Kevin Callahan and Dick Brinster, who were inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame at halftime of the Gridiron Classic.
Antonucci will begin his 19th season as head coach at Middletown South this fall and has a mind-boggling 170-37 record with six NJSIAA titles and nine Shore Conference divisional championships during his tenure. This past season the Eagles went 12-0 and captured the NJSIAA North 2, Group IV title for their first state championship since 2006. Middletown South finished not only as the No. 1 team in the Shore, but also as the No. 1 team in New Jersey. Antonucci has now been rightfully recognized alongside the Shore Conference's coaching legends.
"It's a huge honor," Antonucci said. "I played for one of those guys, (Keyport's) Mike Ciccotelli, and I can tell you he's one of my all-time favorites. And there's guys like (Matawan's) Joe Martucci and (Lacey's) Lou Vircillo here, and obviously I live in the town of (Manasquan's) Vic Kubu, who's as good as they get, so it's quite an honor."
When Antonucci took over as head coach for the 1998 season Middletown South already had four state titles under its belt. In adding six more to that total, Middletown South has established itself as one of best and most respected programs in all of New Jersey. From Bergen County to Cape May County, fans have certainly heard of Middletown South and know it is a championship program. Antonucci has coached five undefeated teams and two others that went 11-1.
"That's probably the most enjoyable thing for me, honestly," Antonucci said. "I commute back and forth to work every day up the Parkway and I'll see our 'S' somewhere on the back of a car and that makes me proud. We've worked hard for that and it's something when I first took over I wanted. I wanted to have a true identity. When people see our logo they know who we are and what they're getting."
The Eagles will be state championship contenders again this season behind a standout senior class. Shore Sports Network first-team All-Shore selections James McCarthy at linebacker and safety Maxx Imsho lead the way with second-team linebacker Kevin Higgins and defensive lineman Will Gulick, plus junior defensive lineman Jake Krellin.
"We have a great group of kids coming back and I'm excited to get going again," Antonucci said.
The only coach in the history of Monmouth University's football program, Callahan will begin his 24th season leading the Hawks and has a 131-108 career record. Monmouth and the Shore Conference have a unique relationship given the university has the only NCAA football program located within the Shore Conference. Several Shore Conference players have went on to star with the Hawks in West Long Branch.
"From day one at Monmouth a connection with the Shore Conference was one of the most important things we set about trying to accomplish," Callahan said. "I think there's been a tremendous partnership between our football program and the Shore Conference coaches and players."
"Our recruiting philosophy has always been to recruit from the inside out, and if you look back at all of the milestones we've achieved as a program there has always been some key Shore Conference players that have played a significant part of it. I have tremendous respect for the coaches of the Shore Conference and the way they go about preparing these kids. The level of play and level of talent that comes out of the Shore Conference is unmatched."
Brinster, the former Asbury Park Press Sports Editor who came up with the concept for the first All-Shore game in 1978, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame.
You can read more about their accomplishments in the official gameday program.
Sam Mills Awards
Brick Memorial's Chris Hayes and Matawan's Aliem Shaw were the recipients of the prestigious Sam Mills Award, given to a player on each team who embodies the toughness perseverance and character of the late Sam Mills, who starred as a linebacker for Long Branch in the late 1970s before becoming an All-American at Montclair State and an All-Pro linebacker with the New Orleans Saints.
Shaw, a two-time first-team All-Shore selection by SSN and a second-team pick last season, was all over the field as usual for a Monmouth County defense that played very well in defeat.
Hayes had a sack, a tackle for a loss and an interception as part of a ferocious defensive line that keyed Ocean County's 14-7 victory. You can read more about Hayes' night to remember in Scott Stump's story.
Hayes and Shaw will be college teammates as part of a large Shore Conference contingent that signed with the Pioneers. Joining them will be Shaw's teammate at Matawan, defensive back Shawn Ramcheran, along with Brick defensive end Jordan Keefe and offensive lineman Alex Trapasso, St. John Vianney wide receiver Mike Stapert and Red Bank Catholic running back Mike Wilen. Also joining them will be 2014 Manalapan running back Imamu Mayfield, who played a post graduate season at The Hun School last season.
Game notes: Ocean County's 41 rushing attempts is its most in Gridiron Classic history, eclipsing the 40 attempts by the 1995 team...Dave Oizerowitz is the third Toms River North coach to lead Ocean County to victory, joining Bob Nani in 1996 and Chip LaBarca Jr. in 2008...Donovan Catholic's Alex Rosario unfortunately dislocated his elbow breaking up a pass in the first half, but was upbeat upon hearing the highlight was recorded successfully...Ocean County has now won three straight games for the first time in the series...Monmouth leads the all-time series, 20-18-1...One of the more underrated all-around athletes in the Shore is Brick's Javion Harris, who absolutely boomed a 69-yard punt...The Army's Black Daggers unit delivered the game ball with a skydive from high above Boyd Field...The halftime show had one of the best plays of the entire night...Brick's Jordan Keefe, Toms River North's Luke Butera and Toms River South's Jaden Kosh were presented with commemorative coins by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command...Central's Mike Miserendino was named Ocean County's offensive MVP and Jackson Memorial's Tyler Towns was selected as the defensive MVP...Raritan's Nick Pasquin was the Monmouth County offensive MVP and Middletown North's Matt Dombrowski was voted defensive MVP.
Listen to the 2016 U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.