Horsepower: 2019 Brick Memorial Football Preview
Losing seasons don’t happen often at Brick Memorial. In Walt Currie’s 12 seasons at the helm, the Mustangs have failed to reach five wins just four times, and in three of those years, Brick Memorial was only one game below .500.
Fielding a consistent contender has been the norm under Currie, and after going 4-6 last season against one of the most difficult schedules in the Shore Conference, the Mustangs are eager to get back to their winning ways and challenge for the Constitution Division title.
A total of 14 starters are back for Brick Memorial, including six in their option-based attack and eight in their usually stingy 4-3 defense. Senior Anthony Albanese takes over under center after essentially starting two games last season, junior T.J. McArthur and senior Mekhi Irving return in the backfield, seniors Mike Spanola and Larry Fonville III are back to anchor the offensive line, and senior Ryan McCombs flanks them at tight end.
Many of the same names are back on the defensive side where the Mustangs will be breaking in just three new starters. McCombs, Spanola, and senior Jeremy Campbell return along the defensive line with McArthur and Fonville returning as starting linebackers and Albanese, Irving and senior Sal Lepore comprising an experienced secondary.
The schedule has also softened a bit in comparison to last season. Gone from their division is Central Jersey Group 3 champion Rumson-Fair Haven along with Freehold and St. John Vianney. Moving from the Colonial Division to the Constitution Division, Brick Memorial will now face Freehold Township, Howell, Marlboro, Middletown North and Southern in division contests. The Mustangs still have their annual clash with Brick, which is now a nondivisional game, plus tough games against Jackson Memorial and Wall in nondivisional games.
Player to Watch: Anthony Albanese, Sr., QB/SS
Albanese will take over under center in Brick Memorial’s option offense, succeeding two-year starter Tyler Sindel. Albanese played two full games last season when Sindel was injured and rushed for 319 yard and three touchdowns and threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns. His ability to throw the ball as well as be a dangerous option on the ground has Brick Memorial excited for what the offense can become.
“The biggest thing for Anthony is being a leader on the team, not just playing the position of quarterback,” Currie said. “That’s a tough transition for a senior first-year starter. The faster he can develop leadership skills and bring the team together the better we’ll be.”
“Also, his responsibility is not just focusing on his job, but knowing everyone else’s job on the field and really seeing the forest for the trees, seeing the big picture on the field.
Player Under the Rader: Ryan McCombs, Sr., TE/DE/K
McCombs (6-3, 215) is back as a starter on offense, defense, and special teams after a very good junior campaign in which he led the Mustangs in sacks (6.5) and quarterback hurries (7) while recording two fumble recoveries. As Brick Memorial’s kicker, he converted 28 extra points and one field goal.
The way Brick Memorial asked him to play the position within its scheme last season wasn’t always with him getting to the quarterback as the end goal. There were a lot of stunts and such designed to free up other players or funnel plays a certain direction. That McCombs still ended up with the most sacks on the team speaks to his ability. Now, the Mustangs want him to wreak havoc.
“We’re expecting him to go from being a role player on defense to being a game-changer on defense,” Currie said. “His offseason was phenomenal. He increased his weight in a healthy way and threw up great numbers in the weight room.”
Best Unit: Secondary
With three returning senior starters and a promising junior stepping into a starting role, Brick Memorial’s secondary leads the way in its 4-3 defense. Albanese (5-10, 180) returns at strong safety and Lepore (6-0, 150) is back as the free safety. Mekhi Irving (6-3, 170) returns as one starting cornerback and will be joined by junior Akhi Barksdale (6-2, 175). Albanese was the leading tackler in the secondary last year with 34 stops plus two sacks and two tackles for loss.
The Mustangs know what they’re getting from their three returners and are excited about what Barksdale could add to an already strong position group.
“He’s a player who is super athletic and very fast,” Currie said. “He’s a guy that, because of his physical attributes, we hoped would be that guy to step up and he’s done a really good job.”
Brick Memorial is also solid along the defensive line with three of four starters back and at the skill positions where it can rotate several players through the slotback and wide receiver positions.
Brick Memorial will be successful if…
…The offensive line gels and Albanese builds off his small but encouraging sample size from last season. Two starters are back along the offensive line with Spanola (5-10, 255) at center and Fonville (5-10, 205) at right guard. Senior Jeremy Campbell brings great size to the position at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds and is slated to start at left guard. Senior Nick DeCicco (6-3, 215) has emerged at right tackle while a competition between Tom Bremmer, Kyle Kohlman, and Colin Mullahey is ongoing for the starting left tackle spot.
Albanese started a regular-season game against Freehold and nearly led the Mustangs to a comeback victory and also played most of a game against Long Branch after Sindel suffered an injury early in the game. While he didn’t run the option as well as Sindel, his athleticism allowed him to make plays and his throwing ability opened up more areas of the field for the Mustangs’ offense. With an entire offseason under his belt and a clear plan for improvement and refinement, Brick Memorial’s offense is hoping to pick up right where it left off after averaging 24 points per game last season.
Ready to break out
Starting as a sophomore at positions as physically demanding as triple-option ‘A’ back and linebacker are no easy task, yet T.J. McArthur was everything the Mustangs could have hoped for during his 10th-grade season.
McArthur ran for 309 yards and three touchdowns on 4.7 yards per carry, but it was on defense where he really made his mark in recording 80 tackles, a team-high 9.5 tackle for loss, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. The expectation is that he continues his development to become one of the more impactful two-way players in the Shore Conference.
“I think he is going to break out and I think he has even higher expectations of himself than I have, and I have high ones,” Currie said. “He’s that kind of kid. He has things he wants to accomplish as an individual and for the team.”
A little something different
Brick Memorial isn’t suddenly going to trot out in a spread formation with Albanese in the shotgun, but the offense will have some different looks this season as opposed to the traditional flexbone formation the Mustangs have been known for.
“We’ve always viewed ourselves as a multiple-option team, we’ve just been in the flexbone mostly because of personnel, but personnel changes,” Currie said. “We’ll always be option-based but we’re going to try to take advantage of the personnel we have and get the ball to our guys a little differently.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Walt Currie, 13th season
Career record: 79-56
2018 record: 4-6 (2-3 in Colonial Division)
Assistant coaches: Rob Brown (def. coord./DB), Mike McArthur (OL), Bill Brunner (OL/special teams), Bob Merola (DT/TE), Keith Farr (WR/special teams), James Mahoney (QB), Nick Moschella (LB), Brady Watson (DB), Pete Walski (DB), Jimmy Bright (freshmen), Ryan Graham (freshmen), Mike Kiley (freshmen), Sue Penrod (athletic trainer).
Offense: Multiple option
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Anthony Albanese, Sr., QB
Albanese played two games last season at quarterback in addition to starting in the secondary, but now it’s his show to run under center. He takes over for Tyler Sindel, who ran for 1,500 yards and scored 19 touchdowns in two years as a starter.
X-FACTOR: Offensive line depth
Brick Memorial’s offensive line has two starters back, so a lot hinges on the new starters and how the entire unit comes together.
“I think the make-or-break spot for us is the offensive line,” Currie said. “If we can find a starting five and two or three adequate backups and they can gel quickly that could really propel us to a really good season.”
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Nick DeCicco, Sr., RT/DE
A program player who spent two years as a backup, DeCicco used a strong offseason and training camp to earn starting spots on both sides of the ball.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 14 at Brick
After opening the season against old Class A South rival Jackson Memorial, the Mustangs will head across town to face their fiercest rival in the annual clash with Brick. The Dragons won last season’s meeting, 30-7, and have won six in a row dating back to 2012. Is this the year Brick Memorial gets back in the win column? This will also be a crucial game for both teams coming off tough opponents (Jackson for Brick Memorial, Mater Dei for Brick) in Week 0.
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.