Ingredients for Success: 2023 Shore Regional Football Preview
There are multiple programs that would gladly sign up to experience the kind of success Shore Regional has enjoyed during the NJSIAA playoff era. The Blue Devils have won seven sectional titles since 1974, which is tied for the third-most in Shore Conference history.
However, since a string of reaching three straight sectional finals and winning consecutive Central Jersey Group 1 titles in 2014 and 2015, including the program’s first 12-0 season, Shore has yet to return to a sectional final. That could very well change this season thanks to a talented and experienced group of returning starters.
Coming off a 6-4 season and a share of the Patriot Division title, Shore returns a total of 16 starters under Hall of Fame head coach Mark Costantino. And while their schedule will be significantly tougher now that they’ve vaulted up from the small-school Patriot Division to the Constitution Division, the Blue Devils have the talent and championship pedigree to compete and win against the likes of Asbury Park, Holmdel, Manasquan, Ocean, and St. John Vianney.
When the Blue Devils are at their best they are known for a punishing running attack out of their Delaware Wing-T offense and a physical, unrelenting defense. While they will have to replace last year’s leading rusher, Liam Rosa, and quarterback Ty Koch, Shore returns nine starters from an offensive unit that finished 14th in the Shore last season averaging 23.2 points per game.
Given their offensive philosophy, having four starting offensive linemen and two starting running backs returning is a great place to start. Senior Connor Haney (6-3, 275) is entering his third year as a starter and will be at right tackle, senior Paul Giglio (6-0, 250) is at center, senior three-year starter Jake Papera (6-1, 220) is the left guard, and junior Xavier Moro (6-2, 280) is the left tackle. Working in at right guard are seniors Malachy Connors (6-0, 180) and Colin Rauch (5-10, 180).
Seniors Lucas White (341 yards, 4 TDs) and Alex George (468, 3 TDs) return at running back and will be joined by junior Brendan O’Brien, senior Jake Pennell, and juniors Atticus Taboada and Kyle Trimble. Rounding out the backfield will be new starting quarterback Josh Moeller, a junior. He appeared in four games last season but had just two carries.
Returning as starting wide receivers are 6-foot-3 senior Craig Sears and senior Parker Feegan. Also at wide receiver are senior Jack Sweeney and junior Charlie McQuillan. The team’s leading pass catcher last season was tight end Jackson Whitacre (16 rec., 277 yards, 2 TDs) and the 6-foot-4, 235-pound three-year starter is back to contribute both through the air and on the ground as another big-bodied blocker. Also at tight end is junior Braedan Miller (6-3, 175).
Shore’s defense finished 18th in the conference last season at 17.7 points per game while recording two shutouts. In the Blue Devils’ victories, they allowed just six points per game while yielding 35.3 points per game in losses to Westwood, Manasquan, Asbury Park, and Woodbury.
Seven starters return in Shore’s 4-4 alignment, led by Whitacre at defensive end. A starter since his sophomore year, Whitacre is a two-time All-Shore selection (third as a sophomore, second team last season) who recorded 46 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery last season. He is verbally committed to the University of Delaware. Backing up Whitacre is senior Noah Karaban (6-0, 200). Senior Sean Fisher (6-0, 275) and Moro are returning starters at defensive tackle with Giglio and senior Kenneth Hayes also in the mix. The defensive end opposite Whitacre is Papera with Miller and senior TJ Minner also working in.
White is the lone returning starter within the linebacking corps and is at outside linebacker with Moeller, Trimble, freshman Cole Torres, and sophomore Michael Marotta. O’Brien, junior Tommy Schroeder, sophomore John Mazzacco, and Connors are the team’s inside linebackers.
Three starters are back in the secondary with Sears and Feegan both returning at cornerback. Sears picked off three passes and recorded 32 tackles last season. Sweeney, McQuillan, and junior Braeden Farmer are also at cornerback. George is a returning starter at free safety and will be backed up by sophomore Enzo Cagliostro.
The special teams unit features Mazzacco at kicker and Torres at punter, with both capable of filling either role as needed.
Shore appears to have the personnel to execute its schemes at a high level, although the Blue Devils are unproven at certain positions. Another concern is their schedule. Shore is one of the three largest Group 1 schools in the South Jersey section, but they and Asbury Park are now the only Group 1 teams in a division that includes Group 3 schools Holmdel, Manasquan, and Ocean, and Non-Public A team St. John Vianney. Shore has routinely competed against and defeated larger schools, but how it fares against those teams on an almost-weekly basis remains to be seen. If they can navigate the schedule and finish at or near the top of the division, they should be primed for a deep playoff run.
At a Glance
Head coach: Mark Costantino, 32nd season
Career record: 204-114-1
2022 record: 6-4
Offense: Delaware Wing-T
Coaching staff: Mike Whitacre (OL/DL); Jon Remedios (OL/DL); Pete Vincelli (RB/DB); Joe Rankins (QB/LB); Chris Riley (WR/DB); John Vaccarelli (RB/LB); Paul Christopher (TE/DL); Joe Ammacucci (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 3 – Thursday, Sept. 14 vs. Ocean
The Blue Devils and Spartans are not rivals by any stretch, but the two schools are located relatively close to each other so there is a proximity factor. More than that, however, is that it’s a division game a few weeks into the season that will be crucial for both teams’ division title aspirations.
Player to Watch: Jackson Whitacre, Sr., DE/TE
A University of Delaware commit, Whitacre is a two-time All-Shore selection entering his third year as a starter on both sides of the ball. He is the team’s leading returning receiver and top defender.
Impact Newcomer: Josh Moeller, Jr., QB/OLB
After seeing limited action last season, Moeller will be the Blue Devils’ starting quarterback and will also play inside linebacker.
Big Shoes to Fill: Alex George, Sr., RB & Lucas White, Sr. RB
Shore graduated last season’s leading rusher, Liam Rosa, who ran for 607 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. George and White should be the Devils’ top two backs and lead the running game.
Did You Know?
Shore has had just eight losing season’s during Costantino’s 31-year tenure, and six of those were four-wins seasons where the team was a win away from finishing at .500. Conversely, Shore has had 11 seasons of eight wins or more while winning 10 division titles and four NJSIAA sectional championships as one of the conference's most consistent teams.
|@St. John Vianney