Lakewood Ironmen: 2023 Lakewood Football Preview
The Lakewood football program has produced some serious talent over the past decade, with much of that talent showing up at Division I programs – both FCS and FBS. Since 2017, however, the Piners have had to overcome fading program numbers. Coach L.J. Clark worked around a relatively shallow depth chart early in his 11-year tenure, but the last five seasons have been particularly challenging. In that half-decade stretch of seasons, Lakewood has compiled a cumulative record of 11-35 after going 36-26 in the previous six seasons – including five winning records.
The good news for Clark and his team is that Lakewood is coming off posting its best record since 2017, with the Piners collecting four wins in 2022. One of those victories included a forfeit, while the other three came against two Group I teams (Keansburg and Point Pleasant Beach) and Lawrence. Lakewood’s lack of depth came into play in several losses, with Manchester, Shore, Pinelands and Keyport all pulling away in the second half in showdowns with Lakewood.
The challenge of overcoming a thin roster remains, but there is some experience and talent on hand to help negate some of the depth issues. Clark is turning the offense over to junior Ramel Anderson, who took snaps in four games last season. Anderson gained valuable experience and he also showed, as a sophomore, that he has the qualities to be an effective all-around quarterback during the second half of his high-school career.
Anderson will throw to an intriguing group of receivers that blends upside and experience. Seniors Zah’mier Anderson and Alex Colon are returning varsity contributors at the position, but the player to watch in the receiving corps could be its 6-foot-5 sophomore. Cris Rosario is in line to jump into the starting lineup and make an immediate impact in the passing game as a big target for his junior quarterback.
Although Lakewood will have to replace its top 2022 rusher in Keyon Tims and standout offensive lineman Alexis Torres, the Piners have a solid supporting cast returning to the running game. Junior David Dominguez brings experience to the fullback position and senior Anthony Tucker returns as an option in the slot, giving the Piners two backfield options alongside Anderson. The offensive line also returns a pair of starters in senior leader Amir Enoch and junior guard Adrian Rodriguez, who will be joined by three new starters: senior center Artyom Buleha, junior Makia Foster and sophomore Victor Nava.
One positional battle to follow early on will be at tailback, with Lakewood boasting three newcomers who will factor into the equation. Senior Zack Kenrick is a leading candidate to lead the rushing attack, while classmate Jakai Reeves brings some power to the equation. Sophomore Jonthan Gonzalez has the potential to start a three-year run as a feature back if he can beat out his senior teammates for carries.
The defensive personnel will look familiar, with the contributors on offense likely to account for the lion’s share of defensive snaps as well. Lakewood has been a 3-4 team, but will jump around with multiple looks to suit its own players and keep opponents honest. Enoch, Dominguez, Buleha and Makia Foster will make up the defensive line, with Colon, Gonzalez and Reeves leading the linebackers. Ramel and Zah’mier Anderson, Tucker and Kenrick, meanwhile, will form Lakewood’s secondary.
Navigating the season with a fairly thin roster could make for some anxious days and nights for Clark and his staff, especially if injuries set in. With a relatively healthy spring, however, Lakewood has enough talent on hand to compete against, what appears to be, a more forgiving schedule than the Piners have had in recent years. The Piners should be competitive and with some injury luck, their first winning season since 2017 would be within reach.
Lakewood at a Glance
Head Coach: L.J. Clark, 11th season
Career Record: 49-59
2022 Record: 4-6
Offense: Power Spread
Defense: Multiple 3-4
Big Shoes to Fill: The Running Back Corps
Clark will have some options as he searches for a replacement for Keyon Tims, who was one of 13 Shore Conference players to rush for at least 1,000 yards in 2022. Throw in the loss of Alexis Torres – a leader and three-year starter on the offensive line – and the running game will be challenged out of the gate. Seniors Zack Kenrick and Zakai Reeves will be the older of Lakewood’s options, while sophomore Jonathan Gonzalez is the underclassman to watch out of the backfield.
X-Factor: Rahmel Anderson, Jr., QB/DB
Anderson got a four-game audition as a sophomore and showed great promise as a young signal-caller for the Piners. With that experience as a foundation, Anderson will look to take this Lakewood offense forward – a considerable challenge considering the Piners said goodbye to Tims and a difference-making lineman Torres. If Anderson picks up where he left off at the end of last season, Lakewood’s offense should show improvement.
Impact Newcomer: Cris Rosario, So., WR
At and athletic 6-foot-5, Rosario has a chance to be a difference-maker as an underclassman in Lakewood’s passing game. If Rosario can set the tone with some big plays early in the season, opposing defenses will feel the pressure to direct attention his way and, potentially, open things up for the rest of the Piners attack.
Circle the Calendar: Sept. 15 at Point Beach
Once the Piners wrap up their Week 3 game at Point Beach, they should have a pretty good idea about how the season is going and where it could be headed. The first two games are against a Neptune squad that went 2-7 last year and a Group I team in Keyport, so there is a real possibility Lakewood heads to the Beach with a chance at a 3-0 start. On the flip side, there is also the possibility Lakewood could be trying to save its season by climbing to either 2-1 or 1-2. Last year, Lakewood and Point Beach played a very competitive game, which the Piners pulled out, 22-21.