Barnegat is one of the newest Shore Conference football programs, but in a short amount of time has also been one of the most consistent.

Since debuting in 2006, Barnegat has authored only one season of fewer than four wins, including winning at least five games in eight of the last nine seasons and winning four division titles. Barnegat has been able to remain competitive despite graduation, injuries and the usual landmines that threaten to knock a program off its axis. To continue that trend in 2019, head coach Rob Davis and his staff will need to do some of their best work.

After going 7-3 last season with a senior-laden roster, Barnegat heads into this season with just two returning starters on offense and three on defense as it looks to contend in the new-look Patriot Division. The Bengals will begin the season with only one returning starter in its spread offense, but it’s one of the top offensive linemen in the Shore Conference in senior Griffin Jackstadt. The Bengals will be eager to welcome back senior wide receiver Caleb Schafer, who is still working his way back from an injury suffered late last season. They’ll also have to wait until Week 4 to use the services of junior running back Nik DiLeo, who transferred from Pinelands and must sit out the first four games.

The situation is the same on the defensive side of the ball. Junior Robert Armstrong (6-2, 210) started at defensive end as a sophomore and will shift to outside linebacker this season. Senior Matt Verneri started at strong safety in the second half of the season and is back, but this time at outside linebacker. Senior Matt Scott was the starting free safety to begin last season but was lost to a season-ending injury in Week 2. He returns to give Barnegat some much-needed experience in the defensive backfield. DiLeo will play linebacker upon his return just as he did for Pinelands last season.

With a young team light on varsity experience, a finite resource – time – is the one thing Barnegat needs most. It’s easy to envision the Bengals coming of age in the second half of the season when the new starters are acclimated, Schafer is likely back from injury and DiLeo has sat out the required four games. The question is, how will the Bengals fare in September?

Barnegat remains in the Patriot Division this season and will play a balanced schedule thanks to juggernaut Mater Dei Prep moving all the way up the Colonial Division. The Bengals’ division opponents this season are Point Boro, Ocean, Monmouth Regional, Raritan and Shore Regional. They will play Lakewood, Asbury Park and Pinelands in nondivisional games.

Barnegat's Robert Armstrong (52), Matt Verneri (1) and Griffin Jackstadt (64).
Photo by Steve Meyer/Townsquare Media NJ. 

Player to Watch: Griffin Jackstadt, Sr., OT/NG 

Barnegat’s starting left tackle checks in at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds and will be heading to the Ivy League at the University of Pennsylvania next year. It was a tremendous all-around junior year for Jackstadt, who played his way into scholarship offers from Central Michigan, UMass, Old Dominion, Fordham, Yale, and UPenn before committing to the Quakers. He was also a district champion wrestler. Jackstadt returns as the starting left tackle and will also play nose guard in Barnegat’s 3-4 defense. He is unquestionably the cornerstone of the team.

 

Player Under the Rader: Robert Armstrong, Jr., OG/OLB

After starting at defensive end last season where he made 26 tackles, eight tackles for loss, one sack, 10 quarterback pressures and recovered a fumble, Armstrong will move to outside linebacker this year and also take on a role at guard on the offensive line. Barnegat was set at linebacker last season but now has to replace all four starters. Armstrong has a chance to be an impact playmaker off the edge thanks to his size (6-2, 210) and speed (4.65 40).

 

Top Unit: Linebackers

Although only one player started at the position last season (DiLeo), this is the most experienced unit on the team in terms of varsity playing time. Armstrong will play strongside linebacker after starting at defensive end as a sophomore while Matt Verneri will shift to weakside linebacker after starting at strong safety in the second half of the season. DiLeo was a linebacker at Pinelands as a sophomore and will be at middle linebacker when he is eligible after sitting out the first four games. Junior John Porcelli will start the season at middle linebacker and senior Dominic Aneses will start at the ‘Buck’ linebacker position.

 

Barnegat will be successful if… 

…Its new starters get up to speed quickly and a few players have breakout seasons. Years like this where only a handful of starters return provide opportunities for many players to step forward and showcase what kind of depth a program has. Any team that has a senior-heavy squad is going to face a significant challenge replacing those players the following season. How quickly the growing pains dissipate is what separates the top programs from the middling ones.

 

Meet the Bengals 

With so many new starters set to take the field, here’s a brief rundown of what Barnegat will look like in Week 0 at Point Boro.

Matt Verneri takes over at quarterback with junior T.J. Crudup at tailback and sophomore Jared Schworn at fullback. Freshman Joe Bivens has impressed in the preseason and could also see time at running back. Sophomore Paul Keean (6-2, 210) is the tight end and the wide receivers are junior Chris Dorsey (5-11, 175) and seniors Logan Malia (6-2, 175) and Matt Scott (5-8, 147). Schafer, who had 12 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns in eight games last season, will be a starter once he’s fully recovered. Joining Jackstadt on the offensive line will be junior TJ Stokes (6-4, 240) at right tackle, junior Anthony Bucca (6-2, 185) at center, sophomore Kenny Minor (6-2, 292) at right guard and Armstrong at left guard.

Defensively, Jackstadt will be the nose guard and be flanked by Stokes and senior Mike DiPianta at the defensive end spots. Porcelli, Verneri, Armstrong, and Aneses are the aforementioned linebackers with DiLeo joining the mix in the fifth game. Dorsey and junior Kris Pollack are the cornerbacks and Scott and junior Andrew Verneri are the safeties.

Junior Matt Xiques will be the kicker and punter, Armstrong is the long snapper, Matt Verneri is the holder and Scott will return punts and kicks.

 

At a Glance

Head coach: Rob Davis, 14th season

Career record: 72-62

2018 record: 7-3 (4-1 in Patriot Division)

Assistant coaches: Paul Covine (def. coord.), Mike DeTroia (OL/DL), Mike Burke (DL/TE), Andrew Villiez (WR/DB), Brenden McCarthy (RB/LB), Andrew Petruzzi (QB/DB), Ken MacIver (volunteer), Zach Brebner (head freshmen), Mike Leone (asst. freshmen), Mario Steriti (asst. freshmen), Lauren Tribley (athletic trainer).

Offense: No-huddle spread

Defense: 3-4

 

BIG SHOES TO FILL: John Porcelli, Jr., MLB 

Porcelli will start the season at middle linebacker and is hoping to play his way into a permanent role even when DiLeo becomes eligible in Week 4. Barnegat had a very good linebacking corps last season that was led by middle linebacker Brian Ewan, who was a Third Team All-Shore selection and finished as the Bengals’ all-time leader in tackles.

 

X-FACTOR: Inexperience

The Bengals' colors may be orange and black, but they are as green as ever. How quickly the young, inexperienced players can get their feet wet and how many develop into impact playmakers will tell the story.

 

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Nik DiLeo, Jr., RB/LB 

DiLeo (6-0, 220) ran for 543 yards and five touchdowns last year as Pinelands’ No. 2 running back. He also made 23 tackles with two tackles for loss at linebacker. He has to sit out Barnegat’s first four games but will deliver a big boost upon his return.

 

PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 4 vs. Raritan 

By the time the Rockets come to town in early October, the Bengals rookies will have four games under their belts and the team should be at full strength with both DiLeo and Schafer back. A stiff test against a Rockets team that is always physical and well-coached will answer the question as to whether the Bengals can make a run in the second half of the season.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.

 

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