Looking to Fly High: 2019 Central Regional Football Preview
While they lost considerable talent from consecutive seven-win teams Central Regional head coach Justin Fumando said going into the 2018 season he was not considering it to be a rebuilding one as the foundation for success on a yearly basis had been built. However, a pair of close early-season losses sent the Golden Eagles on a spiral downward, and after an 0-6 start, it was fair to wonder if they would even win a game. They did. As a matter of fact, Central closed with a flourish winning three of their last four games and hopefully building momentum heading into this season.
There will be plenty of new faces at Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field and the future looks bright for a program that has added numbers in recent years. Of the 70 to 75 or so varsity players only about a dozen are seniors. Large sophomore and junior classes should pay dividends, hopefully starting this season. Throw in 30-plus freshmen and Fumando said they have added about 35 players to the program since he arrived in Bayville.
In looking back at last season’s tough times the always-optimistic coach found a silver lining.
“Maybe we took it on the chin last year but we lettered 20 sophomores and now we have 20 juniors with varsity experience,” Fumando said.
Fumando is an old-school coach when it comes to his philosophy on both sides of the ball. He’ll be calling the offense this year for the first time and will stick with what he knows best and that is running the ball. Central will line up in a Pro-I and is very deep in options when it comes to who will carry the ball. Senior Landon Richardson (5-9, 185) has plenty of experience at the tailback position and Fumando said he has had a great preseason. He led the ground attack in 2018 with 394 yards but averaged just 3.5 yards per carry with no touchdowns. Richardson will be joined in the backfield by the versatile Danny Taris (Jr, 5-11, 205) and Nick Sura (Jr, 6-0, 180). Keep an eye on sophomore fullback Anthony Musso (6-1, 210), as well. That backfield depth should take pressure off senior quarterback Gavin Whelan (5-8, 170) who had an up-and-down junior season but has emerged as a dependable leader and will be counted on heavily.
While the switch to the Liberty Division means teams like Toms River North, Middletown South and Manalapan are off the schedule, Fumando says the new alignment still offers a challenging division slate with opponents like Donovan Catholic and Manasquan. Old rival Lacey is also back on the schedule for the first time since 2011. However, he points to just one game and that’s their season opener on September 13 when Central visits Jackson Liberty in a game that could set the tone for both teams.
Players to Watch: Gavin Whelan (Sr., QB) and Danny Taris (Jr., RB/FB/TE/DL)
These two are selected for very different reasons. Whelan is a senior leader on what is generally a young team. He has been part of the program since Fumando took over as head coach and he needs to be that guy on the field who can keep things together. While Central will rely on the running game, Whelan also needs to be a consistent passer who can make the big throw. Most of his passing stats last year (1,090 yards, 12 TDs) came as a result of All-Shore wide receiver Darius Martorano, who has since graduated.
Taris has been a varsity player since his freshman year when he started out primarily as a tight end. He will now contribute at multiple positions and will be counted on to contribute on both sides of the ball.
Player Under the Radar: Imeer Johnson (Jr., OLB, 6-3, 205)
Johnson is a key part of what might be Central’s best position group. He will line up on the outside and is fast enough to keep runners from turning the corner and big enough to fight off blockers and get to the quarterback. He could make a big impact on a defense that gave up 40 points or more four times last season.
Best Unit: Linebackers
Fumando and defensive coordinator Jarrett Pidgeon have set a high bar for this group to anchor the defense. In addition to Johnson there are seniors Gunnar Nemeth (6-3, 205) and Nick Caruti (5-10, 190) along with junior Vinni Dallicardillo (5-10, 185) forming a solid foursome. Sophomore Evan Horgan (5-10, 170) could provide some depth in the middle.
Central will be successful if…
Last season the Golden Eagles broke in a relatively new group of offensive lineman and it led to struggles early as Central averaged just 7.5 points per game in their first six games. Things got better after that and senior center Hunter Dasti (6-3, 230) and tackle Pete Rahtjen (6-4, 290) will be counted on to provide stability and leadership to the unit this fall. If they can run the ball consistently Central could be a much-improved team in 2019.
Golden Eagle Notebook
How do you replace the graduated Darius Martorano, who was among the Shore’s best receivers and defensive backs? You don’t, but on offense, the coaching staff is expecting a collective effort from Michael Prasad (Jr., 6-2, 180), Shane Sajewicz (So., 5-10, 170) and tight end Conor Sheppard (Jr., 6-2, 220). On defense look for Colin Steimle (So., 5-10, 160) and Giovanni LiBassi (Jr., 6-0, 170) to hold down the corner spots with Sura and sophomore Danny Morris (5-10, 155) at safety.
Fumando went out of his way to sing the praises of Sura, Nemeth, and Rahtjen for not only being standouts on the field but in the classroom. All three sport a 4.0 GPA and their academic talents will certainly help when it comes to college options.
Central’s coaching staff this year includes a pair of newcomers who made their mark as players during their high school days in Ocean County. Nico Steriti (running backs) was a standout at Toms River East before rushing for nearly 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns at the University of New Hampshire. Will Wowkanyn (defensive line) terrorized players as a defensive end at Brick Memorial and was named Shore Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He went to play at Santa Rosa Junior College before finishing at Lamar University.
The 37-year old Fumando is a coach who has embraced the positive aspects of social media. He uses it to communicate with his players and his Twitter account keeps college coaches informed as to the progress of players which he says has helped with recruitment.
AT A GLANCE
Head Coach: Justin Fumando, 4th season
Career Record: 17-12
2018 Record: 3-7 (0-5 in American Division)
Jarrett Pidgeon (Def. Coordinator, ILB)
James Plummer (OLB)
Terrance Hardy (Special Teams, DB)
Will Wowkanyn (DL)
Tommy Koenig (WR)
Nico Steriti (RB)
Gary Beddoe (OL)
Frank Papalia (TE)
Pat Reilly (Director of Operations)
Walter Karasiewicz (Head Freshman)
Frank Backle (Asst. Freshman)
Big Shoes to Fill: Jared Harris (Sr., WR, 5-11, 165)
Those shoes belong to the aforementioned Darius Martorano, who caught 42 passes for 670 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Harris, who did not play as a junior, could be the addition to the receiving corps that helps make up for that loss. He has big-play ability and will be someone that Whelan looks for when that big play is needed.
X-Factor: Young guys developing
Central’s senior class is by far the smallest group of varsity players so how quickly the underclassmen develop will likely be the key to the season. This is especially true on defense where they could start as many as nine juniors and sophomores.
Impact Newcomer: Anthony Musso (So., FB/DL, 6-1, 210)
There are so many young players it’s hard to cite just one but Musso is a player who might help on both sides of the ball. Look for him to line up in the backfield as a fullback and add depth to the defensive line.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 20 at Lacey
These two former Thanksgiving Day rivals have not played since 2011 and for years Lacey dominated the series. Now they are back in the same division (Liberty) and this one should have a lot of juice to it, especially because this is the first season with lights on the Lions’ field.
With matchups against Donovan Catholic and Manasquan to follow getting a win here could be a must if Central is to have a successful season.
Kevin Williams is the Director of the Shore Sports Network and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shoresportsman. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.