Made for Today: 2023 Matawan Football Preview
Matawan High School is known for its tradition-rich football program that has captured seven state sectional titles during the NJSIAA playoff era, the last coming in 2014. After some down years, the Huskies returned to contention last season with a division title and are now looking to take the next step in year five under head coach Jay Graber.
Graber created a different element for expectations with Matawan last fall. Entering his fifth year as head coach, the Huskies went 5-0 in the Liberty division, hoisting their first divisional title since 2010 (A Central.) Matawan has always been at risk of losing “n-town talent to non-public schools in the area, which has prevented them from making strides in progression over the last decade. Last season seemed to provide a spotlight on their core, which will look to take over and prove to all that Matawan means business.
Matawan brings back junior dual-threat quarterback Am’ir Martinez, who will be starting on opening day with three-year starting center Jordan Reamer (6’0”, 330.) Martinez showed tons of talent as a sophomore, throwing for 867 yards and finding the endzone for seven passing touchdowns. Martinez also compiled a strong running game, rushing for 706 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a junior, Martinez will return a strong cast of teammates that helped him lead the Huskies to a state tournament appearance against Hopewell Valley last season.
As the Huskies have an asset on the feet at quarterback, their backfield is one of the top across the Shore as well. Junior Colin Palumbo returns as the leading rusher for Matawan, garnering All-Shore Second Team last fall. Palumbo comes onto the field for Matawan as one of the top running backs in the conference after compiling a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore (136 ATT, 1,071 YDS, 16 TD.) Between Martinez and Palumbo, the conference will have a tough time containing the two while Matawan is on offense.
The receiving game opens up drastically for the Huskies, as they return sophomore star Welman Crooms to lead the wideouts. Crooms accumulated 437 receiving yards on 27 receptions while scoring on three different occasions. Entering only his second year of high school, Crooms already has received scholarship offers from Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech. Both he and Martinez acclimated and gelled together a year ago, creating a strong chemistry between the two for the upcoming season.
Senior Cameron Cooper also has visions to help bring history to Matawan. Cooper continued his strong career with 245 yards receiving and three touchdowns. He emerged as a top threat for the Huskies with his breakout game against Jackson Liberty in Week 2 of last year (4 REC, 88 YDS, 1 TD.) Senior Kyeshaun Sylvester also saw playing time and caught six passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line for the Huskies was one of the keys that helped Matawan to its first divisional title in 12 years. Matawan’s offensive line helped produce 2,289 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns on the ground last season. The offense was the seventh-best in the Shore averaging 28.3 points per game. Returning for the Huskies to help continue that offensive barrage is junior Jayden Elijah. The three-year starter comes in as the starting right tackle for the Huskies. The 6-foot-3 295-pound tackle already has a plethora of offers from Power 5 colleges. Elijah will be one of the main components holding the offensive line together, a group that averaged over four scores per game a year ago.
Sophomore Jacob Lauricella (6’1” 260) and senior Chris Zazula (5’10” 245) return as the starting left tackle and right guard for the Huskies. They will be joined by starting left tackle newcomer Andrew Lucci (5’11” 260) on the offensive front. Size and health will be the name of the game for the Huskies' offensive life if they want to be right where they left off.
On the defensive side, Matawan returns their leading tackler from last season in junior MorganBlake Gagneron. Last season was a breakout year for the sophomore with 74 total tackles while collecting an interception as Matawan’s main linebacker. Palumbo is one of the Huskies starting outside linebackers, making 32 tackles and sacking the opposition once last fall.
Joining Gagneron and Palumbo will be returning starter defensive back Jayden Percodani. The 5-foot-8 195-pound scrappy defensive back had an inaugural season to remember, making 47 total tackles during the season. Percodani also forced a fumble against Toms River East in a 34-16 victory a season ago.
Cooper is one of many Matawan athletes who can play both offense and defense each game. Cooper, being a three-year starter at defensive back, put on a clinic for the Huskies last season (69 TT, 3 FR, 1 FF, 1 INT.) Another talent that returns on both ends is Crooms. Matawans’ top threat at wideout is also one of the main threats at defensive back. Crooms had 29 total tackles and an interception during their 6-3 campaign.
One key newcomer to watch out for on defense as the season heats up is junior Kasey Bodin, who saw some playing time as a sophomore and earned a starting spot for this year.
Junior Jaylen Williams will be replacing placekicker graduate Jake Zibbell. Matawan has had several standout kickers in recent years such as Adam Elliot and Mike Creamer. Elliot kicked a game-winning field goal against Ocean Township in the state semifinals in 2014. Creamer kicked a game-winning field goal against Rumson-Fair Haven in the 3-0 2011 Central Jersey Group II championship. Williams looks to join those two Matawan kicking greats starting with kickoff on Aug 27 in Ocean City.
Matawan’s resurgence as a contender within the Shore had a lot to do with the 17 returning starters who look to continue the foundation they’ve all built. Graber has an incredible amount of skill players to work with every day. If the health remains intact, the success will come early for the Huskies. There are areas within the offensive and defensive lines that need to step up for the task early.
The Huskies have been working hard all summer and preseason. There’s a lot of buzz and excitement around the town, as the players have given themselves a real opportunity to make noise quickly. With the amount of skill will play on the field at Barry Rizzo Stadium, the sky’s the limit for the Huskies. An early grueling schedule will be an indication of where this program will be going. Matawan knows what they’re capable of and that’s a hot start with a fiery finish. Will they be able to break the barrier this season?
At a Glance
Head Coach: Jay Graber, 5th season (14th overall)
Career Record: 78-51 (17-17 at Matawan)
2022 Record: 6-3
Coaching Staff: Matt Walsh (DC/DL); Brian Duffy (DL/TE/FB); Sam Turner (DL/OL); Matt Hughes (LB/Freshmen); Dan Lordi (ST/WR/Freshmen) Bob Wietecha (DB/WR); Joe Martucci (LB/RB); Nick Hartigan (LB/RB); Shawn Ramcheran (DB); Matthew Goetz (Athletic Trainer)
Circle the Date: Week 1 - Friday, Sept. 1st at Rumson-Fair Haven
If there’s any stronger indication to see what a team is made of, look back to Week 1 of the regular season for Matawan. After starting out on neutral-field location against Cedar Creek in Ocean City during Week 0, the Huskies travel to the 2023 South Jersey Group II sectional champions in Rumson-Fair Haven. Rumson returns a stacked roster featuring standout quarterback quarterback Owen O'Toole and star wideout senior Nick Rigby. Matawan will need to play their best game on all sides of the ball. If they can battle against the Bulldogs for four quarters, Matawan could be one of the state's best teams.
Player to Watch: Colin Palumbo, Jr., DB/RB
One of the conference’s best talents in the game returns as the Huskies' leading running back. The Second Team All-Shore running back ran for 1,071 yards a season ago while finding the endzone 16 times. Palumbo also is one of the Huskies’ starting defensive backs, having 32 total tackles and a sack during the season. The Huskies depend on their running game a lot, so having a healthy Palumbo at all times is a necessity for the program to compete for a divisional and state title.
Impact Newcomer: Jacob Lauricella, So., LT
The Huskies' starting left tackle will have a pivotal role in maintaining their high-octane offense from last fall. While the Huskies will face a tall task in replacing graduate Nik Winzer, Lauricella looks to step in early as one of those faces that makes it easier.
Did you Know?
Joe Martucci returns as Matawan’s linebacker and running backs coach. Martucci was the head coach of the Huskies from 1984 to 2011, leading the Huskies to 197 victories and five state sectional championships in his career (1988, 1991, 1992, 2009, 2011.)
|Sunday 8/27||Cedar Creek (@Ocean City)||1pm|
|Friday 9/1||@Rumson-Fair Haven||7pm|
|Friday 9/8||Freehold Township||6:30pm|
|Thursday 9/14||Brick Memorial||6:30pm|
|Friday 10/13||@Point Boro||7pm|