New Beginning: 2021 Neptune High School Football Preview
COVID-19 impacted a whole bunch of teams during the 2020 season and it is likely a number will have to deal with the it again this season. As far as Shore Conference teams go, it might be hard to find a team more adversely affected by the virus – at least from a football perspective – than has Neptune. Last year, the Neptune Board of Education did not clear teams to return to sports until well after the rest of the Shore had begun and now, the Scarlet Fliers are just ramping back up after a 10-day shutdown due to an outbreak of COVID on the team.
According to new head coach Brian Duffy – Neptune’s third in the last three years and fourth in the last five – COVID concerns among some in the community have adversely impacted the turnout for the football team, which was at 23 players program-wide in the final full week of August. To combat that over the next several years, Duffy and his staff have focused on making football fun for the players who are on the team, developing a quality group of juniors and seniors and looking to accentuate strengths in order to compete with deeper, more experienced teams on the schedule.
“There have been a lot of challenges to playing during COVID and I think we have kids who are still figuring out what we’re about as a team,” Duffy said. “It’s up to me and the coaches to show them every day what we’re about and try to make it fun. We’re out here to learn, compete and get better, but it’s supposed to be fun so we are getting the music going and we’re trying to keep changing the pace.”
There are only four seniors on the Neptune roster, but a number of the juniors return with experience and are embracing the challenge of playing both offense and defense. The depth is likely to catch up with the Scarlet Fliers at some point, but the many young players on the roster will have a lot of game reps upon which to build over the next several years.
“We don’t have a lot of numbers but we have talent,” Duffy said. “Last year’s team graduated 22 seniors, so that put a dent in the numbers, but the guys who are back have a lot of ability. We’re just trying to get them as ready as we can an build up the participation. It’s going to be a rebuild but I’m here and this coaching staff is here to add stability to the program and see it through.”
Neptune at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starters)
QB: Davion Pearson, Jr.; Jordan Glisson, So.; Jaquan Smith, Jr.
RB: Jaquan Smith, Jr., Davon Craft, So.
WR: Jordan Glisson, So.
WR: Mateo Andrews, Jr.
WR: Oneil Campbell, Sr.
FB/TE: Ra’Sun Banks, Sr., RS
LT: Ah’mere Booze, Sr., RS
LG: Anthony Banks, Jr., RS
C: Daniel Lofton, So.
RG: De’Ondre Banks, Jr., RS
RT: Jaden Rodriguez, So.
DE: De’Ondre Banks, Jr., 3RS
DT: Ah’Mere Booze, Sr., 3RS
DE: Davion Pearson, Jr.
OLB: Jaquan Smith, Jr.; Anthony Banks, Jr.
ILB: Davon Craft, So.; Jaquan Smith, Jr.
ILB: Nakai Bryant, Jr.
OLB: Ra’Sun Banks, Sr., RS
SS: Mateo Andrews, Jr.
FS: Ja’Sean Johson, Jr.
CB: Jordan Glisson, So.
CB: Oneil Campbell, Sr.
Head Coach: Brian Duffy, first season
Career Record: 0-0
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Jake Pew (Def. Coordinator); Mike Seber (QB/Passing Game), Shane Bigelow (OL/DL), Geoff Fairbanks (WR/OLB); Netanis Bean (WR/LB), Mysonn Bean (RB/LB), Mysonn Ledet (RB/DB), Brandon Settles (Volunteer), Amanda Kelly (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: De’Ondre Banks, Jr., RG/DE
A lot of Neptune’s players are still harnessing their ability, but Banks is more advanced as a third-year starter. The junior will be a staple on both the offensive and defensive lines, where the Scarlet Fliers have a chance to be solid thanks to the prowess of Banks and some additional experience and talent with the likes of Ah’Mere Booze and Anthony Banks.
“We have a lot of guys learning to be football players, but he is a legitimate football player and a very good one,” Duffy said. “He has been playing varsity for three years and he is going to be one of our best all-around players and leaders.”
Players Under the Radar: Jaquan Smith (Jr., RB/LB) and Jordan Glisson (So., WR/RB/CB)
Smith got a good dose of varsity time as a sophomore and will jump into the starting role at running back. He is also a capable linebacker and without much depth, he will have to contribute on both sides of the ball while Duffy and the staff tries to find chances to spell his feature back.
Glisson, meanwhile, will slide in wherever needed, whether it is at running back or receiver. With Smith eying the starting tailback job, Glisson has a chance to be a No. 1 target in the passing game, as well as a capable young cornerback.
Impact Newcomer: Oneil Campbell, Sr., WR/CB
Campbell has emerged as a top player on the Neptune boys basketball team over the past two seasons and for the first time since he has been in high school, he will try his hand in football. The early signs are that he will fit right in. He is 6-foot-5 with considerable athleticism and while that often translates to tight end or defensive end for standouts in both sports, Campbell has the speed to handle wide receiver and cornerback for the Scarlet Fliers.
“He has an incredible wingspan and great size, but he is still so quick,” Duffy said. “He is just starting to figure out what he can do on a football field but he is learning quickly.”
Top Position Group: Defensive Line
As previously mentioned, Neptune shapes up well on both the offensive and defensive lines despite its lack of overall depth. On the defensive side, the Scarlet Fliers will attack with a three-man front, with Booze at nose guard and De’Andre Banks and Pearson on the ends.
Big Shoes to Fill: Davion Pierson, Jr., QB/OLB
Two of the toughest players to replace from 2020 will be quarterback Nino Bua and two-way standout Junior Haughton, who played both running back and linebacker. Pierson could very well find himself covering one of those spots if he emerges from the preseason quarterback competition as the starter. He’ll also be part of what could be a strong defensive line.
It is hard to envision a scenario in which Neptune’s reliance on two-way players plays in its favor, but the Scarlet Fliers – particularly the ones who will be in the program beyond this year – are hoping to learn from the experience and get better as the season progresses.
Friday, Sept. 10 at Central, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 vs. Marlboro, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24 at Matawan, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 7 vs. Freehold Twp., 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 16 vs. Brick, 1 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 25 vs. Asbury Park, 10 a.m.