New Goals: Freehold Township 2018 Football Preview
From four wins in 2015 to a 7-3 mark in 2016 and finally a school-record eight wins and the program’s first-ever playoff victory last season, Freehold Township has hit a new milestone each year since Cory Davies took over as head coach.
Last year began with uncertainty but ended as the best year in program history. Now the Patriots are hoping that cornerstone season leads to them setting the bar even higher in 2018.
“The ultimate plan is to get better from last year,” said senior quarterback Nick Reardon. “We just have to build on that. Nine wins is what we have to work for and go from there. Hopefully we can go deep into the playoffs.”
“The last two years have got us going in the right direction, so hopefully, from a mental standpoint, we have the confidence and swagger that we know we can win games,” Davies said. “The funny thing is these kids don’t know any different.”
Indeed, the fact that Freehold Township has had just five winning seasons in 45 years doesn’t even enter the minds of the current players. The Patriots made the playoffs during their freshman year for the first time in over a decade, and since then have gone 15-6.
“My freshman year we made the playoffs and every single year since that our team has advanced in some way,” Reardon said. “It’s just great how our program is getting bigger and better every year that goes by.”
Freehold Township returns six starters in its Air Raid offense, led by Reardon. As a junior, Reardon was fifth in the Shore in passing with 1,802 yards and a school-record 21 touchdowns. In Davies’ history running the Air Raid offense going back to his days at Howell, his quarterbacks that started as juniors have gone on to have huge senior years. He’s hoping a similar fate awaits Reardon.
“During the summer in 7-on-7s and such he did very well and looked much better than last year,” Davies said. “The mental part has come along and he’s throwing the ball better. We’re excited about him taking the next step.”
“Everything looks slower, it’s just easier to make reads now,” Reardon said. “I feel comfortable in the pocket. I can let my receivers do the work and put them in the best position to make plays.”
The Patriots did lose their top two receivers – Pat Laricy and Kevin Doherty – to graduation but return a solid corps led by senior starters John Manfre and Anthony Simonelli. Freehold Township has a deep cast at wideout with seniors David Jolly, Kyle Von Nessen and Ryan Tanner in line to getting starting snaps. Seniors Mike Woods and Matt Kondrup should also see action along with juniors Jacob Cancela and Brendan Doel.
Both of the Pats running backs return with senior Gavin Ferraro and junior Nic Nasso set to split time and also lineup simultaneously in two-back sets. Nasso led the Patriots with 404 yards rushing and three touchdowns last season. Both are adept pass-catchers out of the backfield, as well. Junior Matt Levine should also get some carries.
“I really like the two running backs we have coming back so we may be in a little more two-back sets than we even were last year,” Davies said. “Gavin Ferraro is a pretty good receiver and could easily be one of the wideouts.”
Senior center Max Pirozzi (6-1, 215) is the only returning starter on the offensive line, so that will be a unit which needs to gel quickly to round out the offense. The guards will be senior Lorenzo Pantano (5-11, 240) and junior Jarrid Markowitz (6-1, 220) and the tackles will be senior John Ferguson (6-3, 245) along with juniors Jake Mollica (6-3, 210) and Joe Tortorici (6-1, 230). Seniors Andrew Douyon, Connor Bolton and juniors Billy George, Logan Leitgeb, Matt Rubin and Zach Rodriguez could also see time along the offensive line.
“I think our offense is going to be a real powerhouse this year,” Pirozzi said. “We’re an Air Raid offense so if our O-line can give us time Nick is really going to turn up this year.”
Freehold Township’s defense has made huge strides over the past three years under defensive coordinator Derek Reichenbecher, finishing No. 13 in the Shore in scoring defense last season. That is the one question mark at the moment, however, with just three starters back in its 4-2-5 alignment.
Markowitz leads the defensive line as a returning starter while Pantano, Douyon, Bolton, Mollica, Tortorici and senior Rob Walickly are all battling for playing time. Sophomore Brian Silva is also in the mix.
The Patriots have depth at the inside linebacker position with five players competing for playing time: Pirozzi, seniors Mike Rugger, Sean Fiolek and Matt Krieg, and junior Connor Petrula. Ferrara is a returning starter at outside linebacker and in the secondary. Von Nessen, Rodriguez and seniors Zach Barilika, Ryan Tanner and Rob DelSordi are also battling for playing time.
Seniors Mike Woods returns as a starting safety. Simonelli, Manfre, Kondrup, Doel, senior Ryjhir Taylor and juniors Rob LaGuerre, Nick Rizzo and Pat Borromeo are all competing for starting spots at cornerback and strong safety.
“We don’t have a lot of guys coming back on defense but we have to continue to be able to play well,” Davies said. “That’s the biggest thing we have right now, to be able to get the defense ready to roll and slow people down.”
Senior Colin Taptich returns as the Patriots’ kicker after a flawless season where he went 19-for-19 on extra points and 4-for-4 on field goals with a long of 32 yards. Jolly is the returning punter with sophomore Lorenzo Chirichella pushing him for the starting job. Woods is the punt returner and Doel and Jolly are the kick returners. George, Fiolek, Rodriguez and Frank Almeida are battling for the starting long snapper position.
After competing in the Class A North division last season, Freehold Township moves to the American Division with district rivals Manalapan and Howell plus Middletown South, Central Regional and Toms River North.
“We have a good amount of returners back, the offense is clicking well and our coaches are putting us in the best position to win,” Reardon said. “All we have to do is execute.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Cory Davies, fourth season (25th overall)
Career record: 109-127
2017 record: 8-3 (4-2 in A North)
Coaching staff: Derek Reichenbecher (def. coordinator, LB/RB); Bill Dague (OL/LB); Ryan Davies (QB/WR); Matt Hardison (OL/DL); Todd Bitsko (WR/DB); Ed Von Nessen (defensive asst.); Kevin Popek (head freshmen coach); Jesse Heubel, Mike Verrochi (freshmen asst.); Cindy Carter (athletic trainer).
Offense: Air Raid
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Max Pirozzi, Sr., C/ILB
Pirozzi is a returning starter on the offensive line but is stepping into a starting role on defense for the first time. The Patriots lost several standouts from that side of the ball, including leading tackler Artie Bader and top pass rusher Damian Rybaltowski.
The Patriots defense has played well over the past two years, including finishing No. 13 in the Shore in scoring defense last season. Just three starters return, however, so it’s up to the new crew to get up to speed and give the team a reliable unit.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: David Jolly, Sr., WR
Jolly joins the fray as one of the many wide receivers the Patriots will deploy in their Air Raid offense. He will also handle the punting duties
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 7 at Middletown South
The Eagles are a legendary Shore Conference program coming off a lopsided loss to Pennsylvania power Coatesville in their season-opener. They’ll be fired up to get back home to ‘The Swamp’ and if the Patriots can pull off a win on the road it will be a milestone victory that could set the tone for another big season.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.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.