Off the Ground: 2021 Monmouth Regional High School Football Preview
The Monmouth Regional football team is two years removed from a 0-9 season and for the juniors and seniors on the current team, that season is – thankfully – ancient history in their collective mind. Although last year’s 2-6 campaign was not especially noteworthy beyond the fact that the Falcons got to play eight games in a pandemic-plagued season in New Jersey, it was a major step in the right direction for the program and has Monmouth set up to climb into relevance.
Despite losing its two most productive offensive players in quarterback Yassin Moore and running back Keontae Wiggins, as well as 80 percent of its starting offensive line, Monmouth returns the kind of depth necessary to compete through an entire schedule and the Falcons are hopeful the next wave of skill players and linemen are ready to do the job.
“We return nine starters on defense and the other two starters played some, so we’re excited about that side of the ball,” third-year Monmouth coach Dan Wendel said. “Obviously, replacing Yassin and Keontae is going to be a challenge, but those two were guys who progressed throughout their career and really took off as seniors and I think we have a lot of athletic guys who fit that description and they are looking for this to be their time.”
The schedule could also give Monmouth a chance to rack up some wins, with the Falcons playing three games against Group I schools (Keansburg, Keyport and Point Pleasant Beach) and just two against teams that had a winning record in 2020 (Keansburg and Manchester).
“They are motivated,” Wendel said. “This group has been together on the field, in the weight room and the best thing is they love to be together. They get after each other in practice and when it’s over, they love it and they are even tighter. The juniors and seniors went through the 0-9 season together and they have pushed each other through those tough times. They got a little taste of winning last year and they want more.”
Monmouth at a Glance
QB: Anthony Jehn, Jr., RS
RB: Julian Jones, Jr., RS; Jeremiah Robles, Sr.; Xavion Smith, Sr.
FB: Eric Crossley, Jr.; Jaylen Harris, So.
WR: Frankie Harris-Thomas, Sr., RS; Ta’hajh Wiggins, Jr.
WR: Gerald Wiggins, Sr., RS; Brandon Ligon, Sr.; Nick Huisman, Jr., RS
TE: Loukas Plasteras, Sr., RS; Nelson Harris-Thomas, Sr.
LT: Aidan Schilke, Jr.
LG: Lucas Bontempo, Jr., RS
C: Jonathan Weidelman, Sr.
RG: John Pannullo, Jr.; Carter Susser-Damms, Jr.
RT: David O’Grady, So.; Jayden Harris, So.
DE: Loukas Plasteras, Sr., RS
DT: Lucas Bontempo, Jr., RS
DT: Aidan Schilke, Jr.; Jaylen Harris, So.
DE: Nelson Harris-Thomas, Sr., RS
OLB: Nick Huisman, Jr., RS
MLB: Eric Crossley, Jr., RS
OLB: Jeremiah Robles, Sr.
CB: Gerald Wiggins, Sr., RS
CB: Brandon Ligon, Sr., RS; Ta’haj Wiggins, So.
SS: Frankie Harris-Thomas, Sr., RS
FS: Phil White, Sr.; Evan Booth, So.
K: Jaylen Harris, So.
P: Lucas Bontempo, Jr.
Head Coach: Dan Wendel, third season
Career Record: 2-15
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Jason McQuay (Def. Coordinator/LB/RB), Clifton Orwick (OL/DL/Special Teams), Malik Wiggins (DB/WR/Special Teams), Billy D. Williams (OLB/RB), Jeff Sfraga (OL/DL), Val Barnaby (Volunteer), Anthony Guarino (Freshman), Rob Micheliche (Freshman), Domenic Miraglia (Freshman), Adam Elsieidy (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Julian Jones, Sr., RB
Coming off a knee injury from the prior season, Jones played only one side of the ball last year and with Keontae Wiggins commanding the bulk of the carries out of the backfield, Jones focused entirely on playing linebacker in 2020. Although he led the team in tackles and is still capable at the position, Jones is likely to play running back only this season, with Wendel attempting to keep his top back fresh and healthy for the season.
“My concern is the well-being and health of the kid,” Wendel said. “We didn’t get a chance to get into the weight room last summer so between that and him coming off an injury, I didn’t think it was a good idea to ask Julian to play both ways. This year, he could see some snaps on defense, but he is our best running back and we want to make sure he stays healthy and fresh throughout the season and also give some other guys a chance to show hat they can do on defense.”
Player Under the Radar: Lucas Bontempo, Jr., LG/DT
The only returning starter on the offensive line, Bontempo is a fierce competitor, especially for a player just beginning the second half of his high school career. He will be a staple on the offensive line and part of a promising front four on defense, playing one of the defensive tackle spots.
“Lucas Bontempo played almost every snap of every game last year and the growth from his sophomore to junior year has been tremendous,” Wendel said. “He really hit the weight room, he went out and did track (and field) and he has come back in great shape and looking like he is ready to go to the next level. With how inexperienced we are on the offensive line, it’s great to see Lucas starting to look like that leader in that group.”
Impact Newcomer: Jeremiah Robles, Sr. (RB/OLB)
Robles is gearing up for his first year of varsity football and to this point, he has hinted that he will make a significant impact. He has made a case to get carries at running back, which could allow for Jones to play some defense or stay extra fresh. Robles is also in line for one of the starting outside linebacker spots alongside middle linebacker Eric Crossley and opposite outside linebacker Nick Huisman, which should give Monmouth a front seven with a fairly high ceiling.
“Jeremiah Robles is an aggressive kid, he is hard-nosed and he has done well throughout camp,” Wendel said. “He is going to make an impact on both sides of the ball.”
Top Position Group: Defensive Line
Although Monmouth’s offensive line graduated four of its five members from 2020, the defensive line looks like it could be a strength of the team. In addition to Bontempo working the interior of the line, returning senior defensive ends Loukas Plasteras and Nelson Harris-Thomas are an imposing duo to put on either end of the line. Plasteras was second on the team with 45 tackles and Harris-Thomas is settled in with the team after transferring from Mater Dei Prep ahead of last year. Junior Aidan Schilke and sophomore Jaylen Harris are pushing for the other defensive tackle spot.
Big Shoes to Fill: Anthony Jehn, Sr., QB
The quarterback position will be different for Monmouth this year and it goes beyond just a new name. Moore was a dual threat at the position and went heavy on the run, while his successor will be cut out of a more traditional mold. Jehn is capable of picking up yards on the ground, but his forte will be managing the offense, reading defenses and distributing the ball to a wide-ranging crop of skill players.
“He is a gym rat,” Wendel said. “He eats, sleeps and breaths football, so he knows our offense extremely well. He is a different quarterback compared to Yassin – he is not going to run 80 yards for a touchdown – but he knows how to read a defense, he knows where guys are and he can get them the ball.”
X-Factor: Offensive Line
While the defensive line has three returning starters leading its effort, the offensive line contains less certainty. Bontempo played as a sophomore, but is still just a junior, meaning the line won’t have a senior with starting experience among its ranks. Center Jonathan Weidelman is the only senior slated to start in 2021, while Schilke, Harris and sophomore David O’Grady compete for the tackle spots. John Panullo and Carter Susser-Dams are in the mix for the right guard spot.
“The reason Yassin and Keontae were able to have the years they did was because of the job those guys did up front,” Wendel said. “You can have dynamic players and I think we have a number of them, but if you want to get the most out of your talent and your speed, you need the offensive line to gel and do its job.”
Thursday, Sept. 2 at Manchester, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 11 vs. Pinelands, noon
Saturday, Sept. 18 at Keansburg, noon
Saturday, Sept. 25 at Lakewood, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 2 at Keyport, noon
Saturday, Oct. 9 vs. Point Beach, noon
Saturday, Oct. 16 vs. Point Boro, noon