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It has been two decades since the Marlboro football team was part of the NJSIAA Playoffs and for the first five years of his tenure as head coach, Jason Dagato has focused in on the long-term goal of getting the Mustangs back into the postseason field.

With a shortened season, a modified NJSIAA postseason, no championships to play for and the specter of COVID-19 hovering over this scholastic season, long-view goals don’t have a place for the Mustangs or any other team. There is only week one and that might be a blessing in disguise for Dagato’s team.

“I think you always want to get your players to focus on today and just thinking about preparing for the next game,” Dagato said. “You don’t want them thinking about the playoffs in September – you want them working on being as good as they can be today and hopefully, at the end of the season, you’re in position to play some meaningful games. I think with the pandemic, with all the uncertainty that’s out there, the kids realize that nothing is guaranteed and all they can do is go out and take advantage of the opportunity that’s right in front of them, whether that’s a practice, a workout or a game.”

Marlboro has grown far more competitive as Dagato’s tenure has progressed and despite coming up shy of .500 in each of those seasons, the Mustangs have been within a score of the lead in the fourth quarter in all but four games over the past two seasons.

An improved week-by-week focus could push Marlboro to the .500 mark, as could its passing attack. Senior quarterback Nick Wright returns with experienced weapons Andrew Spinello, Caden Lawless and Zach Mendez, but will need an untested group of linemen to emerge to push Marlboro over the top.

 

At a Glance

Projected Starters (RS=returning starter; 3RS=third-year returning starter)

Offense: Multiple

QB: Nick Wright, Sr. RS

RB: Zach Mendez, Jr.

RB: Dylan Miccoli, So.

WR: Andrew Spinello, Sr. RS

WR: Caden Lawless, Sr. RS

TE: Dylan Conselyea, Sr.

LT: Trevor Navarro, Sr.

LG: Joe Mucci, Jr.; Peter Budveit, So.

C: Mike Ryan, Sr.

RG: Angelo Tropeano, Sr.; Peter Budveit, So.

RT: Dan Mihnuk, Jr.

 

Defense: 3-4

DE: Dan Mihnuk, Jr.

DT: Chris Gazzillo, Jr.

DE: Trevor Navarro, Sr.

OLB: Dylan Conselyea, Jr.

ILB: Joe Mucci, Jr.

ILB: Bryden Delaney, Sr. RS

OLB: Andrew Spinello, Sr. RS

CB: Joe Weiss, Jr.

CB: Nick Wright, Sr. RS

SS: Zach Mendez, Jr. RS

FS: Caden Lawless, Sr. RS

 

Special Teams

K: Zach Schneider, Sr.

P: Trevor Navarro, Sr.

 

At a Glance

Head Coach: Jason Dagato, seventh season

Career Record: 16-54

Record Last Five Years:

2019: 3-7

2018: 4-6

2017: 3-7

2016: 3-7

2015: 1-9

Assistant Coaches: Reid Stapp (Def. Coordinator/RB/LB), Jim Papalia (Special Teams/RB/DL), Mike Seber (Passing Coordinator/QB/DB), Bill Cook (OL/DL), Sam Iacobone (WR/DB), Tom Caporale (WR/DB/Freshman), Cory Varrial (Freshman), William Oplinger (Freshman), Anais Mixson (Athletic Trainer)

 

Player to Watch: Nick Wright, Sr., QB/CB

As a junior, Wright finished No. 13 at the Shore in passing yards with 1,107 yards and posted a solid 10 touchdown passes to six interceptions – a strong base upon which to build heading into 2020. Wright also has skill players with whom he is comfortable – both in the backfield and out wide. The second-year starter is now a senior leader as well, both under center and in the secondary, so he will have a significant say in the success of the Mustangs this fall.

“We can do a lot of different things with Nick,” Dagato said. “He does well with play action, he can drop back, sprint out and he keeps getting better understanding the game. We have some good targets on the outside for Nick to throw to and if the line can give him some time, he has shown he can make plays.”

 

Players Under the Radar: Andrew Spinello (Sr., WR/LB) and Caden Lawless (Sr., WR/DB)

Both Spinello and Lawless have a chance to combine to take the Marlboro pass attack to the next level as experienced, senior wide-receivers. On top of that, they are key cogs on the defensive side, with Spinello playing outside linebacker in Marlboro’s 3-4 base defense. The combination of athleticism, skill and toughness make the duo one to watch within Marlboro’s experience-rich pass attack.

“All three (Wright, Spinello and Lawless) are good athletes, hard workers and smart kids,” Dagato said. “We’re going to depend on them a lot. Spinello and Lawless have both shown flashes of being great playmakers and it’s going to be on us as a coaching staff to find ways to get them the ball and give them a chance to flash more.”

 

Impact Newcomer: Zach Mendez, Jr., RB/SS

Mendez played back-up to leading rusher and touchdown-scorer Vinny Spitalieri (720 yards, seven touchdowns) and will now assume the lead-back role as he ascends into his junior season. Marlboro has produced quality running backs over the past decade and while the offensive line clearing the way for him will be an x-factor, Mendez has the profile to be the next well-rounded Mustangs tailback.

 

Top Position Group: Skill Positions

If Marlboro has the kind of season it would like to, the Mustangs will win games behind a group of backs and receivers that puts up big numbers and a quarterback in Nick Wright who puts himself in the conversation with the most productive signal-callers at the Shore. That could also translate to the secondary, where the Mustangs will use Wright, Mendez and Lawless in three of its four defensive-back spots.

 

Big Shoes to Fill: Trevor Navarro (Sr., LT/DE) and Dan Mihnuk (Jr., RT/DE)

With an entirely new offensive and defensive lines, Marlboro will need a whole group of players to emerge, but Navarro and Mihnuk will be especially crucial as two players projected to play both ways heading into week one. Navarro is the senior of the duo and should be ready to take on the challenge while he also handles the punting duties.

“You never want to think about replacing a great player with one guy,” Dagato said. “You always want to see multiple guys step up and that’s what we’ve seen from this group so far. They have put in a lot of work over the summer and they all have a great attitude. We might be limited in what we can do at practice, but as long as you have that good attitude, you can find a way to keep getting better.”

 

X-Factor: Up Front

Marlboro has the pieces in place to make plays on offense and defend against the air attack, but that can only go so far if the Mustangs can’t assemble a competent, cohesive line on at least one side of the ball. After boasting a senior-loaded line on both sides last year, this group of offensive and defensive linemen are total unknowns, so if they catch on quickly, Marlboro’s ceiling could be especially high this season.

“It’s been hard to evaluate them because we haven’t been allowed to practice with the kind of contact you need to develop a good line,” Dagato said. “The physicality you develop by doing those contact-heavy drills in practice is how you make good linemen and we have had to find ways to evaluate and develop without that contact.”

 

Schedule

Saturday, Oct. 3 at Colts Neck

Friday, Oct. 9 at Freehold Twp.

Saturday, Oct. 17 vs. Freehold Boro

Saturday, Oct. 24 vs. Jackson Liberty

Saturday, Oct. 31 vs. Howell

Friday, Nov. 6 at Holmdel