Positive Momentum: 2023 Pinelands Football Preview
Pinelands’ first year under head coach John Tierney was nothing short of a smashing success.
The Wildcats finished 7-4 for the program’s first winning season since 2004 while tying the program record for wins in a season set in 1987 and equaled again in 1991. Pinelands finished fourth in the Liberty Division but its three division losses came by a combined nine points, including a last-second overtime loss to division champion Matawan. The challenge now for Tierney, his staff, and the players is to continue to build upon that success and keep the program moving in the right direction.
Sometimes programs that are not traditional powers will rise up on the back of a special senior class to have a memorable season, only to falter the following year after those players graduate. That shouldn’t be the case for Pinelands, which, despite losing All-Shore defensive standout Mike Hall to graduation, returns six starters on both sides of the ball heading into the 2023 season.
The Wildcats’ multiple-I offense returns its starting running back, a three-year standout at receiver, and multiple offensive linemen after averaging 21.3 points per game last year. The offensive line has great size across the board and is still young with only one senior. Junior right tackle Jayden Hadzovic (6-5, 285) and junior right guard Anthony Aguanno (6-2, 245) were both second team all-division picks last season and anchor the line from the right size. Hadzovic has received FBS and FBC scholarship interest with Rutgers, Temple, Yale, Brown, Monmouth, and Villanova in the mix. Senior Tyler Glass (6-2, 285) returns as the center while junior Qasi Goode (5-10, 285) is at left guard and junior Brady Fence (6-5, 250) is the left tackle.
Providing depth up front are junior Diego Santos (5-8, 255), sophomore Jacob Haywood (5-10, 235), sophomore Luca Colandrea (5-11, 225), junior Cooper Sobon (5-7, 255), sophomore Holly Lucas (5-9, 225), junior Ben McArthur (6-3, 205), sophomore LaVadius Pryor (6-0, 215), and sophomore Logan Minor (6-3, 225).
Hadzovic, Aguanno, and Glass were part of a group last season that helped pave the way for running back Jaimin Parkinson (5-11, 180) to rush for 1,059 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore. Parkinson earned First Team All-Liberty Division honors and is one of seven returning Shore Conference players to rush for 1,000 yards or more last fall. Also in the backfield are junior fullback Shane Gordon, a returning starter, along with sophomore Eric Kobilnyk, senior Devonte Bonds, and freshman Jamie Jenkins.
Pinelands wants to establish the run and then use play-action to connect on big plays down the field. That formula worked great last season with quarterback Ryan Allen and wide receiver Mike Frawley, and while Allen has since graduated, Frawley returns as one of the conference’s most productive receivers. Last season, he was second in the Shore with 742 receiving yards, tied for second with 10 touchdowns, and sixth in receptions with 41 to earn Third Team All-Shore honors. The team’s No. 2 receiver, Stephen Borden (36 rec. 327 yards, 2 TDs), has graduated so the offense will need someone else to step up and either force defenses to account for another threat or take advantage of the single coverage they’ll likely see.
Behind Frawley are seniors Liam Villinger (5-11, 185) and Gee Newsome (6-3, 165), juniors Matt Davis (6-3, 180) and Heath Nelson, sophomore Tahj Miller, and freshman Anthony Bonds. The tight ends are junior Chase Martin, senior Nolan Covell, and junior Sharek White.
Working at quarterback to replace Allen are junior Ty Kline and senior Frankie Gargione. Allen threw for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns and also provided running ability, so that will be a position to watch early in the season.
The Wildcats had one of the best scoring defenses in the Shore last season, finishing 11th at 16.4 points per game. The defensive line in Pinelands’ 4-3 scheme has Aguanno (51 tackles) returning as a starting defensive end to anchor the unit. The opposite defensive end spot has White and Covell. Hadzovic is one of the defensive tackles next to Goode with Haywood, Sobon, Colandrea, Glass, Santos, McArthur, and Minor also at defensive tackle.
Devonte Bonds and Kobilnyk (71 tackles) are both returning starters at linebacker and are listed as inside linebackers. The outside linebackers are Martin and Gordon with sophomores Aidan Lane, William Hollingsworth, and Sawyer Radecsky backing them up.
Villinger was one of the top tacklers in the Shore last season and finished third with 138 stops, and he returns as the starting strong safety for the third season. Frawley will be a three-year starter at cornerback after intercepting three passes last season. Together they anchor the secondary along with Newsome as the other corner and Gargione as the free safety. Anthony Bonds and Jenkins are also at cornerback and sophomore Ismal Jacques is also at free safety.
Junior Matt Davis will handle the kicking and punting duties on special teams.
Last season, Pinelands competed in the Liberty Division with Matawan, Barnegat, Toms River East, Jackson Liberty, and Manchester. Its division losses came to Matawan (28-27 in overtime), Barnegat (7-6), and Toms River East (14-6). Pinelands and Toms River East are the two holdovers and welcome in Central Regional, Monmouth Regional, Neptune, and Toms River South. Pinelands is the only team that posted a winning record last season and thus enters as the favorite, but Central is looking for a bounce-back season and the division as a whole should be competitive.
Pinelands’ only football division title came in 1987, so it goes without saying that standing atop the Liberty Division at season’s end would be a massive step forward for the Wildcats.
At a Glance
Head coach: John Tierney, 2nd season
Career record: 7-4
2022 record: 7-4
Coaching Staff: Joe Adelizzi (Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/LB); Scott Peterka (OL); Vinny LoVerde (DB/WR); Dan O’Reilly (RB); Mike Keller (QB); George Martin (DL); Vemba Bukula (RB); Matt Milden (Freshmen); Marshall Witmer (Freshmen); Stacy Childs (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 3 – Friday, Sept. 15 vs. Central
Central impressed with a convincing Week 0 victory and boasts several FBS and FCS prospects, and the Golden Eagles are focused on rebounding from an injury-plagued one-win season. The former Class B South rivals square off in Week 3 in a game that could decide the division championship.
Player to Watch: Mike Frawley, Sr., WR/DB
Frawley is one of the top wide receivers in the Shore and is coming off a season in which he caught 41 passes for 742 yards and 10 touchdowns and intercepted three passes on defense.
Impact Newcomer: Brady Fence, Jr., OL/DL
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior is slated to be the team’s starting left tackle and adds another big, physical player to Pinelands’ offensive line that leads the way for 1,000-yard back Jaimin Parkinson.
Big Shoes to Fill: The pass rushers
Pinelands will try to collectively replace the production of Third Team All-Shore selection Mike Hall, who made 103 tackles, 5 sacks, and 16 tackles for loss last season.
|Thursday 8/31||@Point Beach||7pm|
|Friday 9/22||Toms River East||6pm|
|Friday 10/6||@Toms River South||6pm|