Shore Sports Network Preseason Shore 16 Football Rankings
Welcome back, Shore Conference football fans. The 2023 high school football season has arrived.
This weekend, 27 of the Shore Conference’s 42 football teams, plus many more around New Jersey, will begin the season with their Week 0 games. At this point, maybe we can just call it Week 1, but that’s a conversation for another day. Today, we’re here with our first set of rankings.
We’ll be doing things a little differently this season with an expanded top 10 that we call The Shore 16. The first 10 teams will still be emphasized but we will now rank teams 11 through 16 to give fans a better idea of who the next best teams are outside of the traditional top 10 and add some intrigue to weekly matchups.
The preseason rankings are always an educated guess based on returning players and results from a season ago. With many teams returning the bulk of lineups, the Preseason Shore 16 is going to look very similar to the final 2022 Shore Sports Network Top 10.
Reigning Group 5 champion Toms River North is loaded and primed for another championship run. Red Bank Catholic lost some great players but returns an equal number of standouts. Middletown South returns the Shore’s Defensive Player of the Year, a dynamic threat at quarterback, and several other key players after reaching a sectional final last year. Rumson-Fair Haven has one of New Jersey’s best quarterbacks coming off an appearance in the Group 2 state final. Donovan Catholic finished No. 4 last season and returns all but a few of its starters and top players. And that’s just the American Division.
Teams like Point Boro, Jackson Memorial, and Marlboro finished last season ranked while Long Branch, Colts Neck, Red Bank, and Matawan were on the cusp of breaking into the Top 10. Another group including Wall, Manalapan, Brick Memorial, Shore Regional, and Howell is also in the mix.
Who is the No. 1 team to start the season and who else made our initial rankings? Let’s get right to it.
Last season’s final ranking and record in parentheses.
1. Toms River North (No. 1, 14-0)
The Mariners enter the 2023 season loaded with talent after becoming the first team in state history to go 14-0 and also winning the inaugural Group 5 state title and setting a state record for total points. Senior quarterback Micah Ford, the reigning Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year who is committed to Stanford University, leads a talented and experienced group that also includes two-way lineman Jaelyne Matthews (Penn State commit), do-it-all threat Jeremiah Pruitt, running back Josh Moore, wide receiver/defensive back Tareq Council and many more standouts. The Mariners take a major step up in competition this season moving from the Colonial Division to the American Division, but the top spot is theirs until proven otherwise.
2. Red Bank Catholic (No. 2, 10-2)
The Caseys are coming off a season in which they reached the Non-Public B state final and won the American Division championship. There are some key players who graduated like Sabino Portella, Najih Rahman, Aidan Donohue, and Michael Palmieri, but the cupboard is still stocked with great talent. Wide receiver Emanuel Ross (Stanford) and linebacker Davin Brewton (Pittsburgh) are FBS commits who lead the way along with standout senior linemen Lorenzo Portella and Tyler Burnham. Junior quarterback Frankie Williams returns after an excellent sophomore season. There are some question marks at certain positions, but the Caseys get the benefit of the doubt as one of the Shore’s most consistent programs over the last 20 years.
3. Middletown South (No. 3, 9-2)
The Eagles were thwarted in their bid to win the program’s 11th sectional title last season but plan on returning with a vengeance this fall. Senior linebacker Colin Gallagher was last year’s SSN Defensive Player of the Year and leads a fast and physical defense along with Owen Richter, Liam Curley, and Brendan Sliva. Senior quarterback/defensive back/kicker/punter Jake Czwakiel does a little bit of everything for the Eagles and was a First Team All-Shore selection last season and will team with senior running back Donovan Summey to form a potent backfield combo. The lines on both sides are strong and the Eagles have a great coaching staff led by Hall of Famer Steve Antonucci. The Eagles posted wins over both Donovan Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven last season to get the edge for No. 3.
4. Donovan Catholic (No. 4, 6-4)
Nearly every starter and key reserve is back for a Griffins team that contended for the American Division title before running into eventual state No. 1 Bergen Catholic in the state playoffs. Junior wideout Michael Thomas III, an FBS recruit, is entering his third year as a starter while sophomore running back Najee Calhoun is coming off a superb rookie season. Those two will lead the offense with senior quarterback Todd Lambertson at the helm behind a big, physical offensive line. The defense aims to remain one of the Shore’s best and has the horses to do just that with First Team All-Shore defensive end Zaeir Day leading the way. The Griffins' win over Rumson last season helped them hold off the Bulldogs for the No. 4 spot.
5. Rumson-Fair Haven (No. 5, 8-5)
Rumson hit its stride late last season and rode the momentum to the program’s seventh sectional title and a spot in the Group 2 final under first-year head coach Jeremy Schulte. Junior quarterback Owen O’Toole led the Shore Conference in passing last season and returns with his top target, Nick Rigby, who led the conference in receptions and receiving yards last season. The defense is always strong and expects to be a top unit despite graduating several standouts, with Cooper Bunnell and Reed Elsas leading the way. Rumson’s running game was uncharacteristically mediocre last season, so if the Bulldogs can get back to having a consistent and powerful rushing attack they can be a juggernaut that challenges for the No. 1 overall ranking in the Shore.
6. Point Boro (No. 6, 9-1)
The Panthers’ 2022 season ended with a stunning loss in the sectional semifinals, denying them a chance at repeating as sectional champs. The good news is that multiple starters return to make another championship run, led by senior quarterback Matt Oliphant, senior running back Jake Croce, and two-way lineman Charles Davison. Point Boro rolled to a division title last season but will now compete in the Colonial Division alongside Group 4 schools Colts Neck, Long Branch, Manalapan, and Red Bank Regional. The Panthers have the talent and big-game experience but will have to prove they can get it done on a weekly basis against tougher competition.
7. Jackson Memorial (No. 9, 7-3)
The Jaguars reached the sectional semifinals last season where they fell to eventual Group 4 champ Millville. Along the way, they tied for a division championship and finished the year No. 9 in the SSN Top 10. Multiple starters return, including 11 players who either started or saw significant action on defense. Wide receivers/defensive backs Albert D’Alessandro and Jaiden Hernandez, linebacker Brandon Bigelow, and defensive end Shaun Hubbard are just a few of the key players Jackson returns this season.
8. Long Branch (not ranked, 7-4)
The Green Wave had some hiccups last season but played great down the stretch with wins in six of their final seven games, losing only to eventual sectional champion Mainland in the state playoffs. Senior quarterback Earnest Reavey and senior running back Zaheem Brown lead the cast of returners that is also bolstered by the incoming transfer of former Neptune running back Davon Craft. If the offensive line plays well, this is a team that should be a fixture in the rankings all season long.
9. Matawan (not ranked, 6-3)
Matawan returned to prominence last season with a crew of young standouts leading the team to a division title and now hopes to regain its customary spot among the Shore’s best. Quarterback Am’ir Martinez de Scott, running back Colin Palumbo, wide receivers Cameron Cooper and Welman Crooms, linemen Jayden Elijah and Jordan Reamer, linebacker MorganBlake Gagneron, and defensive back BrianCharles Gagneron will look to lead the way under head coach Jay Graber.
10. Marlboro (No. 10, 6-4)
Marlboro is coming off its best season in two decades after qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and winning the program’s first playoff game since 1994, finishing No. 10 in the Shore last season. Senior running back/linebacker Matt Cassidy is a returning First Team All-Shore selection and leads the team on both sides of the ball. Marlboro was a senior-heavy team last season so there will be several new faces among the starting lineup, but we’ll give the Mustangs a shot in the top 10 to start the season.
11. Colts Neck (not ranked, 6-3)
The Cougars continue to ascend under head coach Matt Ahearn and are coming off a 6-3 season that included a shared division title and a playoff berth. Colts Neck will try to bludgeon teams with a power rushing attack led by senior running back Chris Scully and an offensive line that includes standout linemen Charlie Whalen, JJ Cifelli, Matt Liggio, Shea Bresnahan, and Albert Yodakis. Seniors Eric Loureiro, Sam Surdez, and James Bertan led a defense that plays a physical style to complement its offense.
12. Red Bank (not ranked, 7-4)
Red Bank made significant progress in its second season under head coach Shane Fallon, finishing 7-4 and winning a regional consolation tournament. Senior two-way lineman Griffin Egan, a Harvard University commit, leads the way along with fellow seniors, running back Jah’Cire Jones, running back Gunnar Eckerstrom, two-way lineman Brandon Jevert, and defensive back Liam Stack as the Bucs aim to contend for the Colonial Division title.
13. Wall (not ranked, 4-7)
The Crimson Knights are two years removed from the hazing scandal that enveloped the school and now head into year two under Hall of Fame head coach Ed Gurrieri with positive momentum. Competing in the brutal American Division means Wall will be the underdog in at least five games but it closed last season strong with wins in four of its final five games. Senior quarterback Andrew Olsen returns along with junior running back Mason Adam, receivers Shea Brennan and Nick Wonsala, and an offensive line anchored by Ben Sasso, Chris Rogers, Bobby Langworthy, Tom Dunfee, and Ted Guenther.
14. Manalapan (not ranked, 3-7)
The Braves are in a similar position to Wall, which is ironic considering former Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri is now Wall’s head coach and the two teams have an almost identical play style. Manalapan, however, moves from the American Division to the Colonial Division where it expects to contend for the division crown. The offense must improve from last season and will lean on an offensive line led by Princeton commit Evan Radosevich and including Matthew Makfinsky, Reggie Bennet, Nick Monteleone, and PJ Ranieri to pave the way for running backs Jason Rodriguez and Ashere Woolfolk. Senior Anthony Macchio returns as a dangerous wide receiver/defensive back/kick returner while a defense that was stout a season ago is led by seniors Joseph Melo and Aidan Wilmot.
15. Brick Memorial (not ranked, 6-5)
Brick Memorial could have won eight games if not for a pair of close losses to Freehold Township and Brick and enters the 2023 season as one of the Shore’s most intriguing teams. Record-setting quarterback Connor Dietz piloted the offense to an average of 30.5 points per game and returns alongside junior running back Kevin Andrews as the Mustangs’ top offensive options. The defense, however, must improve its 27.5 points per game average from a season ago in order for Brick Memorial to contend for a division title and return to the playoffs.
16. Howell (not ranked, 5-5)
The final spot in the preseason rankings goes to a Howell team that was up and down a season ago but posted notable wins over Marlboro and Wall. Seven starters return on each side of the ball led by quarterback Egan Nelms, running back Brandon Wright, wide receiver Kevin Maloney, defensive end Declan Flaherty, and linebacker Ray DeFrancesco.
Keep an eye on: