Reaffirmation: 2023 Central Regional Football Preview
The 2022 season was supposed to be a time when the Central Regional football team built off its division title the previous year, worked toward making a deeper run in the NJSIAA playoffs, and continued to build its culture under head coach Jarrett Pidgeon. Instead, it became a battle just to remain competitive.
Season-ending injuries flattened the Golden Eagles’ season before it got off the ground, notably losing 2021 Shore Conference rushing champion Chase Gumbrecht midway through their first game of the season. The injuries piled up and so did the defeats until a victory over Toms River South in late October prevented the dreaded winless season.
It was a step back for the program, certainly, but there is a silver lining to going 1-8 in a season where expectations were far greater. Multiple underclassmen were forced into action due to all the injuries, and the hope is that they came out the other side ready to roll and help Central get back on track in 2023. ‘Reaffirmation has been their mantra since the day the Eagles’ offseason training began last December. They are eager to prove last year was not indicative of the program they aim to be.
The makeup of the Liberty Division appears to lend itself to a bounce-back season as Pinelands is the only team that won more than three games last year. The division features Central, Monmouth, Neptune, Pinelands, Toms River East, and Toms River South. Pinelands can be considered the favorite but it should be a competitive race for the division title.
Nine starters return in Central’s pro-style offense, including four players receiving either FBS or FCS college interest. The Eagles did lose junior quarterback Devin Sisler via transfer to Don Bosco Prep so they’ll be breaking in a new player at that position. Sisler was a Second Team All-Colonial Division selection and fifth in the Shore in passing yards (1,484 yards) last season. Junior Joe Vezzosi and seniors Ayden Delaney and Talan Grande have been battling for the starting spot throughout training camp. The running backs are junior Nick Ruggiero, senior Brandon Jones, and junior Aiden Bolden and the fullbacks are senior Giancarlo Saitta and junior John Pitts.
Junior wide receiver Royalty Riley (6-2, 170) caught 24 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns last season and was a second team all-division selection. He holds scholarship offers from Temple and Old Dominion. Joining him are junior Liam Hurley, senior Davey Ferreira, and senior Nate Dominguez. At tight end will be 6-foot-6, 195-pound sophomore Elijah Reeder, who has already received FBS interest. The tight end room also includes senior Talvon Griffin (6-1, 205) and senior Scott Nico (6-3, 240), who was an all-division defensive lineman last season.
Central has good size along the offensive line and all but one player is an underclassman. Left tackle Chris Galifi (6-3, 250) is the lone senior, junior Donovan Lange (6-0, 240) is the left guard, junior Michael Germanario (5-11, 180) is the center, junior Adam Onello (6-0, 270) is the right guard, and sophomore Robert Mondella (6-4, 270) is the right tackle. Mondella has received FCS interest.
The defensive side of the ball is Pidgeon’s calling card from his days as a standout linebacker at Southern and his team will run multiple fronts. Saitta and junior Rich Schmidt are the defensive ends while Onello and junior Jayden Nichols (6-1, 230) are the defensive tackles. The strongside linebacker is Nico, who was a First Team All-Colonial Division defensive lineman last season. Bolden and senior Kris Gonzalez are the inside linebackers with sophomores Dayton Ferreira and Zach Cramer also in the mix. Reeder is the weakside linebacker with Griffin working for playing time there, as well.
In the secondary, Riley and junior Aidan Graham are projected as the starting cornerbacks with Dominguez and freshman CJ Yates also in the mix. Davey Ferreira returns as the starting free safety and the strong safety is junior Nnaemeka Amenchina with Aidan Gonzalez also at the position.
On special teams, senior Evan Brounstein and sophomore Michael Nieves are competing to be the kicker and punter.
Central is a bit of a wildcard this season. They were 1-8 last year but injuries played a major part in that. Toms River North ran away with the division title, regardless, but the Eagles could have been competitive against the likes of Long Branch, Middletown North, Lacey, and Southern. Now they are in a division that is wide open and one that should be competitive every week. If their young players make the jump from wide-eyed sophomores and juniors thrown into the fire to seasoned veterans, this is a team that can turn the tables and return to contention.
At a Glance
Head coach: Jarrett Pidgeon, 4th season
Career record: 10-16
2022 record: 1-8
Coaching staff: Bill Wilde (Offensive Coordinator); Bill Kvalheim (Special Teams Coordinator/WR/DB); Frank Backle (OL/DL); Thomas Koenig (RB); Jeff Schmidt (Defensive Coordinator/LB); James Plummer (OLB/TE); Dennis O’Keefe (DL/LS); Michael Bickford (LB/RB); Dennis Pidgeon (DL); Kyle Watson (Freshmen Head Coach); Nick Miele (Freshmen); Brandon Voss (Freshmen); Cassie Dennis (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date – Week 1 – Friday, Sept. 1 at Southern
The Eagles and Rams play annually for the Boyd-Emmert Trophy and it’s usually a critical early-season game for both programs. Central opens its season in Week 0 with a nonconference game vs. Hamilton West, but the team’s Shore Conference opener against one of its biggest rivals will be a chance to set the tone and showcase the gains it made in the wake of an adversity-filled 2022 season.
Player to Watch: Royalty Riley, Jr., WR/DB
Riley holds offers from Temple and Old Dominion coming off a season in which he caught 24 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns.
Glue Guy: Scott Nico, Jr., TE/LB
The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder emerged as a leader and playmaker last season en route to earning first team all-division honors. He recorded 51 tackles, 4 sacks, and 15 tackles for loss a season ago and is primed for an even bigger year as a junior.
Big Shoes to Fill: The running backs
Chase Gumbrecht, the 2021 Shore Conference rushing champion, missed most of last season so the Golden Eagles are already well-versed in playing without him, but finding another bell cow or the right combination of backs will be crucial to an offense that aims to be balanced but has the running game as its foundation.
Did you Know?
The Liberty Division title that Central won in 2021 during Pidgeon’s second season was Central’s first outright division title since 1994 when Dan Duddy led the Eagles to a 9-2 record and the Class B South title. Central has won a total of 10 division titles.
|Toms River East
|@Toms River South