Regaining Their Identity: 2018 Southern Regional Football Preview
In Chuck Donohue Sr.’s 44 years as a high school football head coach, few have been as frustrating as the 2017 season. Injuries and inconsistency were the main culprits that produced a 3-7 season, the Rams’ worst finish in over a decade.
“We were filling holes all season, and the game where we were the healthiest we ended up losing two kids for the year,” Donohue said. “Against Atlantic City we played four defensive backs that had maybe one or two starts between the four of them because everybody was hurt. We had some kids who didn’t play how we thought they would and we were just never the same team week by week. It was just one of those years.”
This year’s seniors also admitted last year’s team wasn’t as cohesive as it needed to be. A big focus this offseason was getting everybody on the same page and working toward a common goal.
“Last year I think we had a bunch of individuals who just wanted to make big plays, so just playing as a team was the main thing we’ve worked on in the offseason,” said senior running back/linebacker Joe Guglielmo. “If we play as a team, play hard, play fast, we’ll be alright.”
From an X and O standpoint, Southern will be turning back the clock with both its offensive and defensive schemes to regain its identity of physical play. Offensively, Southern will ditch the Delaware Wing-T it used last season and go with a multiple offense that will feature spread, I-formation and pro-style sets.
“Using more spread this year and moving back to the 'I' we used to run, I feel like it gives the running backs more of a chance to see the play develop,” Guglielmo said.
“Freshman year we didn’t run the Wing-T so we’re still pretty familiar with the 'I' and split formations,” said senior running back/linebacker Luke Galan. “I think it will make it harder to game plan against us.”
Senior Carmen Deo, who started toward the end of last season, and junior Cole Robinson have both been working at quarterback and battling for the starting position. In five games last season, Deo threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns.
Guglielmo will start the season at fullback until senior Pat Scully is fully recovered from a shoulder injury suffered last season. Guglielmo will then shift to tailback where last season he ran for 432 yards and six touchdowns on just 56 carries. Seniors Rob Gunnell, Thomas Barnett and Galan will also see time in the backfield.
The Rams will frequently use double tight end sets with a four-man rotation of seniors Kevin Lanahan, J.T. Cornelius (6-4, 215), Connor Dombecki and 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore Jay Silva.
Senior Zach Hem returns as a starting wide receiver and will be joined by seniors Schneider Juste, Matt Caporrino and Nick Sinatra.
The offensive line returns only one starter but is a unit Donohue envisions being a strength of the team. Senior Liam Anderson (6-4, 260) returns as the left tackle with senior Josh Echandia at left guard and junior Colby Saxton at right tackle. The center will be either senior Noah Westpy or junior Sebastian Cervetto. The right guard spot is between Cervetto and junior Nick Velardi. Junior Jayden Smith is also in the mix for playing time at tackle.
“I think we’re taking advantage of a faster line,” Anderson said. “We don’t have many big guys – I’m probably the biggest one – so we’re taking advantage of having athleticism.”
“I really think our strength is going to be both lines, as crazy as that sounds,” Donohue said. “Their mental state is very good and the fact we can go double tight (ends) will give us a really good advantage and help stop pressure from the edge.”
Southern ran a 50 front defense last season and will move to a 4-4 this year. The Rams will use a deep rotation along the defensive line with Anderson, Saxton, Echandia, Smith and senior Matt Flores (6-2, 245) at defensive tackle. Juste, Lanahan, Dombecki and Silva will rotate at defensive end.
Guglielmo played significant snaps at inside linebacker last season and will start there this year. Cervetto moves from the defensive line to inside linebacker while senior Trevor Gouveia has also been working in. Barnett and sophomore Hank Gallacher also in the mix. Galan started at safety last season and slides down to outside linebacker along with Gunnell and junior Christian Torres.
Senior Dupreme Holland is a returning starter at cornerback with Sinatra and Caporrino working at the other cornerback spot. Hem returns as the safety with Robinson backing him up.
“The 4-4 helps us play man against teams in the spread,” Galan said. “I like the 4-4 better. I’m in the alley this year not at safety and everything just feels more natural. I think it’s a good look for us.”
“Hem and Galan can get people lined up and handle adjustments, and they communicate well,” Donohue said. “They’re very smart and are guys who take a lot of pressure off other players. They’re comfortable doing it and it doesn’t affect their play.”
Hem will handle both the kicking and punting duties on special teams.
Southern will play in the Constitution Division this year with Jackson Memorial, Wall, Marlboro, Lakewood and Lacey. They’ll open the season against the longtime Class A South rival Jaguars.
“We’ve been playing Jackson our whole lives going back to AYF, so we know the kids we’re playing against,” Galan said. “They’re tough, but we’ll be ready. Obviously we’ll be amped up for the game and hopefully we can pull through.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Chuck Donohue Sr., 21st season (44th overall)
Career record: 109-96 (248-181-4 overall)
2017 record: 3-7 (3-4).
Coaching staff: Matt Abbato (def. coordinator); Dylan Larson (OL/DL); C.J. Tomelden (RB/OLB); Eric Sharkey (WR/DB); Eric Fierro (QB); Chuck Donohue Jr. (OL); Andrew Beckett, Joe Fleck, Dan Roy (freshmen); Nick Scaramazza (athletic trainer); John Kaszuba (Director of Football Operations); Jason Lister, Dan Abbato, Rob Barrett (middle school); Evan Osborne, Zack Mantesanna (volunteers).
Offense: Pro style
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Joe Guglielmo, Sr., RB/LB
Guglielmo played on both sides of the ball last year in spelling Joe Miele at both running back and inside linebacker, and this year his roles will increase exponentially as a two-way starter. Miele was a four-year starter and a Class A South All-Division selection last year.
X-FACTOR: Quarterback play
Head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. likes Southern’s collection of running backs and is bullish on the group of offensive linemen to deliver a power rushing attack. Whether it’s Carmen Deo or Cole Robinson at quarterback, the Rams will benefit greatly from a passer who can manage the offense, move the chains, take care of the ball and play within the system.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Josh Echandia, Sr., OL/DL
Echandia will start at left guard and is also part of a deep rotation along the defensive line.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 7 vs. Jackson Memorial
After playing in Week 0 the last two years the Rams got their wish and were moved off playing opening weekend. They desperately want to start the season with a win, and to do so will have to take down a Jackson team that looks to be the division favorite.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.