Remaining Stable: 2018 Brick Memorial Football Preview
On the surface, Brick Memorial is a team tasked with replacing its all-time leading rusher, an all-star safety and a standout linebacker while transitioning to a division that has the early distinction of being the toughest in the Shore Conference. Add in nondivisional games against two of the top teams in the Shore and it certainly seems like it will be an uphill climb back to contending for a division title.
Within the confines of the program, however, the Mustangs have a different view. They return key players at critical positions, have a wealth of skill players and are experienced in the trenches. It’s a combination that serves teams well, and the Mustangs are eager to remind their opponents they are among the programs that reload rather than rebuild.
“We feel really confident,” said senior center Logan Baxter. “We know with the new schedule it’s going to be tough and every team can be a playoff team. We know we’re going to have to compete every day.”
Brick Memorial returns just four starters in its flexbone offense, which was 12th best in the Shore at 25.8 points per game last season, but with Baxter and quarterback Tyler Sindel back as the linchpins, the Mustangs are ahead of the curve more than it would appear by just glancing at the roster.
“You always feel good when you have a center and a quarterback coming back in any offensive scheme because your center is making all your calls and your quarterback is making all your checks,” said Brick Memorial head coach Walt Currie, who enters his 12th season leading the Mustangs, the longest tenure in program history. “And the fact that it’s those two guys – who are high-character players and have become positive leaders for our football team – is even better.”
Sindel took the reigns of Brick Memorial’s triple-option attack last season and finished with 618 yards rushing and seven touchdowns plus 390 yards passing and six touchdowns. From Brian Staub to Mike DiGuilmi to Tim Santiago, Brick Memorial quarterbacks have a history of having great senior years after taking the starting job as juniors, and the Mustangs hope Sindel is on a similar trajectory.
“It’s a good feeling,” Sindel said. “I remember last year coming in being a little nervous and uptight but this year I’ve been able to relax and have more fun. I already know most of the stuff so it’s just been a refresher. I’m more comfortable with everything.”
“We put a lot more in a lot faster this year and put a lot more on his shoulders,” Currie said. “He’s also throwing the ball a lot better. I’m not going to stand here and try to fool anybody and say we’re going to have a drop-back passing game or be a spread team, but at the same time when we do want to throw it he’s much better than he was last year.”
In the backfield, the Mustangs will have to replace nearly 2,000 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns due to the graduation of fullback Tony Thorpe and slotback Blaine Netterman. Thorpe, a three-year starter, ran for 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, finished as the Mustangs’ all-time leading rusher and scorer and was the Class A South Offensive Player of the Year. Netterman added 602 yards rushing and eight touchdowns as a dangerous option on the perimeter. Brick Memorial also lost slotback/linebacker Najiere Hutchinson, who transferred to Neptune.
What the team lacks in experience it makes up for with depth. Senior Ja Billingsley is slated to start at ‘A’ back with senior Alex Vonderlinden and sophomore T.J. McArthur also in the mix. The slotbacks are seniors Jeff Lavarin and Dave Baez and juniors C.J. Lavarin and Sal Lepore, who should all see significant time in a rotation.
“I think we legitimately have seven guys who can play those three spots, and all seven of those guys are also defensive starters,” Currie said. “We have a lot of skill guys getting a lot of first-team reps, so I think we’re in a good spot where we can get some guys rest and not have to play the same 11, 12 guys on both sides of the ball. The fact that we can be able to rotate guys through on offense and still have them play fulltime on defense will be a real help to our football team.”
Senior Ryan McCombs returns as a starting wide receiver and will be joined by senior Graham Harrigan. The Mustangs don’t throw the ball often, but at 6-foot-3 McCombs gives Sindel a big target down the field.
Two starters return on the offensive line with Baxter at center and senior Kyle McBride at left tackle. Hulking senior Jamison Whaley (6-4, 330), who started on defense as a junior, will move to the offensive line at right guard and could have a huge impact. Junior Mike Spanola at left guard and 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior Kris Boyington round out the starting five up front.
“J-Mo did a great job with his nutrition in the offseason dropping 50 pounds and he looks phenomenal,” Currie said. “As good as he was on defense last year, he might actually be better on offense. He’s really come along, and even though he’s a new starter on the O-line he’s still a returning starter at the varsity level, so he’s ready. We’re expecting a lot of good things from him.”
“We’re communicating really well and with me and Sindel coming back we know the offense very well,” Baxter said. “With the guys coming up on the offensive line and in the backfield, I think we’ll be fine.”
The Mustangs defense was solid last year, finishing in the top third in the Shore in scoring defense at 18.8 points per game. Four starters return on that unit, as well, with experience at all three levels. The Mustangs are changing from a 3-4 front to a 4-2-5, however, to maximize their depth in the secondary.
On the defensive line, Whaley is back as a starting defensive tackle and Spanola will be the other starting tackle. Junior Jeremy Campbell will also see time there. McCombs and Baxter are the defensive ends with sophomore David Szuba also in the mix.
Vonderlinden (74 tackles in 2017) returns as a starting inside linebacker and will be flanked by McBride. McArthur and junior Larry Fonville can also see time at linebacker. The strong safeties, Billingsley (62 tackles) and Baez, are both returning starters. Jeff Lavarin and C.J. Lavarin are the cornerbacks and Lepore is the free safety.
“I think we’re coming along really well,” Currie said. “We tried to cater things to our personnel and we’re secondary-heavy as far as that goes, so that’s why we went to a five-man secondary. Coach (Rob) Brown and coach (Mike) Cintron have done a great job to design that and keep it consistent with our language so they’re not learning something brand new. The entire coaching staff on the defensive side has done a great job this offseason. We’re playing faster than we were this time last year. Are we going to miss a kid like Grant McKelvey on the inside and Blaine Netterman on the outside? Absolutely. But at the same time, it’s a new season and the kids are willing to do whatever we ask them to do in order to get better.”
McCombs returns as the kicker and punter on special teams.
The difficult schedule now includes Colonial Division foes St. John Vianney, Rumson-Fair Haven, Middletown North, Freehold and crosstown rival Brick. The Mustangs also have nondivisional games with Manalapan and Long Branch to close out the regular season. They’ll open the season in Week 0 on the road against old Class A South rival Central Regional. The Mustangs and Golden Eagles tied for the A South division title last year.
“I know all my brother are working hard out there and we’re going to get it done,” Sindel said. “If we execute and do the simple things and just do our job no matter who is on the field I know we can be successful.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Walt Currie, 12th season.
Career record: 68-50.
2017 record: 7-3 (6-1 in A South)
Coaching staff: Mike Cintron (def. coordinator); Bill Brunner (OL); Mike McArthur (OL); Keith Farr (QB/RB); Micah Bender (WR); Pete Brennan (LB); Rob Brown (DB); Rob Merola (DL); Ryan Cole (DL); Jimmy Bright, Ryan Graham, Mike Kiley (freshmen); Sue Penrod (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Ja Billingsley, Sr., RB/DB
Billingsley is a returning starter on defense, but on the offensive side he’ll step in at ‘A’ back and fill the void left by Tony Thorpe, who was a three-year starter and the program’s all-time leading rusher.
X-FACTOR: Tyler Sindel, Sr., QB
Brick Memorial has arguably the toughest schedule in the entire Shore Conference and wins will not by easy to come by. Sindel had a solid junior season, and if he can take his game to the next level Brick Memorial will be in great shape.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: T.J. McArthur, So., RB/LB
McArthur figures to play a pivotal role on both sides of the ball as part of a deep rotation of running backs and as a backup inside linebacker.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 8 vs. Brick
Was there really another game to pick? It will be a packed house at DiFabio Field when the Mustangs and Dragons square off in Week 1. Brick Memorial will already have a game under its belt, so that could be an advantage, especially if the Mustangs enter 1-0. Brick has won the last five games in the series.
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.