Return to Form: 2023 Wall Township Football Preview
To say the last few years have been a roller coaster ride for Wall’s football program would be quite the understatement.
In 2019, the Crimson Knights went 12-1, won a sectional title, and finished the season ranked No. 1 in the Shore Conference and as one of the top public schools in the state. The following year during the Covid-altered 2020 season, Wall went undefeated, beat Donovan Catholic in a legendary (unofficial) Shore Conference championship game, and ended the season ranked No. 1 in New Jersey.
The following season was not as dominant but the Crimson Knights again looked like a sectional championship contender as the season progressed. That was until it abruptly ended during the playoffs due to a hazing scandal that rocked the community and resulted in mass upheaval within the football program. Wall needed a new coach and turned to former Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri, a Shore Conference Hall of Famer who led the Braves to a sectional title and multiple division titles throughout his 13-year tenure.
The Knights finished 4-7 last year, struggling at the onset in the brutal American Division but finishing strong with wins in four of their last five games. Wall is hoping the program can mirror that late-season turnaround and use a greater familiarity between players, coaches, and schemes to return to contention and its usual spot in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.
Wall returns several starters on both sides of the ball, complete with size and experience up front and returning starters in the backfield and out wide in their multiple-I offense. At quarterback will be senior Andrew Olsen, a returning starter who threw for 667 yards and six touchdowns last season. Junior Mason Adam wasn’t the lead back last year but made the most of his opportunities with seven touchdown runs. He and junior Tony Credle look to be Wall’s two primary backs.
Two senior wide receivers return with Shea Brennan and Nick Wonsala reprising their roles from a season ago, while senior Luke Sprengel will be the starting tight end.
During Gurrieri’s time at Manalapan his teams had some tremendous running backs, but the consistent factor in their dominant rushing attack was a physical and cohesive offensive line. This season’s offensive line at Wall looks similar to some of those top units with size and experience throughout. Senior left guard Ben Sasso (6-3, 275) is a three-year starter and will be at left guard, senior Chris Rogers (6-5, 325) is the left tackle, senior Bob Langworthy (6-1, 260) is the right guard, and senior Tom Dunfee (6-4, 280) is the right tackle. Joining the group is junior center Ted Guenther (6-1, 225). Both Sasso and Rogers have garnered FCS interest with Sasso holding an offer from Wagner.
It will be tough sledding in the American Division competing against elite defenses from Toms River North, Red Bank Catholic, Donovan Catholic, Middletown South, and Rumson-Fair Haven where Wall will try to improve on its 17.3 points per game average from a year ago.
Wall’s defense was in the middle of the pack allowing 18.7 points per game last season. The Crimson Knights return four starters in their 3-4 alignment but will be tasked with replacing the production of standouts Billy Carr, Pat Donohue, Kei’sun Sanders, and Cris Mozeika.
The defensive line features Langworthy as a returning starter at defensive end, 6-foot-5, 285-pound junior Logan Boyd as the nose tackle, and 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior Matteo Massotti at the other defensive end spot.
Adam is a returning starter at outside linebacker coming off a year in which he intercepted four passes with sophomore Justin Davis as the other outside linebacker. The two inside linebackers are junior Jack Clarke and sophomore Dylan Cohen with sophomore Tom Plisky also in the mix.
Credle is a returning starter in the secondary and will play cornerback. Also at cornerback are senior Navir Gandy, Brennan, and sophomore Deshawn Berry. Junior Derrick Boss is the returning starter at free safety and senior Carter Colatrella is the strong safety.
Sophomore Heath Reinhardt returns as both the kicker and punter after connecting on 23 of 24 extra points and kicking one field goal last season.
Wall’s schedule is one of the most difficult in the Shore with American Division games against five juggernauts, plus a season-opening game against Manalapan, a nondivisional tilt with a Howell team that won last season’s matchup, and the annual Thanksgiving clash with Manasquan. The Knights will have to capitalize on any and all opportunities and pull off an upset or two to return to form, but the championship pedigree of both the program and its head coach means they shouldn’t be counted out.
At a Glance
Head coach: Ed Gurrieri, 2nd season (15th overall)
Career record: 113-42
2022 record: 4-7
Coaching staff: Justin Fumando (Defensive Coordinator/DL); Chris Rogers (Offensive Coordinator/OL); Mike Kinsella (WR); Pete Ottaviano (Special Teams Coordinator/LB); Bill Smith (TE/OLB); Connor Heil (DB); Zach Zulli (QB); Brendan McDermott (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 0 – Friday, Aug. 25 at Manalapan
The Knights began the season with a critical nondivisional road game against Gurrieri’s former team and good friend, Manalapan head coach Dom Lepore. It’s a crucial game for both teams but especially so for Wall to start strong before jumping into its American Division schedule in Week 2 at Middletown South.
Player to Watch: Mason Adam, Jr., RB/LB
Adam ran for 464 yards and seven touchdowns last season as Wall’s No. 2 running back and will get a chance to be the featured back in Wall’s run-first offense.
Impact Newcomer: Matteo Massotti, Jr., DE
The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder brings great size to the position along a defensive line that averages 6-foot-3 and 261 pounds.
Big Shoes to Fill: The pass rushers
This doesn’t fall on one single player because asking one guy to post over 20 sacks by himself isn’t exactly realistic, but replacing the production from Carr (16 sacks), Mozeika (5 sacks), Sanders (4 sacks), and Donohue (3 sacks) is critical for Wall’s defense.
|@Red Bank Catholic
|@Toms River North