Reversal of Fortune: 2018 Keyport Football Preview
At first glance, Keyport’s 1-9 record in 2017 tells the story of a team overmatched in the Shore Conference Class B Central division – the smallest of the conference’s divisions by school size but still plenty competitive.
Andy Carlstrom, however, knew the whole story in taking the vacant head coaching job in the offseason, just as the nine returning starters (eight on defense) remember the whole story.
“These guys had some tough losses last year,” said Carlstrom, a former Keyport football player and graduate of Henry Hudson. “This is a hungry bunch.”
Of Keyport’s nine losses last season, six were by a one-score margin and all six came in the Red Raiders’ first eight games of the season. That was a painful reality for the Keyport players last year but a major motivating factor for the many who are back for redemption this season.
“Last year was last year and we want to worry about this year,” senior Matthew Twigg said. “It wasn’t the year we wanted to have and we spent all offseason focused on this year and making sure we are ready. We want to prove that even though we have a lot of the same guys, this isn’t the same team.”
Carlstrom brings with him a successful resume as head coach at both Holmdel and St. John Vianney and a new offensive philosophy, which he said will be the only noteworthy change to Keyport’s approach this year given that he is absorbing last year’s coaching staff. The Red Raiders will now be an option-heavy offense, which precluded Carlstrom to move senior Shykim Treadwell from wide receiver to quarterback and Twigg the other way from quarterback to the slot.
“This is the offense I know,” Carlstrom said. “I have always been a triple-option guy and my philosophy is to do what you’re good at and I know how to teach this offense. It’s usually not too hard to fit your personnel into it and teams like Shore have shown you can be really successful with it in Group 1.”
“We’re trying to run this new offense and we have a faster quarterback back there, no offense,” Treadwell said, joking with Twigg. “We’ve got some good backs and I think it’s going to be good for us.”
Treadwell will run an offense with a renewed commitment to the running game, which was its bread-and-butter in 2016 when the Red Raiders went 10-2 and reached the Central Jersey Group 1 championship game. A big part of that attack was running back Devin Wallner, who had a breakout season as a sophomore for that 2016 team and again led the team in rushing through the struggle that was 2017.
“Not a lot changes for me in this offense,” Wallner said. “There are some different concepts but once I have the ball in my hands, it’s still find the hole, trust my line and run hard.”
Twigg will be a slot back in Keyport’s offense and third-year starter Craig Robinson returns at fullback. Ray Robinson is back as the primary wide receiver and Kaushal Sallam will also get snaps at receiver as one of Treadwell’s targets when the Red Raiders do throw the ball.
“I feel like I’m adjusting well to playing in the slot,” Twigg said. “Playing quarterback last year gave me an understanding of everyone’s roles and if something happens and they need me back there again, I know I can handle it.”
Keyport returns four of five starters on the offensive line with the returnees occupying the spots at guard and tackle. Senior Kyle Roberts and junior Michael Abbatte will be the tackles and juniors Anthony Gonzalez and Devon Meza return at guard. With senior Mike Handler in the mix at center, Keyport’s five linemen average out to 270 pounds.
“As a lineman, I definitely like the idea of running the ball a lot,” Meza said. “I think every lineman likes the idea of lining up and trying to push teams five yards, 10 yards down the field every play.”
“We have some good size and athleticism up front,” Carlstrom said. “That’s one of the things I like about running this offense so far is it gives our line a chance to line up and get a push. It’s still kind of a young group with some juniors on it so they are still getting better, too.”
The size up front will also translate on defense, which will remain a 3-4 base under coordinator Jason Glezman. At 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, senior Roan Maxwell is in line to start at nose guard with Roberts and Meza starting at defensive end and the other lineman rotating in.
Robinson and Gonzalez will play on the second level of the front seven with Gonzalez profiling well at both offensive guard and linebacker with his 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame. Senior Josh James will also play in the middle alongside Robinson while sophomore Sean Lachky has put himself in the mix for one of the outside linebacker spots.
Twigg will be the leader in the secondary at safety with Robinson also providing experience at cornerback. Sophomore Troy Alvarez heads into the season as the other safety and freshman D.J. Thomson – whose older brother, Alex, was a standout quarterback at Keyport earlier in the decade and now plays at Marshall – will play at the other cornerback spot with Treadwell potentially working in, as well.
“I think everybody’s comfortable sticking with our scheme on defense,” Carlstrom said. “They were one win away from a state championship two years ago with this scheme. Last year, they were 1-9 but with younger players. I think this staff has shown it can work and I think we have the players to make it work.”
Shore Conference realignment has hurt Keyport and other Group 1 schools in that the Greater Middlesex Conference crossover games have been cut out and instead, the Red Raiders and the other Group 1 teams in the new National Division will play other Shore Conference teams outside of divisional play. Keyport will still get to play fellow Group 1 teams Asbury Park, Keansburg and Point Beach within the division, but the rest of the slate includes larger schools like Holmdel, Barnegat and Donovan Catholic, as well as a Shore Regional program that will compete in Group 2 this season after being a perennial contender in Central Jersey Group 1.
Carlstrom knows the challenge, but he welcomes it because he gets to put his stamp on a program that is part of his early football story.
“The best part about this is that this is home for me,” Carlstrom said. “I grew up on this field. I’ve been fortunate to have some success at other places, but there’s nothing like coming back to where you played and doing it for the hometown team.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Andy Carlstrom, first season (eighth overall)
Career record: 31-30
2017 record: 1-9 (0-5 in B Central)
Offense: Flexbone/triple option
Coaching staff: Jason Glezman (Def. Coordinator/LB), Pete Miller (QB/RB), Steve Bower (WR/RB), Jim Maguire (DB), Tyler Alvarez (DL), Jerry Hourihan (OL/DL), Marlene Perez (Athletic Trainer)
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Anthony Gonzalez, Jr., OL/LB
While Keyport returns a lot of key players, one they will miss is Jay Hanson, who was a force in the front seven last season. Gonzalez finds himself in the middle of the defense with Craig Robinson this season and he will be asked to impact both sides of the ball.
X-FACTOR: Shykim Treadwell, Sr., QB
Keyport is going all-in on the triple option under new coach Andy Carlstrom and that means switching Treadwell from receiver to quarterback and last year’s quarterback Matt Twigg to receiver. The goal is to get Treadwell touches and allow him to make plays with his legs, so if the senior can deliver, Keyport’s new offense should purr.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Roan Maxwell, Sr., DL
Maxwell will take on nose guard responsibilities and at 6-foot-2, 310 pounds, he will be a load for most Group 1 teams – and most teams, in general.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 21 vs. Manchester
Manchester is looking to get healthy this season against a schedule heavy on Group 1 opponents and Keyport will have a chance to put that notion to rest in Week 3. It’s also a chance to, presumably, score some power points because if Manchester is going to pick up some wins, then a win over a Group 3 school would be pretty significant for a Group 1 team like Keyport.