Reversal of Fortune: 2019 Howell Football Preview
Things got off to a flying start for Howell in 2018. A season-opening win against Central was the ideal result for a squad providing the encore to the cast that powered the Rebels to a 9-2 showing in ‘17.
However, what unfolded thereafter was a painful introduction to how quickly the tides can turn and how difficult it is to get out of a tailspin. Howell suffered nine consecutive losses, leaving a bitter taste the ‘19 installment is anxious to rinse clean.
How do the Rebels plan to stem the tide and construct a turnaround?
“Rise as one,” proclaimed Howell head coach Luke Sinkhorn. “We can’t do it with one or two guys. If everyone comes together, then they can get it done.”
Not a bad way to go, for it will take a unified effort and a strong belief in themselves for the Rebels to start ascending upward. The good news is that veteran pieces are in place to begin the revival, guys that are out to prove last year was unacceptable and that higher standards are in place and adhered to accordingly.
“We have a lot of younger guys who got experience last year,” noted Sinkhorn. “Now it becomes how much did you learn and how far have you progressed. This senior class is an interesting crew. Two years ago, when we had success, they benefited from that. They gave a good look as scout players. Last year, left a real bad taste in their mouth. They’re ready, they’re hungry and they have to rediscover how to win again.”
Plan on the Rebels overcoming the adversity endured, being better for it and finding more of a groove, particularly from moving out of the American Division and into the Constitution.
Player to Watch: Jason Caston (Sr. QB/S 6-0, 185)
Anticipate a far more polished version of Caston directing the spread. He endured some lumps as a junior, ones associated with first-year starters, but has learned from his miscues, devoted to converting past negatives into present positives. His reads off a defense are vastly improved and his quick feet make him a threat to be on the move.
“We’re relying on him with a year of experience under his belt,” said Sinkhorn. “He’s going to be better at taking the care of the ball because he’s smart with those reads.”
Caston also serves as a hard-hitting safety who tends to forget his offensive role when it comes to physical well being. Those who venture across his face must be prepared to feel his wrath. Howell will be particularly careful exposing Caston in too many precarious defensive spots to preserve his existence engineering the offense.
“It’s kind of a chess match with him,” added Sinkhorn. “If we run him a lot on offense, we don’t want to overextend him for defense and we have to pick our spots using him defensively as well. He responds real well on both sides."
If Caston needs a breather, senior Jonathan Vuoso waits in reserve as quarterback.
Player to Watch, Part II: Brandon Regins (Sr. LG/DE 5-10, 200)
Regins fires off the snap with an explosiveness that plays well on both sides of scrimmage. Quick to put whoever lines up across from him instantly on his heels, Regins' style is exactly what the Rebels want to see the rest of linemen emulate.
Player Under the Radar: Joe Berenger (Sr. RT/DE 6-3, 255)
A shot up in size, backed with increased confidence in his dual role, should launch the two-way lineman into brighter light. Berenger will be a sturdy pillar fending off the edge rush while hoping to overpower tackles when he sinks his fingers into the turf at defensive end.
Player Under the Radar, Part II: Mike Cincotta (Sr. WR/WS 5-6, 170)
One of the perks of running the spread is stretching a defense thin in terms of accounting for all threats. Cincotta can take advantage of any team willing to overlook him as the slot receiver, a trait he shares with senior Sean Murphy. His routes are sharp and he can sit under coverage as an outlet or turn upfield in an open seam.
Area of Strength: Offense
There may not be a rash of explosive playmakers capable of huge gains in the blink of an eye. However, the Rebels do have the means to deliver death by a thousand cuts to a defense that doesn’t pay them respect. Senior running back Vaughn Meehan doesn’t mind grinding out gains between the tackles or cutting to the outside and Caston has wide receivers Craig Iandoli, Murphy, Jake Davis and Cincotta along with tight end Hunter Lino to find open space to exploit.
Regins, Berenger and fellow senior Justin Wright (6-2, 265) are stalwarts on a good offensive line that will include junior Cole Iandoli (5-11, 190) and sophomore Matt Ioannides (6-1, 190).
Expect to see Howell move the ball far more briskly than a year ago.
Howell will be successful if…:
The returning players have short memories. What happened in ‘18 happened in '18...period. It’s time to turn the page with the understanding that despite a 1-9 showing, lessons were learned and now is the time for them to be implemented, telling signs of a team coming of age. It must eliminate excessive turnovers that hindered its cause while beginning to induce opponents into some of their own more frequently.
Pump the brakes
The season-opener on Sept. 6, when the Rebels entertain Toms River East, can’t get here fast enough. Howell is chomping at the bit to end a nine-game losing streak that came on the heels of kicking off ‘18 by toppling Central, 21-12.
Not only will Vaughn Meehan be the primary resource to the running game, the 5-9, 185-pound senior is a vital cog in the Rebels’ defense. His active work rate at outside linebacker thrusts him into the heart of the action continuously and he has the motor to stay in fifth gear at all times.
Sinkhorn can’t find enough adjectives to describe his value.
“He’s a tough, hard-nosed, old-school, throwback football player,” Sinkhorn detailed. “He got some time as a sophomore and got hurt in the middle of last season. We’re looking for him to do some things.”
Junior inside linebacker Nick Cerulli is another defender with a keen scent for finding the football. Teamed with Meehan and Cole Iandoli at the second level, Cerulli and company give Howell a sturdy backbone in the heart of the defense. All three close to the ball in a hurry.
Turn the tables
Howell paid the consequences for turnovers a year ago, but it can flip the script through its honed defense. Regins, Wright and Berenger can bring down some heat at the front of the 3-3, the linebackers are fierce and a secondary comprised of senior cornerbacks Kyle Tash and Trevor Curnal, senior strong safety Eli Guzman and junior Craig Iandoli at free safety is intent on making an opposing passing attack find an alternate route to move downfield.
Sinkhorn as long been a disciple of the 4-3 but Howell will go to a 3-3 Stack under new defensive coordinator John Hoehn, who comes in from South Brunswick.
AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: Luke Sinkhorn, 6th season (11th overall)
CAREER RECORD: 47-58
Bob Mussari (Ass. Head Coach/OL/LB)
Joe Santopietro (Off. Coordinator/QB/C)
John Hoehn (Def. Coordinator/RB/S)
Nick Farrar (WR/LB)
Dylan Hroncich (OL/DL)
Amy Ghione (Athletic Trainer)
2018 RECORD: 1-9 (1-4 in American Division)
DEFENSE: 3-3 Stack
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jason Caston (Sr. QB)
Oddly, the shoes are his own considering he was the starting QB a year ago. Yet, Caston has the tools to put a different design on them. With a season running the system on his internal hard drive, Caston anxiously awaits to reveal a far different and more productive look from the offense.
X-FACTOR: The culture
Head coach Luke Sinkhorn has repeatedly implored his players about the means to reinstitute winning ways for the Rebels after a 1-9 showing in 2018. He wants all to share in his belief that an immediate turnaround is attainable if everyone rallies behind each other.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Nick Cerulli (Jr. RB/LB)
Cerulli got acclimated to varsity as a sophomore, playing some linebacker. This fall, he’s rooted as the starting Mike backer in a new 3-3 Stack scheme as well as someone to keep an eye on within the rotation of running backs.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 6 vs. Toms River East
The season opener a year ago was a 21-12 victory over Central. However, the good vibes of a great start were doused by the pain of nine straight ensuing losses. The Rebels yearn to end that bitter streak.