Rising Sun: 2021 Asbury Park High School Football Preview
Youth and inexperience may be a reason for some programs to temper expectations within a given season, but that is not and has not been the case at Asbury Park in recent years. Whether or not the Blue Bishops have been loaded with seniors or breaking in a new core of underclassmen hasn’t necessarily made or buried their prospects in a given year.
It helps when the young players that emerge within the program can play like Asbury Park’s current quarterback, Jai’Sun Brown. A starter since his freshman year, Brown is at the center of what Asbury Park will try to do to opponents and the hope among second-year coach Nick Famularo and his staff is that the Brown’s presence will help ease the transition for Asbury Park’s many new starters.
“I don’t care whether it’s a small school or a big school or a powerhouse; for a player to do what (Brown) did as a freshman and sophomore is impressive,” Famularo said. “When you consider that he did it at quarterback, it’s even more impressive. For him to have accomplished what he already has before his junior year, it’s exciting to see where he can take it.”
Coming off a 4-2 showing in a shortened 2020 campaign, the Blue Bishops will have a lot of openings to fill, but one very important one occupied by Brown. As a perennial Group I contender with a standout at quarterback, Asbury Park has to be considered among the championship hopefuls from the Shore Conference.
“The expectations are the same,” Famularo said. “We have a proven quarterback, some good seniors and some young cats on the line. They are working hard and we’re going to go as far as they can take us.”
Asbury Park at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter; Third-Year Starter)
QB: Jai’Sun Brown, Jr., RS
RB: Knasir Alston, Sr., 3RS
RB: Ja’Shawn Carter, Jr.; Iquann Crawford, So.
WR: Lydell Brown, Sr., 3RS
WR: Jamour Ellis, Sr.; RaLee Stephens, So.
TE: Tajere Burress, Sr.
LT: Darren Bacote, Jr.
LG: Elijah Drake, Jr.
C: Fakhir Hercules, So.
RG: Y. Johnson, Jr.
RT: Josh Handy, Sr., RS
DE: Josh Handy, Sr., RS
DT: Darin Bacote, Jr.
DT: Shaki Ford, Jr., RS
DE: Razhon McNeil, So.
OLB: Tajere Burress, Sr.
MLB: Iquanne Crawford, So.
OLB: Ja’Shawn Carter, Jr.
CB: Lydell Brown, Sr., RS
CB: Jamour Ellis, Sr., RS
SS: RaLee Stephens, So.
FS: Knasir Alston, Sr., 3RS
K: Jai’Sun Brown, Jr.
P: Ja’Shawn Carter, Jr.
Head Coach: Nick Famularo, second season
Career Record: 4-2
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Lamar Davenport (Off. Coordinator/CB), Chris Demorist (Def. Coordinator/RB), Ikie Calderon (Special Teams/RB/S), Matt Ardizzone (QB/ILB), Rob Ward (OL/DL), Keith Killea (WR/OLB), Nancy Saphow (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Jai’Sun Brown, Jr., QB
Still only a junior, Brown is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the Shore Conference and it shows both on film and in the numbers. He is a dual threat who already has a good feel for the finer points of the position, which show in his 14 touchdowns against only four interceptions last season, as well as a 61 percent completion percentage. Brown’s 1,508 passing yards were good for fifth in the conference and those 14 passing touchdowns ranked No. 2 in the Shore Conference.
“The ceiling is extremely high,” Famularo said of Brown. “Expectations are through the roof. That might be pressure for some guys but he has already shown he can do it. I’m expecting him to take the leap this year.”
Player Under the Radar: Josh Handy, Sr., RT/DE
The offensive and defensive lines will be where Asbury Park is the least experienced, but the return of Handy to both should help solidify both fronts as the new blood catches up. Junior Darren Bacoute will play both ways and classmate Shaki Ford is a returning starter on the defensive line, but it will be Handy holding it down on both sides in order for the offensive line to protect Brown and the defensive line to cause chaos.
“Josh Handy is the only guy back, so it’s going to be a young line,” Famularo said. “Josh is a leader and he has been through the battles before so having him with those young guys every day in practice is huge for them.”
Impact Newcomer: Iquann Crawford, So., RB/MLB
Although Asbury Park will have a young squad, the freshman class likely won’t have an instant-impact players to give the varsity lineup, at least not right away. The sophomore class, though, does have some potential impact, particularly with a pair of playmakers in Crawford and RaLee Stephens. Stephens played some last year and will be a key receiver and defensive back, but Crawford was extremely limited in his playing time as a freshman. This year, thought, Crawford has returned as one of the programs most improved players and could find himself with a significant number of carries on offense, not to mention his work at middle linebacker.
Top Position Group: Secondary
With Brown calling the signals, the quarterback position is probably Asbury Park’s best, but the secondary deserves some light shined upon it for its talent and experience. Lydell Brown, Jamour Ellis and Knasir Alston are all returning seniors within the group and Stephens is an impact newcomer at strong safety. Alston is also a key cog in the offense as the projected starter at tailback and Ellis will be among Brown’s options at receiver.
Big Shoes to Fill: Lydell Brown, Sr., WR/CB
One of the reasons Brown could but up such gaudy numbers as a sophomore was because he had an All-Shore senior receiver in Mikai Brown-Jones. With Brown-Jones gone, it will be up to the remaining receivers to step up and for Brown to develop a connection with them. Brown is the experienced senior in the group, so he will be the leading candidate to emerge as a dependable target, although Ellis, Stephens and tight end Tajere Burress are all capable of picking up the slack as well.
Getting a host of underclassmen and under-experienced juniors up to speed will be a challenge for Famularo and his staff, but they have some things going for them. Brown at quarterback and a history of plugging young players in with a degree of success are two of them and another is that other small-school teams at the Shore are also undergoing something of a youth movement as well.
Thursday, Sept. 2 vs. Red Bank, 6 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 10 at Shore, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 vs. Point Beach, 6 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24 vs. Jackson Liberty, 6 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 at Barnegat, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 9 at Manchester, 1 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 25 vs. Neptune, 10 a.m.