For four Shore Conference schools, the football season kicks off in just 19 days.  Those schools (Southern, Central, Toms River South and Donovan Catholic) have all chosen to begin their nine-game regular season schedule on Sept. 4.   Playing in what is called “Week Zero” gets you one or two bye weeks during the season depending on whether or not you play a Thanksgiving Week game, which Pinelands and Donovan Catholic both do.  Of course, it also means you have to be ready to play a game that counts before Labor Day, so you can be sure the coaching staffs are treating every practice and scrimmage with a greater sense of urgency than might be the case if they were starting a week later.

Pinelands-Donovan, 2014

Here’s a look at the two early openers on Friday, September 4:

Central      at      Southern

The Golden Eagles went 8-3 overall in 2014 under second-year head coach Willie Jacobs and surprised everyone by sharing the Class B South title with Barnegat while also winning their first state playoff game in 20 years.

Central’s championship season was fueled by junior running back/linebacker Mike Bickford, who rushed for a school-record 2,052 yards and 25 touchdowns while compiling 65 tackles and an interception on defense.  Also back is senior quarterback Mike Miserendino, who ran for 693 yards and 7 touchdowns and passed for another 8 TDs while making 66 tackles from his linebacker position.  Senior lineman Darius Marrow returns after earning All-Division honors last fall, although Central lost several outstanding linemen to graduation. Despite that, they clearly will be one of the favorites in the division.

Southern finished 5-5 last year and lost a pair of Class A South All-Division offensive linemen in Pat Ferraro and Clay Robinson.  However, senior Pat Walker leads a stable of athletic running backs and is coming off a season in which he rushed for 643 yards and scored 11 touchdowns while earning All-Division honors as a linebacker, where he made 60 tackles. Sophomore Joe Miele is back after leading the Rams with 80 tackles and 4 sacks, and battling for the starting quarterback job are juniors Jackson Donahower and Sam Camaratta.  In his 18th season at Southern and 42nd overall, Hall of Famer Chuck Donohue Sr. has a team that is athletic and boasts some speed, but is smaller up front than Rams teams of the past.

Donovan Catholic                  at      Pinelands

The Griffins are officially coming off an 0-10 campaign, as their season-opening win over Pinelands was later nullified because they used an ineligible player. Donovan lost their last two games by a combined six points, and you can bet veteran coach Dan Duddy is pointing to the season opener as a way to turn things around.  Senior David Calderon is back at quarterback and will be the key to the Griffins' option attack.  Among his top running backs will be seniors Alex Rosario and Dezmund Hunter, 6-foot-5 senior Taylor McShea is an impressive target when Calderon takes to the air.  Dillon Paprota and Zach Crosio will help anchor the offensive line and should be among the Griffins' top defensive players as well. Giancarlo Stigliano has a strong leg as both the kicker and punter.

In Brian Wilkinson’s second season as head coach, Pinelands improved from one to two wins and lost five others by eight points or less. The Wildcats' defense was especially impressive, but gone are two outstanding linemen in Joe Puggi and Dave DeFeo, along with leading rusher Jaylin Roman. Juniors David Fairl and Kyle Hreha will handle the bulk of the carries in Pinelands’ double-tight, double-wing formation and will run behind a big offensive line anchored by All-Division senior Max Schnepp and Cam Winter.  All four of those players will be counted on to lead the defense as well.