Steadying the Ship: Keyport 2019 Football Preview
In his three seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Keyport football team, Jason Glezman worked under two head coaches and after Andy Carlstrom stepped down after just one season following the 2018 campaign, it looked like it would be three in four years.
Instead, Glezman got the head-coaching job and now his big change for the program is cut back on all the change.
Just three years removed from a 10-2 season and a trip to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I championship game, the Red Raiders are looking not only to put back-to-back losing seasons behind them but also to start a sustained run of success under a head coach who plans on establishing stability at the top.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Glezman said. “I call Keyport a home now. We just want to bring consistency, that’s what these kids need. They need to know we are going to be here, this is what we are going to be doing, and if we stay true to what we want to do, then the success will come.”
Keyport and Glezman have a great opportunity to get off on the right foot this season with an experienced group of two-way linemen and a young-but-experienced crop of talent in the passing game and secondary. A more forgiving schedule that includes two games each against Keansburg and Point Pleasant Beach will also give Keyport a much better chance to finish with a winning record.
“We are just focusing on the task,” Glezman said. “We are a small team in a small group and we’ve got small goals. Those small goals hopefully lead to something big.”
Player to Watch: Devon Meza (Sr., OL/DL, 6-4, 265)
Every now and again, a Group I school gets a player that has the ability to overwhelm the competition and Meza is that kind of force for the Red Raiders. The senior tackle is heading into his fourth year starting and enters the season with offers from top FCS programs, as well as interest from Rutgers.
“He is as noticeable a lineman as you will see in the Shore, whether Group I or Group V,” Glezman said. “He works his butt off, his motor is non-stop. It’s fun to watch him play and he is not a big vocal guy, but the kids see what he does on film and what he does in practice and they want to follow that. They want to be what Meza is. He’s just awesome. I can’t say enough about him. He is an absolute stud.”
Meza is the lone player on this year’s Keyport squad who was a freshman starter on the 10-2 team that lost to Asbury Park in the 2016 CJ I championship game and is hoping to bookend his career with another serious championship push.
“There is definitely a different work ethic (this year),” Meza said. “Compared to last year, everyone wants to work hard and everyone knows what needs to be done. Everybody wants to play late into the season so we can potentially make it to a bowl game and all of that.”
Under the Radar Player: D.J. Thomson (So., WR/DB, 6-3, 160)
With the Red Raiders looking to open up the playbook for quarterback Troy Alvarez and put the ball in the air more often, its athletic group of receivers should do some more damage over the course of the schedule this year. Thomson is a sophomore with size and athleticism whose older brother, Alex, was a standout at Keyport and played quarterback at Marshall. Glezman and his staff are hoping for a similar impact from the younger Thomson over the next three years after making his presence known as a freshman.
Top Unit: Offensive line
Not only does Keyport have Meza to lead the way – it has two other standout senior starters in Michael Abbatte and Anthony Gonzalez who have both started on the line in each of the past two seasons. New starter Nick Wroblewski is also a senior with some size (6-0, 250) and junior Dylan Burns and senior Vinny Zhou will see time at the last spot on the line.
“These other guys, Anthony Gonzalez, Michael Abbatte – these guys have been starting on the line since they were sophomores, so they know what it takes,” Glezman said. “I didn’t have to do anything other than say, ‘This is what we need to do.’ Those guys – Meza, Gonzalez and Abatte – they took charge.”
The experienced line group will be challenged by having to play two ways and by doing a lot more pass-blocking. The first challenge is not a new one for the Red Raiders but the second one could take some adjusting after three years of a run-heavy offense.
“We’re used to the run game – just smashmouth football where we are driving it down their throat,” Meza said. “Passing with our quarterback opens up a lot. We can be more of a 50-50 team now and that will really keep the defense on their toes.”
Keyport will be successful if…
Establish an offensive identity. The strength of the line and athleticism of the skill players should make the Red Raiders a capable defensive unit. On the other side of the ball, the tools are there to be an effective offense as well but it will require some things to go right.
Keyport is replacing a steady tailback in Devin Wollner while also moving to a more balanced run-pass attack. That means not only will Keyport need to replace tailback production but it will need Alvarez to take the passing game to the next level.
“Some people might say we are inexperienced but we’ve got guys on the perimeter that can do some things - four or five guys that, if they get the ball, they can do some big things,” Glezman said. “We don’t have that one guy, but we have a lot of dudes.”
AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: Jason Glezman, first season
CAREER RECORD: 0-0
2018 RECORD: 3-6 (3-3 in National Division)
Angelo Marocco (Off. Coordinator)
Steve Brower (Special Teams/WR/DB)
Jimmy Maguire (Runnings Backs/Linebackers)
Pete Miller (Quarterbacks/Linebackers)
Tyler Alvarez (Off/Def Line)
Jerry Hourihan (Off/Def Line)
Kelly O’Donnell (Athletic Trainer)
OFFENSE: Shotgun Spread
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Sean Lachky (Jr., RB/LB) and Matt Russo (Sr., RB/LB)
Wollner racked up 873 rushing yards and six touchdowns as a senior last season and while Keyport is going to try to lean more on its passing game to make up for it, the Red Raiders will still need to establish a ground attack. Lachky and Russo will be the leading candidates to roll up yards on the ground and with an experienced offensive line paving the way, the one who wins the lion’s share of the carries will have every opportunity to have a productive season on offense.
X-FACTOR: Troy Alvarez (Jr., QB/DB)
The coaching staff is ready to fully turn the offense over to Alvarez after he got acclimated as a sophomore first-year starter at quarterback last year. The junior has a strong arm and mobility and if he can get the ball to his weapons – Thomson, Lachky, Russo, Chris Johnson, Zach Connallon, Jake Ferrara and John Lachky – Keyport should take a big step forward.
“We think Troy has got a great arm, he’s got a great understanding of the offense and he’s got great receivers that can catch,” Glezman said. “So we’re going to try to expand the offense and attack the perimeter.”
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Chris Johnson (Sr., WR/DB)
With more passing plays in Keyport’s plans, the Red Raiders will need a second receiving option to go with Thomson. Johnson joins the fray as a senior this year and has carved out a spot at wideout. Given that he is the senior in the group, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him become a go-to target for Alvarez.
PIVOTAL GAME: Nov. 2 vs. Keansburg
The second meeting between the neighboring rivals will be the one that counts toward the division standings, so if all goes well for Keyport, there could be something riding on the regular-season finale for both teams. Even if there is not, one of these two teams will be going for a rare season-sweep of the other while the other tries to salvage a split – both of which are the kind of incentive that makes a rivalry game even more intense.
“The Keyport-Keansburg games, since I have been here, have been some of the most fun games to coach,” Glezman said. “Same thing with Point Beach – we have had a lot of good back-and-forth with them. I like coaching football and these guys like playing games against teams that we consider a rival so I think it’s a fun experience.”