Still On a Mission: Mater Dei Prep 2019 Football Preview
One look at the stat sheet following last year’s NJSIAA Non-Public Group III championship game, and it was not hard to figure out why Red Bank Catholic was celebrating a state sectional championship and Mater Dei Prep left MetLife Stadium feeling like it let one slip away.
The Seraphs outgained the Caseys by a significant margin but turnovers and crucial third-and-fourth-down conversions by RBC proved the difference in a 14-10 classic between the two local non-public powers that had yet to meet during their recent runs of success.
“It was definitely heartbreaking,” senior wide receiver and Notre Dame commit Clarence Lewis said. “We know we could have won that game. It seemed like the turnovers were a big factor. We just have to come out this year ready to play better.”
With a new season ready to begin, Mater Dei is focused on getting back in position to win a second sectional championship in four years after coming up just short last year. The Seraphs graduated a number of standout players like linebackers Shitta Sillah and Russell Ferrisi, defensive lineman Izaiah Henderson, receiver Isaiah Alston and quarterback Rob McCoy from that team and are trying to get the replacements up to speed.
“We have just been taking it day-by-day, practice-by-practice,” senior running back Malik Ingram said. “We know what happened last year, we put it behind us and we’re just focused on correcting our mistakes and sharpening up everything and just playing together as a team.”
One new dimension to this year’s team is the change in offensive coordinator. After Lance Bennett accepted a position on the Miami Dolphins staff, veteran coach Mark Ciccotelli joined head coach Dino Mangiero’s staff as the new play-caller on offense. Ciccotelli has had successful head-coaching stints at Freehold Boro, Neptune and St. John Vianney and his most recent position was as head coach at Scoth Plains-Fanwood. Ciccotelli has earned a reputation as an offensive mastermind and he will have plenty of weapons at his disposal on his new team.
“He has a different way of coaching than Coach Bennett,” Lewis said. “We are focusing more on attention to detail and being more disciplined. We want everything perfect.”
Mater Dei is also gearing up to face a much tougher schedule now that it is part of the Shore Conference Colonial Division that includes St. John Vianney, Wall, Brick, Jackson Memorial and Freehold Boro. This year’s schedule will also include a trip to play defending Central Jersey Group III champion Rumson and a regular-season finale against perennial Group V contender Manalapan. Throw in a match-up against St. Thomas More of Connecticut and the scheduled, nine regular-season battles should prepare Mater Dei for the postseason.
“It’s taken time, we had to prove ourselves, but we’re starting to play better and better teams,” Lewis said. “We know the competition this year is going to be even better so we’re preparing ourselves, working hard every day.”
Player to Watch: Malik Ingram (Sr., RB, 5-8, 220)
If not for a monster 2,000-yard season by Long Branch’s Jermaine Corbett, Ingram would have led the Shore Conference in rushing as a junior with his 1,912 yards and would be the top returner back in the area by that number. The bruising back became the workhorse in the dynamic Seraphs' offense and will be even more central to Mater Dei’s success this season with a sophomore quarterback taking the reins.
“I’m a senior now so if I see a couple young guys slacking, I gotta get out of the young player's mindset and step up and be a leader,” Ingram said. “Everything on the field is the same. Just go out and play hard.”
Under the Radar Player: Isaiah Noguera (Sr., WR/DB)
Every great team needs players who can play several roles well and that has been Noguera’s calling card over the last two seasons. He was the team’s second-leading receiver two years ago as a sophomore and a key cog in last year’s defense that allowed 11 points per game. Noguera is now a senior leader as a safety on that defense, a reliable option for new quarterback Alex Brown and potential impact returner on special teams.
Top Units: Receivers and the Line
Despite a few noteworthy losses in each unit, Mater Dei remains strong up front and explosive on the outside on offense. At receiver, the Seraphs bring back Lewis to lead a deep roster at the position. Last year, Lewis caught 21 passes for 411 yards and six touchdowns as the team’s second-leading receiver.
Lewis will also play in the secondary as both a corner and a safety alongside Noguera, with senior Tahaj Parland and junior Elijah Johnston also getting time at corner.
On the line, the Seraphs bring back seniors Amir Coleman and Tajay Passmore at the two guard spots and will play juniors Rakim Cooper and Dom Giudice at the two tackle positions. Sophomore Vin Ciulla takes over at center after impressing Mangiero and his staff during the summer.
Coleman, Passmore and Cooper will be in the defensive line rotation as well on the inside, while Giudice will work in at defensive end.
Mater Dei will be successful if…
They can rise to the occasion against a much tougher regular-season schedule. Like most high school teams, the Seraphs have some holes to fill as a result of graduation, particularly at linebacker and quarterback. With that being said, Mater Dei still has a lot of talent left over from last year and some promising up-and-coming players as well to combine on what should be another successful season during this recent surge by the program.
In three years, Mater Dei has won a sectional championship, beat a powerhouse program on the road to reach another sectional final and come through in some exceedingly clutch situations. As a program, the Seraphs have proven they can perform on the big stage, but this year will test how well they can handle the grind of a season-long schedule worthy of their talent.
AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: Dino Mangiero, fourth season
CAREER RECORD: 20-4 at Mater Dei
2018 RECORD: 10-2 (5-0 in Patriot Division)
Mark Ciccotelli (Off. Coordinator/QB)
Jake Pew (Def. Coordinator/DB)
Shannon Hoadley (Def. Line)
Jesse Ascolese (Running Backs)
Ryan Daly (Linebackers)
Nick Tyson (Wide Receivers)
Taylor Groh (Off. Line)
Robert Dell’anno (Special Teams)
Naji Johnson (JV Head Coach)
Gary Lindor (JV Def. Coordinator)
Dan DeShong (Athletic Trainer)
BIG SHOES TO FILL: The Linebackers
The loss of Sillah and Ferrisi will be the hardest losses to overcome, in part because both made such a major impact at their respective positions – Ferrisi on the inside and Sillah on the outside – and also because the group replacing them is fairly inexperienced.
Junior Jahqual Talmadge leads the linebacking corps, which will be stocked with juniors. Senior Isaiah Walton will be part of the rotation as well, with juniors Khalal Elamin, Latrell Couchman and Piscataway transfer Isaiah Williams also lined up for snaps at the second level of the defense. Ingram could also provide a boost to the group of linebackers if he does play any snaps on the defensive side.
“I think we’re pretty solid on defense, especially on the line and in the secondary,” Lewis said. “Right now, we’re moving linebackers around to see where they fit because they are more new and they are all competing.”
X-FACTOR: Khurram Simpson (Sr., DL)
Although Mater Dei lost its most menacing edge-rusher in Sillah, it does return an experienced defensive player in Simpson who has a chance to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines. The James Madison commit has taken on a leadership role on the defense and with a quality group of lineman working in with him up front, Mater Dei should again be able to contain both quarterbacks and running backs alike at the line and in the backfield – a major asset for a team without a lot of experience at linebacker.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Alex Brown (So., QB)
After spending his first year of high school on the St. Peter’s Prep freshman team, Brown headed south for the Shore Conference and Mater Dei Prep, which had an opening at quarterback with the graduation of Rob McCoy. Brown is a well-regarded young prospect with budding FBS interest from the likes of Boston College and Rutgers, so the potential is there for him to step in and make an impact, especially with a lot of options at receiver and an established running game.
In each of Mangiero’s first three seasons, Mater Dei has had a polished high school quarterback ready to go, with George Pearson running the show in 2016 and 2017 and McCoy transferring from Camden Catholic for his senior year in 2018. Brown still has yet to take a varsity snap and has plenty of developing to do, but he is ready to take on whatever Ciccotelli and the offense throw at him.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 27 at St. John Vianney
Last year’s Non-Public Group III final marked Mater Dei’s first chance to show what it could do against another of the Shore’s power programs and while the Seraphs did not get the result they wanted, they proved they indeed belong in the conversation as one of the Shore’s top programs. After getting their first shot at RBC last year, this year offers a chance for the Seraphs to take on St. John Vianney, which is just two years removed from being the dominant team in the Shore Conference over a four-year period.
Part of that dominant run was with Ciccotelli as head coach and after a surprising parting between the two parties after the 2014 season, Ciccotelli will try to get some payback of sorts against his old team. Beyond that underlying story, Mater Dei’s Week 4 trip to Vianney marks the beginning of a six-week stretch of games that continues with Wall, Rumson-Fair Haven, St. Thomas More, Middletown North and Manalapan.