Succession, Not Regression: 2019 Brick Township Football Preview
Over the last three seasons, Brick was guided by a special 2019 class which made its mark on the program. The Dragons won 22 games between 2016 and 2018 and reached two NJSIAA sectional championship games with players like Jimmy Leblo, Cole Groschel, Richie Tallmadge, Cory Englehardt and Joey Carchio leading the way. That era of Brick football has come to an end.
While the Dragons bid a fond farewell to that group, they have not resigned themselves to a rebuilding year. Despite needing to replace a boatload of impact players, Brick still has its sights set on competing for division and state titles in 2019.
Even with the big names who matriculated out of the program, Brick returns a handful of impact players they hope will guide the newcomers and galvanize one of New Jersey’s most storied programs. Senior Anthony Prato is back at quarterback to lead the offense along with running back Joey Armooh, wide receiver Val Grigorian and an experienced offensive line that brings back four of five starters. The defensive side of the ball is more of a question mark, but experience returns in the trenches.
Brick’s schedule is different than last year but no less difficult. Seven of the Dragons’ eight regular-season opponents were playoff teams a season ago, including all five teams – Mater Dei Prep, Wall, Jackson Memorial, Freehold and St. John Vianney – they will oppose in the revamped Colonial Division.
Player to Watch: Anthony Prato, Sr., QB/DB/P
Brick used both Prato and Jimmy Leblo at quarterback last season, but this season it will be Prato’s show to run by himself. Last season, he threw for 629 yards and seven touchdowns on fewer than 100 attempts, showcasing an ability to make plays from the pocket and on the run while also proving to be a capable runner. Prato will also see his defensive role increase as Brick’s starting free safety and will once again serve as the Dragons’ punter.
Player Under the Radar: Val Grigorian, Sr., WR/DB
Grigorian is among Brick’s most experienced returning skill players and is the top returning wide receiver on the team. He gives quarterback Anthony Prato a veteran presence in the passing game. Grigorian will also step into a starting role in the secondary at cornerback.
Top Unit: Offensive line
If coaches had a choice as to which position group they’d want to have the most returning starters, almost all of them would likely pick the offensive line. Brick has a lot of holes to fill off of last season’s roster, but the offensive line is not one of them. Seniors John Costanza (6-4, 240) and Max Zdanowicz (5-7, 210) and sophomore Darian Newcomb (6-2, 240) were consistent starters last season and will return at left tackle, center and right guard, respectively. Senior Tyler DeTata (5-7, 195) started three games and will take over the permanent spot at left guard and senior Ian Gellner (6-2, 210) will start at right tackle after rotating in along the defensive line last season. They’ll be tasked with protecting Prato and opening holes for seniors Joey Armooh and Conner Valiant. Armooh started the first five games last season when Joey Carchio was injured.
Brick will be successful if…
Its first-year starters can step in and make an immediate impact, especially on defense where just three starters return. The defensive line in Brick’s 4-3 alignment has Costanza, Gellner and Newcomb as defensive ends with Zdanowicz, senior Jared Keefe (5-8, 180) and senior Hao Tang (6-0, 210) as defensive tackles. Junior Declan Decoursey and DeTata are at middle linebacker with sophomore Riley Bell (5-8, 160), senior Dan Scheri (5-7, 160) and Valiant in the mix at outside linebacker. The secondary has Grigorian and senior C.J. Lavarin, who transferred from Brick Memorial, as the cornerbacks with Prato as the free safety and sophomore Tyler Weisnick and junior Joaquin Ragland working at strong safety.
At a Glance
Head coach: Len Zdanowicz, fifth season
Career record: 30-14
2018 record: 8-3 (3-2 in Colonial Division)
Assistant coaches: Brian McNamara (def. coord./DB), Andrew Cruz (OL), Dennis Filippone (OL), John Dolan (WR), Dave Christopher (RB), Al Saner (off. asst.), Chris Blackburn (DL), Chad Dougherty (LB), George McNamara (def. asst.), Kurt Weiboldt (special teams), Don Marino (head freshmen), Jay Groschel (freshmen def. coord.), Scott Karos (freshmen), Dan Dornacker (freshmen), Wayne Neidermier (freshmen), Jim Barber (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Declan Decoursey, Jr., LB and Tyler DeTata, Sr., LB
There are a number of players who will be stepping into roles occupied by a member of Brick’s tremendous 2019 senior class. Decoursey and DeTata are both in the mix at middle linebacker, which was a position manned by First Team All-Shore selection Richie Tallmadge for the last two seasons.
The Dragons have just three starters back on defense and will have to replace mainstays like Richie Tallmadge, Cole Groschel, Jimmy Leblo, Cory Englehardt, Joey Carchio, Mike McGuigan and more. How quickly the first-year starters come along will be a huge determining factor in Brick’s success.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: C.J. Lavarin, Sr., WR/DB
Lavarin transferred from Brick Memorial and gives the Dragons a veteran at both wide receiver and defensive back. He had two touchdowns, one interception and one fumble recovery last season.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 14 vs. Brick Memorial
There are several games on Brick’s schedule that could turn the tide one way or the other, but as long as the Mustangs and Dragons play each other, this will be the game to watch. Brick has won six straight games against Brick Memorial, including a 30-7 victory last season. For the first time since the game moved from Thanksgiving to the regular season, it won’t be the season-opener for either team. Brick Memorial opens with Jackson Memorial and Brick takes on Mater Dei Prep in Week 0.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.