Developing depth is nothing new to Middletown South. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why the Eagles haven’t suffered a losing season since 1984.

NINETEEN...EIGHTY...FOUR!

That’s 35 years, folks, confirming that cultivating young prospects goes a long way toward sustained success. Head coach Steve Antonucci, who’s set to start his 22nd campaign guiding the Eagles, has no plans to change a formula that has yet to fail him. However, there are deeper reasons for developing substantial depth this fall. 

An 8-3 showing locked Middletown South into the American Division, where it went a pristine 5-0. However, the division has undergone a rousing realignment. Gone are Central, Freehold Twp. and Howell, replaced by Red Bank Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven and Long Branch. Their resumes? RBC won the Non-Public, Group 3 state title while RFH and Long Branch backed up sectional crowns by winning bowl championships.

Thus, depth is more important than ever for the defending American Division titlist to offset the potential onslaught of attrition bound to unfold in such a stacked field of contenders. Oh yeah, sprinkle in non-divisional encounters with St. John Vianney and Brick, the team that eliminated Middletown South, 42-14, in the semifinal stage of Central Jersey, Group 4, and one begins to see something missing from a taxing schedule.

A breather. 

“There is no place to hide,” said Antonucci of what lies ahead of the Eagles. “We have to fire on all cylinders every week and the next man up has to be ready mentality to fill some shoes. It’s going to be a challenge week in and week out. Not just for us, but for every team in the division. It’s the best schedule we’ve played in my 22 years.”

If any program has proven for decades it’s up to even the most mountainous of tasks, it’s Middletown South.  

From left to right: Tyler Cuccia, TJ Latore, Matt Krellin, Vin Condito and Chris Lotito of Middletown South

Player to Watch: Chris Lotito (Sr. RB/WR/S)

Lotito has signed to play baseball at Seton Hall, but not before finishing out a stellar career on the gridiron. A lockdown cornerback who’s been a fixture in the secondary since he was a freshman, Lotito will slide to the free safety, giving him ample opportunities to added to his interception collection and chances to deliver tackles over the middle or in support of the run defense. If ever there was a player suited to be a game-changing rover out of the defensive backfield, Lotito would be at the top of the list. 

“He’ll be our everything guy,” said Antonucci. “He has a tremendous work ethic and is a pleasure to coach.”

As good as Lotito is in coverage, he’s just as elusive shedding it in a pass route, a handy trait as he slides into the running-back rotation from wide receiver. 

Player to Watch, Part II: Vin Condito (Sr. RB/DT)

How many guys can fill the bill at running back...and defensive tackle? It’s exactly what makes Condito both unique and pivotal in the Eagles’ plans. At 5-9, 225, his low center of gravity and incredibly strong leg drives vaults underneath offensive linemen’s pads and turns them into helpless blocking sleds driven into the backfield. By the same token, Condito isn’t the back a linebacker wants to see bursting through the A gap, especially on short-yardage or goal-line situations. He is a bull determined to shatter every plate in the china closet when he sets his sights on a target. 

Player to Watch, Part II: TJ Latore (Sr. ILB/TE)

Latore will oversee the defense at inside linebacker. He's a big, strong hitter with football coursing through his veins who embraces the physicality involved and responsibilities. He will add depth at tight end while also serving as the long snapper on punts and kicks. 

Players Under the Microscope: Vinny Bonavita (Sr. QB) and Tyler Cuccia (Sr. QB)

Whoever emerges to seize the quarterback spot will be instantly thrust into the spotlight, having to compensate for the graduation of Trevor Brey. Bonavita and Cuccia share common strengths but also bring different dimensions; Bonavita a heady, methodical chain mover orchestrating the offense and Cuccia just as decisive with a slick running element to boot. There could be a chance each gets snaps early in the season until one seizes charge. 

Area of Strength: Defensive Secondary

Teams will think twice before testing this unit. Ballhawks abound within the tight-knit group. Chris Lotito and senior Matt Krellin sniff out routes and defuse them over the middle while Cuccia and fellow junior Luke Albrecht adhesively attach to wide receivers on the corners. This is not the secondary you want to test your luck against.

Middletown South will be successful if…

It can keep its players on the field. Antonucci stresses how the schedule can take its toll on a roster and test its depth chart if injuries occur. The Eagles have ample numbers, with some areas of the field deeper than others, but they can't afford significant pieces of the overall equation to miss prolonged time. 

Head Above Water

Antonucci loves the chance for the Eagles to clash weekly with the best in the Shore Conference. There is only one fear...doing enough just to qualify for the post season. 

“There will be no better-tested teams when the playoffs start than the ones in our league,” he said...with a catch. “You just have to hope you do enough to get there and show that.”

Cause and Effect

One way for Middletown South to enhance its chances of qualifying will be to induce turnovers. It has the defensive components in place to certainly make that a recurring theme. Juniors Brendan Bigos and Ian Cahill flank Condito on the nose and the trio can bring the type of pressure to collapse a pocket and force regrettable throws that can turn into a feeding frenzy for the Eagles’ advantageous secondary. Add in linebackers TJ Latore, Liam Murphy, Joe Stanzione, Shane Murphy and Francis Brown shooting through gaps or blitzing on the edge, and Middletown South has the dudes to stir up some mayhem. 

Serve and Protect

While some new components are expected to see duty in the backfield, those who will make their work a bit easier are a cohesive bunch. Seniors Tom Mielnikiewicz, Tyler Kline and Nick Bonfiglio anchor an offensive line that will also incorporate junior Alex Higgins, sophomore Jake Williamson, Latore and Cahill.  

AT A GLANCE

COACHING STAFF

HEAD COACH: Steve Antonucci, 22nd season

CAREER RECORD: 190-51

ASSISTANT COACHES:

Al Bigos (Def. Coordinator/Asst. Head Coach)

Nick Trezza (OL/Asst. Off. Coordinator)

Joe Trezza (RB/DB)

Steve Roberts (Special Teams.DL/WR)

Marc Tomo (LB/TE)

Jeff Martin (RB/DB)

Tuck Isherwood (Quality Control)

Rod Murchie (Freshmen)

Kevin Higgins (Freshmen/Strength and Conditioning)

John Kline (Freshman)

Stacy White (Athletic Trainer)

2018 RECORD: 8-3 (5-0 in American Division)

OFFENSE: Multiple

DEFENSE: 3-4

BIG SHOES TO FILL:  Vinny Bonivta (Sr. QB) or Tyler Cuccia (Sr. QB)

Whoever breaks camp with the position has the unenviable task of filling the void left by Trevor Brey. The Eagles feel both are more than capable of picking up the offense and making plays. 

X-FACTOR: Play our plan to defense.

Considering the wealth of top-shelf teams in the American Division, there is a slim margin of error to determine winning and losing. A veteran defense has all the tools to meet the rigors and turn the ball over to an offense intent on meticulously moving the chains while eating the clock.

IMPACT NEWCOMERS: Tommy Schork (So. WR/DB) and Jake Williamson (So. LG)

The Eagles’ staff is excited about the upside of Schork, who can gradually mature within the ranks of the wide receivers and secondary. At 6-2, 250, Williamson is already on track to be the next premier lineman churned out by Middletown South. 

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 6 vs Manalapan

Let’s get into it. Right off the bat, the Eagles roll into American Division play by hosting Manalapan, a team they edged, 17-14, last year in dramatic fashion when Chris Kaldrovics booted a 20-yard field as time expired. The game will be livestreamed on shoresportsnetwork.com. 

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