The Best of the Best: Honoring Those Selected for the 2021 All-Shore Gridiron Classic
When the All-Shore Gridiron Classic Committee made the difficult decision to cancel what would have been the 44th iteration of the Shore Conference’s high school football all-star game, the next step was to make sure the players selected to play in the game were more than just a name on a roster.
On Wednesday evening at Wall High School, Shore Sports Network and the Gridiron Classic Committee recognized the 97 players who were picked to play in the game along with the head coaches picked for both the 2020 and 2021 games. The players were presented with their game jerseys and the coaches were gifted commemorative plaques signifying their appointment to lead their respective counties in the Gridiron Classic.
“As a committee, as a group, with Shore Sports Network, we just felt like we had to get these kids together and had to give them something,” said Gridiron Classic Chairman and Manalapan head coach Dom Lepore. “Coming out of this Covid year and especially not playing the game last year we didn’t want to go two years in a row without doing something for these kids.”
Game sponsor Jersey Mike’s provided subs for all the attendees. The Jersey Shore institution has a long history of support in our local communities and with Shore Conference high school athletics. CEO Peter Cancro played high school football at Point Pleasant Beach and his son, Rob Cancro, was a standout defensive lineman for Wall who was a First Team All-Shore selection in 2002.
“This year’s game would have been sponsored by Jersey Mike’s and despite the cancellation, they continued their support by providing subs, chips and more to all the players, coaches and officials in attendance,” said Shore Sports Network Director Kevin Williams. “We are so appreciative of their support of the game and the Shore Sports Network, and offer our thanks to Peter Cancro, Mike Manzo and Jeff Hemschoot for stepping up once again. At the same time, special thanks to Mickey and the crew at the Jersey Mike’s in Wall for preparing the food for the evening.”
The coaches for the 2020 game were to be Toms River East head coach Kyle Sandberg and Wall head coach Tony Grandinetti. The 2021 coaches were to be Donovan Catholic’s Dan Curcione and Freehold’s Dave Ellis. Lepore, Sandberg, Curcione, Ellis, Wall assistant coach Chris Quinlan, and Williams each spoke to the players and highlighted what the game has meant to those involved over the years.
Grandinetti was unable to make the event because Wall was participating in a 7-on-7 tournament.
Sandberg (2005, Toms River East), Ellis (1997, Lakewood) and Curcione (1996, Brick Memorial) each played in the game as high school standouts and spoke of their experiences.
“There���s so much pride and tradition in the game,’ Lepore said. “It’s the longest-running all-star game in the state so we take a lot of pride in it as a committee. That’s the point we tried to stress to them, be proud you were picked to play in this game.
Among the players chosen for the game are 18 standouts who were SSN First Team All-Shore selections in 2020, including the SSN MVP Casey Larkin and Offensive Player of the Year Jahdir Loftland.
Larkin, who could not be present on Wednesday because he is already at West Point where he will play collegiately for Army, was a do-it-all player for Wall throughout his career and saved his best for last in helping deliver Wall an undefeated championship season. As a versatile defensive back, Larkin was both a shutdown cornerback and a playmaking strong safety, finishing with 32 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 5 passes defensed and 1 fumble recovery for a defense that allowed just 5.4 points per game and recorded four shutouts. As one of the Shore Conference’s best running backs, Larkin ran for 870 yards and 13 touchdowns on an average of nine yards per carry and also led Wall in receiving yards with four catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. Larkin concluded his career with 2,691 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns, 47 catches for 824 yards and six touchdowns, 119 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions and 16 pass breakups.
Loftland was Donovan Catholic’s running back and ran for 1,369 and 17 touchdowns on an average of 8.8 yards per carry for the No. 1 scoring offense in the Shore to help the Griffins go 7-1, finish No. 2 in the SSN Top 10 and finish No. 9 in New Jersey. He ran for over 100 yards in all eight of Donovan’s games, including 200-yard games against Southern and Brick and 127 yards against a Wall defense that had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in two years. Loftland performed great in Donovan’s most important games with a career-high 224 yards rushing in a win over Southern, 160 yards rushing in a win over Red Bank Catholic and 127 yards vs. Wall in the Shore Conference championship game. He also ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns on just five carries in a win over Toms River South. He will continue his career at Bluefield State College, a Division 2 program in West Virginia.
Toms River North quarterback Jake Kazanowsky led the Shore Conference in passing for the second consecutive season by throwing for 1,652 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 69 percent of his passes. He also ran for 372 yards and four touchdowns on an average of 8.9 yards per carry for a Mariners offense that averaged 22.6 points per game. His signature game came in Toms River North’s 42-40 win over Jackson Memorial when he completed 16 of 22 passes for 266 yards and a career-high five touchdowns and ran for a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. He will continue his career at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
Freehold Boro quarterback Sha’Kim Shuler was one of the Shore’s most electrifying players throughout his career. He had a tremendous senior season by passing and rushing for over 1,100 yards each in just eight games to lead Freehold to a 6-2 record and the No. 7 ranking in the Shore. Shuler completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,155 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions and ran for 1,206 yards and 15 touchdowns on an average of 7.4 yards per carry. He also had a kickoff return for a touchdown and on defense recorded 21 tackles with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He ran for over 200 yards three times, including rushing for 267 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries in a 40-37 win over Middletown North.
Jackson Memorial running back Will Towns was the 2020 Shore Conference rushing champion with 1,379 yards and 13 touchdowns on an average of 7.3 yards per carry to earn first-team All-Shore honors for the second straight year. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound standout ran for over 100 yards in six of eight games, including one 200-yard game and two 300-yard games. He added two receiving touchdowns. In a 42-40 loss to Toms River North, Towns ran for 300 yards and five touchdowns on 29 carries and also returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. He followed that performance with 232 yards and a touchdowns on 24 carries in a win over Brick. His sensational three-game stretch concluded with a career-high 303 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 26 carries in a win over Jackson Liberty. Over his three years, Towns totaled 3,243 yards rushing and 33 touchdowns. Towns will continue his career at Wake Forest University.
After battling injuries throughout his junior year, Rumson-Fair Haven running back John Volker stayed healthy and put it all together as a senior to earn a spot on the All-Shore first team. Volker ran for 1,184 yards and 16 touchdowns on an average of 7.7 yards per carry for a Rumson offense that averaged 29.3 points per game. The Bulldogs went 6-2, finished No. 5 in the SSN Top 10 and won their four-team pod with victories over Colts Neck and Freehold. Volker ran for over 100 yards in all eight of Rumson’s games, including a season-high 206 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-6 win over Middletown South. Incredibly, Volker scored on Rumson’s first offensive play in each of the first three games of the season, breaking a 65-yard touchdown run against Middletown North, a 56-yard touchdown run against Long Branch and a 56-yard touchdown run against Red Bank Catholic. Volker will continue his career in the Ivy League at Princeton University.
A two-time first-team All-Shore selection, Donovan Catholic wide receiver Jayon Farrar had his best season yet in his first and only season at Donovan Catholic after transferring from Long Branch. Farrar led the Shore in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns with 47 catches for 614 yards and nine touchdowns. He was also a weapon on jet sweeps with 144 yards rushing on an average of 6.5 yards per carry. On defense he added 22 tackles and three interceptions. Farrar’s top games came against Toms River East with eight catches for 154 yards and a touchdown and in a win over Red Bank Catholic with 10 catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-14 victory. His played helped the Griffins go 7-1, finish No. 2 in the SSN Top 10 and finish No. 9 in the New Jersey.
An All-Shore selection for the second consecutive season, Toms River North wide receiver Zac Browne was second in the Shore in receptions and yards with 42 catches for 606 yards and one touchdown for a Toms River North offense that averaged 22.6 points per game. His high-water mark was a 12-catch, 149-yard performance against No. 2 Donovan Catholic.
A two-way standout and one of Wall’s senior leaders, Wall lineman Grant Puharic’s play up front was one of the major reasons the Crimson Knights went 7-0, won the Shore Conference Championship Pod and finished No. 1 both in the SSN Top 10 and the final New Jersey state rankings. At left tackle, Puharic blocked for an offense thar rushed for 1,678 yards and 26 touchdowns and averaged 33.3 points per game. Along the defensive line, Puharic made 14 tackles with one sack, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery for a unit that allowed just 5.4 points per game and recorded four shutouts. Puharic will attend the United States Military Academy at West Point.
A 6-foot-5, 325-pound behemoth, Donovan Catholic’s Cam McNair was the top lineman for a powerful Donovan Catholic offense to earn first-team All-Shore honors for the second year in a row. McNair’s blocking paved the way for Offensive Player of the Year Jahdir Loftland to rush for 1,369 yards and 17 touchdowns and the Griffins to total 2,107 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns on an average of 263 yards per game. Donovan also had the No. 1 scoring offense in the Shore at 33.8 points per game. McNair even scored a rushing touchdown and chipped in on defense with 19 tackles and one sack. His play helped Donovan go 7-1, finish No. 2 in the SSN Top 10 and finish No. 9 in New Jersey. He will continue his career at Holy Cross.
Another two-time first-team All-Shore selection, Rumson-Fair Haven offensive tackle James Smith was the top lineman for a Bulldogs offense that averaged 29.3 points per game, ran for 1,652 yards and 23 touchdowns on an average of six yards per carry and totaled 309 yards of offense per game. His play in the trenches helped the Bulldogs go 6-2, finish No. 5 in the SSN Top 10 and win their postseason pod with victories over Colts Neck and Freehold. Smith will continue his career at Merrimack College, which plays at the FCS level in the Northeast Conference.
Raritan’s Luke O’Hea perfectly fit the definition of a utility player as he made contributions as a rusher, receiver and defensive back to lead the Rockets to a 6-1 season. As a slot back in Raritan’s option-based offense, O’Hea ran for 378 yards and eight touchdowns on an average of 9.95 yards per carry and caught 15 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns. On defense, O’Hea made a team-leading 60 tackles, intercepted a pass and scored a touchdown. His play helped Raritan close the season on a six-game winning streak and finish No. 10 in the SSN Top 10.
A four-year starter and a leader on Donovan Catholic’s stout defense, inside linebacker Dominick Nocero was a first-team All-Shore selection after earning third-team honors as a junior. Nocero tied for the team lead with 89 tackles and added three tackles for loss, three sacks and one forced fumble for a Griffins’ defense that was second in the Shore in scoring average at 8.1 points per game and posted two shutouts. He had 16 tackles in a 21-14 win over Southern and had eight tackles and three sacks in a 35-0 win over Toms River North. Nocero finished his career with 323 tackles, 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. He will play collegiately at The College of New Jersey.
A two-time first-team All-Shore selection, Donovan Catholic linebacker Quamire Green was a four-year starter for a program that ascended to the ranks of the elite in the Shore Conference. He tied for the team lead with 89 tackles this season to go along with four sacks, two tackles for loss and one fumble recovery for a defense that allowed just 8.1 points per game and recorded two shutouts. Green had double-digit tackles in five of eight games, including 15 against Brick and Wall and 12 against Southern and Brick Memorial. All four of his sacks came in the Griffins’ 35-0 win over Toms River North. He concluded his career with 364 tackles, nine sacks and one interception. Green will play a prep year at Myrtle Beach Prep this upcoming season.
Wall’s Logan Peters was a great two-way player and leader and was instrumental in the Crimson Knights authoring a perfect 7-0 season that included the Shore Conference Championship Pod title, the No. 1 ranking in the SSN Top 10 for the second year in a row and the No. 1 ranking in New Jersey. As a safety, Peters made 47 tackles with 2 interceptions, 5 passes defensed and 1 tackle for loss on an all-time defense that allowed just 5.4 points per game and recorded four shutouts. As Wall’s quarterback, Peters threw for 433 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 402 yards and six touchdowns to guide an offense that averaged 33.3 points per game. In addition to his football talents, Peters is also a standout basketball player and one of the best lacrosse players in New Jersey. He led the state in scoring this past season and is committed to continuing his lacrosse career at Rutgers University.
Rumson-Fair Haven safety Ryan Ruane was selected as the co-Defensive Player of the Year in his division by the coaches with another outstanding year to earn first-team All-Shore status for the second straight season. A versatile safety, Ruane recorded 54 tackles, intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble for one of the best defenses in the Shore. Rumson was fourth in scoring average allowing just 10.8 points per game and posting one shutout. His play helped the Bulldogs go 6-2, finish No. 5 in the SSN Top 10 and win their postseason pod with victories over Colts Neck and Freehold. Ruane will continue his career at Holy Cross.
Red Bank Catholic’s Anthony Borriello was both a standout cornerback and a dual-threat quarterback for a Caseys team that went 4-2, finished No. 3 in the SSN Top 10 and qualified for the Shore Conference Championship Pod. Borriello threw for 704 yards and six touchdowns and ran for 205 yards and a touchdown. On defense, Borriello had 27 tackles, three interceptions, a forced fumble and three passes defensed.
Manalapan’s Vincenzo Rea was one of the top all-around kickers in New Jersey. While he didn’t have the same field goal opportunities as last season when he was the first-team All-Shore placekicker, he was still an important weapon for the Braves despite their 2-4 season. Rea converted 16 of 18 extra points and kicked a 20-yard field goal. His only other attempt was from over 50 yards. He averaged 36.4 yards per punt with a long of 72 and two punts downed inside the 20-yard line. On kickoffs, 15 of his 26 kicks went for touchbacks. Rea will continue his career at Monmouth University.
The complete rosters for each team are as follows:
Head coach: Dave Ellis, Freehold
Mikai Brown-Jones, WR/DB, Asbury Park
Najier Massie, RB/LB, Asbury Park
Joe Barsky, RB, Colts Neck
Delano Marcelus, DL, Colts Neck
Matt Scully, WR/DB, Colts Neck
Nicholas Hall, OL/DL, Freehold
Brandon Kuse, WR/LB, Freehold Township
Sha’Kim Shuler, QB/DB, Freehold
Gary Alaimo, OL/DL, Holmdel
Christian Donnelly, QB/DB, Holmdel
Patrick Beltran, RB/LB, Keansburg
Brendan Flanzbaum, WR/DB, Keansburg
Troy Alvarez, QB/LB, Keyport
Andrew Conklin, LB/OL, Long Branch
Besean Fraser, WR, Long Branch
Gavin Claro, LB, Manalapan
Anthony Matrone, RB/WR/DB, Manalapan
Vincenzo Rea, K/P, Manalapan
Jack Collins, WR/DB, Manasquan
Nick Wright, QB, Marlboro
Nicholas Glende, OL/DL, Matawan
Khalil Elamin, LB, Mater Dei Prep
Quentin Soler, WR/DB, Middletown North
Brendan Bigos, DL, Middletown South
Matt Mauro, RB/DB, Middletown South
Joe Stanzione, TE/DL, Middletown South
Keontae Wiggins, RB/DB, Monmouth
Nino Bua, QB, Neptune
Chris Carasia, WR/DB, Ocean
Joe Teresi, OL/DL, Ocean
Paul DeFalco, OL/DL, Raritan
Luke O’Hea, RB/DB, Raritan
Anthony Borriello, QB/DB, Red Bank Catholic
Daniel Brewton, RB, Red Bank Catholic
Luke Guidetti, OL/LB, Red Bank Catholic
Owen Laughlin, QB/LB, Red Bank
Patrick Jamin, WR, Rumson-Fair Haven
Ryan Ruane, DB, Rumson-Fair Haven
James Smith, OL, Rumson-Fair Haven
John Volker, RB, Rumson-Fair Haven
Julian Young, LB, St. John Vianney
Shane McLaughlin, RB/DB, Shore
Cade Torres, K/P, Shore
Casey Larkin, RB/DB, Wall
Eddie Van Woudenberg, OL/DL, Wall
Grant Puharic, OL/DL, Wall
Logan Peters, QB/DB, Wall
Head coach: Dan Curcione, Donovan Catholic
Andrew Vernieri, DB, Barnegat
Terrence Stokes, OL, Barnegat
Akhi Barksdale, WR, Brick Memorial
TJ McArthur, LB, Brick Memorial
Evan Travisano, WR, Brick
Imeer Johnson, LB, Central
Ethan Capone, TE, Donovan Catholic
Jayon Farrar, WR, Donovan Catholic
Cam McNair, OL, Donovan Catholic
James Bivens, WR/KR/PR, Donovan Catholic
Jahdir Loftland, RB, Donovan Catholic
Dominick Nocero, LB, Donovan Catholic
Trevor Pruitt, DB, Donovan Catholic
Quamire Green, LB, Donovan Catholic
Evyn Menta, QB, Donovan Catholic
Matt Milone, OL, Jackson Memorial
Will Towns, RB, Jackson Memorial
Tyron Blackwell, LB, Jackson Memorial
Wally Doman, DB, Jackson Memorial
Sebastian Marc, OL, Jackson Memorial
Kai Blair, DB, Jackson Memorial
Gian Libassi, LB, Jackson Liberty
Tynan Jensen, RB, Lacey
Nick Povia, OL, Lacey
Nick Christina, DL, Lacey
Javon McDaniel, OL, Lakewood
Josh Glenn, RB/DB, Manchester
Gavin Clark, WR, Manchester
Nick Uberti, LB, Manchester
Tom Smith, OL, Manchester
Connor Harris, LB, Pinelands
Giuseppe Taurozzi, K, Point Beach
Pat Frawley, DL, Point Boro
Pat Fulginiti, OL, Southern
Xavier Hendricks, DB, Southern
Taylor Munt, QB, Southern
Jay Silva, TE, Southern
Yusuf Ahmed, LB, Toms River East
Nick Totten, DB, Toms River East
Mike Madera, DB, Toms River East
Jake Kazanowsky, QB, Toms River North
Zac Browne, WR, Toms River North
Zach Goodale, WR, Toms River North
Jordan Grey, RB/DB, Toms River North
Jack Huber, QB, Toms River South
Gerry Ferrigno, RB, Toms River South
Shane Watkins, OL, Toms River South
Travis Squire, RB, Toms River South
Ryan Tobin, LB, Toms River South
Tyler Madeo, WR, Toms River South
All-Shore Gridiron Classic