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At many points during the past several months, it was hard to imagine a football season this fall. But on Friday, Oct. 2, the 2020 Shore Conference high school football season will finally get underway. It’s a small victory in our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will be a very different season than what we’re used to, however. Teams will play a six- or seven-game regular-season schedule. Within the Shore Conference, there will be no divisions. There will be a postseason but don’t call it the playoffs. It will be just two games and will not crown state sectional champions.

What won’t change is the presence of the Shore Sports Network Top 10. We’re back once again to take our best shot at ranking the 10 best teams in the Shore Conference, and with no championships to play for, rankings may actually be a tangible reward for teams to play for. Four teams played for sectional championships last season and all four return as ranked teams to begin the 2020 season. 

Wall finished last season as the SSN Team of the Year and with most of the roster returning, the Crimson Knights will begin the year as the team to beat. After that, it’s many of the usual suspects, some of which will play each other during the year. Even though there are no divisions, many teams will have a chance to settle any debates on the field.

 

1. Wall (12-1). Final 2019 ranking: No. 1

Last season, Wall won the Central Jersey Group 3 title and the Colonial Division crown to start 12-0 before falling to Woodrow Wilson, 12-7, in the South Group 3 Regional Final. The Crimson Knights went from No. 9 in the preseason to No. 1 in the final poll, proving that it’s not where you start but where you finish. Wall has a loaded roster that includes quarterback/safety Logan Peters, running back/cornerback Casey Larkin, linebackers Charlie Sasso and Colin Riley, tight end Blake Rezk, linemen Grant Puharic, Brian Byrne and Eddie Van Woudenberg and several other standouts.

 

2. Toms River North (9-2). Final 2019 ranking: No. 2 

The Mariners came out on top and won the most difficult division in Shore Conference history by taking the American Division title over the likes of Rumson-Fair Haven, Middletown South, Red Bank Catholic, Long Branch and Manalapan. Senior quarterback Jake Kazanowsky, the reigning SSN Offensive Player of the Year, returns along with first-team All-Shore receivers Zach Goodale and Zac Browne, running back Jordan Grey and defensive end John O’Donnell.

 

3. Rumson-Fair Haven (6-5). Final 2019 ranking: No. 5 

Rumson reached its seventh consecutive sectional championship game last season but also failed to win at least nine games for the first time since 2012. A brutal schedule and injuries played a role in that, but the Bulldogs were still among the Shore’s best and that shouldn’t change this season, either. There are talented players up and down the roster including Princeton-bound running back John Volker, wide receiver Patrick Jamin, offensive tackle James Smith, defensive linemen Aiden Moriarty, Von Factor and Jack Kelly, linebackers John Lista and Ryan McKay and safety Ryan Ruane.

 

4. Mater Dei Prep (8-4). Final 2019 ranking: No. 3

The Seraphs reached their fourth straight state final last season but were unable to bring home the title in a loss to DePaul. Mater Dei lost some big-time players to graduation but should still be a formidable squad thanks to players like Michigan-bound defensive end Dominick Giudice, Kent State-bound receiver Naran Buntin and Temple-bound lineman Rakim Cooper, plus junior quarterback Alex Brown, wideout Kyree Drake, linebacker Jahqual Talmadge and cornerback Eli Johnston.

 

5. Donovan Catholic (9-2). Final 2019 ranking: No. 8

The Seraphs won the Liberty Division title, tied the school record for wins in a season and reached the Non-Public Group 3 semifinals last season. They had the No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 1 scoring defense in the Shore but were hurt by a lesser schedule than all of the other top teams in the Shore and lost their only marquee game against Red Bank Catholic. Their senior class features multiple three- and four-year starters such as linebackers Quamire Green and Dominick Nocero, wide receiver James Bivens, tight ends Ethan Capone and Levi Wilkins, lineman Cam McNair and running back Jahdir Loftland. They also welcome a pair of impact transfers in wide receiver Jayon Farrar and quarterback/safety Jalin Butler. The Griffins are clearly a team on the cusp of the elite, they just need a signature win.

  

6. Red Bank Catholic (5-4). Final 2019 ranking: No. 7

Red Bank Catholic came back to the pack one year after going 10-0 and winning the Non-Public Group 3 state title but remained a top-10 team thanks to ranked wins over Toms River North and Donovan Catholic. The Caseys graduated multiple key players, namely FBS tight ends Kevin Bauman (Notre Dame) and Charlie Gordinier (Boston College) but return first-team All-Shore defensive tackle Jake Louro, quarterback Anthony Borriello, tight end/defensive end Alex Bauman and receivers Lenny Loria and Joe Diorio. They also have a pair of impact sophomores in Sabino Portela and Najih Rahman. Former defensive coordinator Mike Lange takes over as the Caseys’ head coach.

 

7. Jackson Memorial (8-3). Final 2019 ranking: No. 4

Jackson has to replace several impact starters off the team that reached the Central Jersey Group 4 final last season, especially SSN Defensive Player of the Year Collin McCarthy (UConn), but returns some important members of their core. Senior running back Will Towns, who is committed to Wake Forest, leads the way along with receiver/safety Wally Doman, receiver/cornerback Jabari Lofton, tight end/defensive tackle Jaden Persichilli and linebacker Tyron Blackwell.

 

8. Manalapan (5-4). Final 2019 ranking: No. 6

The Braves have been entrenched in the top 10 for some time now, so despite losing a ton to graduation Manalapan gets the nod to start as a ranked team. Former defensive coordinator Dom Lepore takes over as the head coach and inherits a roster that includes running back/linebacker Ray Vender, receivers/defensive backs Anthony Matrone, Chris Marzo, Ethan Rodriguez and Paul Wojciechowski, lineman Mike Maksimik, defensive end Gavin Claro and All-Shore kicker Vincenzo Rea.

 

9. Middletown South (5-5). Final 2019 ranking: No. 9

To label Middletown South a potential surprise team seems kind of silly considering the program’s elite status in the Shore, but the Eagles find themselves in a position where their roster is talented yet filled with many unheralded players. After a 5-5 season last year, the Eagles will look to position themselves high in the rankings once again. Quarterback Tom Schork, running back Matt Mauro, tight end/defensive end Joe Stanzione, linebacker Liam Murphy and two-way lineman Brendan Bigos are among the key returners for Middletown South and head coach Steve Antonucci.

 

10. Southern (7-3). Final 2019 ranking: not ranked

The lone team in the rankings that didn’t finish last season as a top-10 team is Southern, which is coming off its best season since 2012 after going 7-3 and winning the Constitution Division title. Junior running back Jaiden Brown leads the way for a team that has multiple returning starters, including fullback/linebacker Nate Committee, fullback/linebacker Hank Gallacher, tight end/defensive end Jay Silva, wide receiver Xavier Hendricks, linebacker Steve Langton and two-way lineman Pat Fulginiti.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.