The Long Blue Line: 2018 Manasquan Football Preview
To get a sense of the confidence Manasquan enters the 2018 season with, savor this line from senior linebacker Jack Fabean.
“I think eight shutouts is the school record, so we want nine,” Fabean said. “Anything short of that – I don’t think we’re going to be mad, but that’s what we want.”
With a large and experienced senior class and a burning desire to get back to the top of the mountain, Manasquan is out to bring another championship to one of the most storied programs in the Shore Conference. The Warriors have lofty goals and the pieces in place to attain every one of them.
“This senior class, we really want to leave our mark and put another football up on the board,” said senior running back/linebacker Canyon Birch.”
“I feel like we can be great as long as we keep working,” said senior defensive end Dylan D’Anton.
Coming off a 7-4 season in which they reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals, the Warriors would rather have a repeat of the 2016 season when they secured the program’s 12th sectional championship. This year’s seniors were sophomores then, and some of them saw enough time to get a grasp on what it will take to win another championship.
“It was awesome for us to be sophomores and experience that,” Birch said. “It really gave us a feeling for what it’s like and what it’s all about. It puts us in a mode to work harder because there’s nothing like winning a state championship.”
Manasquan returns seven starters in its multiple-I offense, which averaged 22.3 points per game last season. At the core of the program is a downhill, power rushing attack, and the Warriors have the personnel to excel at it. Birch and senior fullback Rashid Tuddles return after each saw time at fullback last season. Birch was the main fullback behind tailback Connor Morgan, who posted consecutive 1,300-yard seasons. Birch ran for 457 yards and six touchdowns last season.
“Last year we had Connor Morgan at tailback and he had a very successful season, so to replace him and have this position, to try to continue the legacy of running backs and the power offense we have, is a tremendous honor.”
Up front, Manasquan brings back four of five starters with senior Art Foreman at left tackle, senior Mike LaPoint at left guard, senior Alec Wells at center and senior Anders Scala at right guard. Junior Charlie Sawitsky is battling for the starting job at right guard, however, and senior Joe McKiever could also see time. Senior Garrett Terlizzi is poised to take the starting job at right tackle.
Senior James Pendergist returns as a starting wide receiver after hauling in 17 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns last season. He’ll be joined by fellow seniors Matt Lyons and Riley Callahan. Senior Mike Page is at tight end with Fabean and junior John Foreman also slated to see time there.
Senior Ryan O’Leary is set to take over at quarterback with junior Cam Teza and sophomore Jack Collins also at the position. O’Leary will be tasked with managing the game, taking care of the football and keeping defenses honest by complimenting Manasquan’s rushing attack. If he can do those with consistency he’ll be everything the Warriors need.
“One thing I told him was he’s not going to lose a game throwing it out of bounds,” said Manasquan head coach Jay Price. “We have to take care of the football.”
Manasquan’s defense was one of the Shore’s best last season in posting four shutouts and finishing No. 2 in scoring defense at 12.2 points per game. Seven starters return in the Warriors’ 3-4 alignment along with a few more players who saw significant action. Price is excited about the defensive line where D’Anton is at defensive end, Foreman is at defensive tackle and Wells is at nose tackle. All three are returning starters while Scala split time last season and now steps in as a starting defensive end. D’Anton and Foreman each registered 4.5 sacks last season.
“When you have guys who have seen things in the trenches they can only make everybody behind them better,” Price said. “Having a kid like Foreman and having a kid like D’Anton – the good thing is they’re back and experienced but nobody knows the work they put in since last year. They are totally different human beings than they were in December and it shows in everything they do.”
Fabean returns as middle linebacker after making a team-high 78 tackles and recording three sacks last season. LaPoint will be the strongside linebacker and Birch will be the weakside linebacker with sophomore Shayne Leddy ready to step in should he need a breather. Junior Tyler Callahan is the backup middle linebacker. With his combination of physical skills and mental aptitude, Fabean is an indispensable player for the Warriors’ defense.
“He’s always had great spatial awareness and an understanding of, not just Xs and Ox, but Xs and Os in movement,” Price said. “It’s one thing to look at it on the board but it’s another thing to know where that X is going, and he’s always been a savant like that. It’s like having a coach on the field.”
In the secondary, Pendergist is a returning starter at cornerback where he had four interceptions last year, and Tuddles is a three-year starter at strong safety. Lyons is the other corner opposite Pendergist and Page will step in at free safety after seeing time at strong safety last season.
Pendergist was the kicker last season and converted 21 of 26 extra points and also booted a 24-yard field goal. He will also assume the punting duties this fall.
After competing in the rough and tumble Class B North division the last two seasons, Manasquan will now contend in the Liberty Division with Point Boro, Raritan, Colts Neck, Neptune and Monmouth Regional.
When the divisions were announced one team immediately caught the attention of Manasquan’s players: Point Boro. Then, when the schedule was released and they saw the would play the Panthers first, it was like being granted a wish. The former Thanksgiving rivals met last season with Point Boro taking a 27-6 victory in the Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals.
“The Point Boro game is definitely going to have more to it,” Birch said. “Last year getting knocked out by them in the semifinals really took away from our season. We thought we had a good chance of making it back to a state championship and we didn’t play our best. This year we need to come out and show everybody what Manasquan football is about.”
“I was so happy to see Point Boro as the first game,” D’Anton said. “I feel like this game can really set the tone for the season. You win this game and you get the confidence rolling forward.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Jay Price, eighth season.
Career record: 45-30
2017 record: 7-4 (3-3 in B North)
Coaching staff: Lou Certo (def. coordinator); Brian Lee (QB); Bill Bertscha (OL); Darrell Falkinburg (RB); Jay Price Sr. (DB); Bryan Price (DB); Matt Voskian (DL); Eric Howland (LB); Rich Griffith, Ed Kapalko (freshmen); Kevin Hyland (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Joe McKiever and Garrett Terlizzi, Sr., OL
Terlizzi will start at right tackle and McKiever could see time at right guard as the offensive line looks to replace standout Evan Hilla, who was a Class B North All-Division selection last season.
X-FACTOR: Quarterback play
Manasquan doesn’t need first-year starter Ryan O’Leary to win games by himself, but he does need to manage the game and play within the system. If he emerges as a stable and consistent player the Warriors will be a championship contender.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Matt Lyons, Sr., WR/DB
Lyons will be a starter on both sides of the ball at wide receiver and in the secondary as a cornerback.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 7 at Point Boro
The Warriors have been eager for a rematch against the Panthers since losing in last year’s Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals. It’s also a division game and one that could very well decide the Liberty Division championship.
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.