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Dan Curcione took over a Donovan Catholic program in 2017 that had bottomed out. The Griffins went 0-10 in both 2014 and 2016 with a four-win season sandwiched in between.

Curcione had just won a state title at Wall and the move to the parochial school in Toms River was a head-scratcher to many. However, along with offensive coordinator Chip LaBarca Jr. they saw the potential for success and what has happened on the field since has put the program on the football map. Donovan Catholic went 4-6 in Curcione’s first season, improved to 7-3 in 2018 and produced a 9-2 mark last season, which included the Liberty Division title along with a state playoff victory. With 15 starters back from a team that finished No. 8 in the final SSN Top 10 the Griffins should be a force again, but don’t expect the goals to have changed.

“My philosophy has never changed in that I don’t set lofty goals at the start of a season,” Curcione said. “At the end of the season, I want to look at the film of our very first practice and then compare it to our last game. If we have improved during that time then everything else takes care of itself. We sure we want to win titles and take extra steps from the year before but that’s not what determines success, it’s the ability to improve throughout the season.”

Photo by Richard O'Donnell

With no division title to compete for this season, each Friday night will be an opportunity for Donovan Catholic to show how far the program has come. The major criticism they have faced had to do with their schedule as they dominated division opponents last fall while losing to Red Bank Catholic and DePaul, the top two teams on their schedule. This season, the Griffins only leave Toms River for a Week 4 visit to Brick as they stay close to home and take on teams that comprised much of the old Class A South division.

The good news is that the Griffins have a roster that can play with anyone in the Shore. They have to replace All-Shore quarterback Ryan Clark, who graduated as one of the greatest players in school history. His back-up, senior Evyn Menta gets the first shot because newcomer Jalin Butler, a junior has to sit out two games following a transfer from Neptune. Either one has loads of weapons in senior running backs Jahdir Loftland, Quamire Green Dominick Nocero and junior Nunes Bukula, a transfer from Pinelands. When the Griffins put it up in their air they have targets-a-plenty in senior wideouts James Bivins, Trevor Pruitt and Jayon Farrar, who was a first-team All-Shore selection last season at Long Branch.

The tight end is talented senior Ethan Capone, a four-year starter who caught 17 passes last season with 4 touchdowns. Opening up holes for the running back and protecting the quarterbacks will be the brothers McNair, senior tackle and major college recruit Cam and junior guard Caron, who lines up right next to big brother. The other spots will be filled by juniors Rob Madison, Aaron Crooms and Nico Ippolito, who has to replace the graduated Tom Buxton.

The Griffins gave up less than nine points per game last season with five shutouts and return most of that unit. The McNair brothers will be joined up front by Ippolito and Capone as the group replaces the graduated Chris Aldrich and Dominick Brogna, who transferred to Bergen Catholic. The linebacking unit is as good as anywhere around as Green and Nocero take care of the inside with Levi Wilkins and Connor Farrell on the outside. The defensive backfield is talented and deep with Bivins, Farrar, Loftland, Trevor Pruitt and Mysun Rush-Esdaile all capable of making tackles or picking off a pass and going the distance. Donovan does have to replace an all-division kicker in Keaon Torres with that spot going to junior Gavin Ngyun.

When asked if he’s built a program Curcione said “We have a bunch of good players and expect to be good for many years. Whether that means we have built a program…well I’ll leave that up to you guys in the media.”

News flash...the Griffins have arrived.

 

At a Glance

Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 2RS=2nd year returning, 3RS=3rd year returning)

Offense: Spread

QB: Evyn Menta, Sr. or Jailin Butler, Jr.

RB: Jahdir Loftland, Sr., RS; Nunes Bukula, Jr.

FB: Quamire Green, Sr., 4RS and Dominick Nocero, Sr., 4RS

WR: James Bivins, Sr., 4RS; Trevor Pruitt, Sr., RS; Jayon Farrar, Sr.

TE: Ethan Capone, Sr., 4RS; Levi Wilkins, Jr., 3RS

LT: Cam McNair, Sr., 3RS

LG: Caron McNair, Jr., RS

C: Rob Madison, Jr.

RG:  Aaron Crooms, Jr.

RT: Nico Ippolito, Jr.; Andy Sacko, Sr.

Defense: 3-4 

DE: Cam McNair, Sr., 3RS

DT: Nico Ippolito, Jr., RS

DT: Caron McNair, Jr.

DE: Ethan Capone, Sr., RS

OLB: Connor Farrell, Jr.

ILB: Quamire Green, Sr., 4RS

ILB: Dominick Nocero, Sr., 4RS

CB: James Bivins, Sr., RS; Jayon Farrar, Sr.

CB: Mysun Rush-Esdaile, Jr., RS

SS: Jahdir Loftland, Sr., 3RS; Jalin Butler, Jr.

FS: Trevor Pruitt, Sr., RS

Special teams

K:  Gavin Ngyun, Jr.

P:   Levi Wilkins, Jr. or Dominick Nocero, Sr.

 

Head Coach:  Dan Curcione, 4th season (7th overall)

Career record: 36-56

Team record last five years:

2019: 9-2

2018: 7-3

2017: 4-6

2016: 0-10

2015: 4-6

Assistant coaches: Chip LaBarca Jr. (Asst. Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator); Jack Nascimento (QB); Dean Helstowski (RB); Jon Power (OL/DL); Ryan Wells (OLB/RB); Dean Helstowski, Jr. (DB); Mark Deppen (Strength and Conditioning); Mike Heilala (freshmen) Eric Bruno (freshmen); Bob DeStefano (athletic trainer).

 

Player to Watch: Take your pick 

Griffins return seven players who made the all-division team in 2019, including Defensive Player of the Year Quamire Green, who had over 100 tackles from his linebacker spot. He’s always around the ball and his fun to watch…if you’re a DC fan. Others poised for big seasons include two-way starters Jahdir Loftland (RB/DB), James Bivins (WR/DB), Ethan Capone (TE/DE) and Cam McNair (OT/DE), who is a prime FBS recruit.

 

Player Under the Radar: Dominick Nocero, Sr., ILB/FB

If he’s under the radar it’s because he is surrounded by so much talent but Nocero is one of the top players in the Shore. He had 78 tackles and five sacks last season and will also provide some blocking from the fullback spot.

 

Impact Newcomer: Jayon Farrar, Sr., WR/DB 

The explosive senior is only new to Donovan Catholic because as a junior at Long Branch he caught a Shore Conference-leading 52 passes for 601 yards and 3 touchdowns. A returning first-team All-Shore selection, Farrar is just as likely to contribute on the other side of the ball as he’s an outstanding cornerback who will add to the depth at what is a strong group already.

 

Top position group: Linebackers 

Not really much question about this. With four-year starters Quamire Green and Dominick Nocero, returning starter Levi Wilkins and impressive junior Connor Farrell, this is one of the top foursomes at the Shore.

 

Big Shoes to Fill: Evyn Menta, Sr., QB and Jalin Butler, Jr., QB 

One or both of them will try to replace Ryan Clark, whose contributions to the program can’t be understated. Curcione said when Menta lined up at quarterback in the first practice it was the first time anyone other than Clark took first-team snaps in the four years he’s been the head coach. The back-up last year gets a two-week automatic trial as the starter with Butler having to sit out after transferring.

 

X-Factor: The schedule 

The Griffins won their Liberty Division games by an average of 34 points per game, which left many questioning how good they would be against better competition. That will be answered this season as they basically play an old-style Class A South schedule against all three Toms River schools, both Brick teams and Southern. It should be very interesting.

 

Season Schedule

Friday, Oct. 2 – vs. Brick Memorial, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 9 – at Toms River East, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 16 – vs. Toms River South, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 23 – at Brick, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30 – vs. Southern, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 6 – at Toms River North, 7 p.m.

 

Kevin Williams is the Director of the Shore Sports Network and can be reached at kevin.williams@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @shoresportsman. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

 

 

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