The Sky is the Limit: 2021 Red Bank Catholic High School Football Preview
Loaded, stacked; whatever adjective you want to use, Red Bank Catholic certainly has an embarrassment of riches all over the football field. The Caseys may very well be the best team in the Shore Conference. Juggernaut is the word that comes to mind.
When you have that blend of talent and experience, everything is on the table. And rightfully so. It could be a very special season at Count Basie Field.
Coming off a 4-2 season in 2020, Red Bank Catholic enters this season with a tremendous roster that includes a total of 18 returning starters, three returning All-Shore selections and many more immensely talented players under second-year head coach Mike Lange. There are playmakers all over the field on both sides of the ball and a stout group of linemen to bring it all together.
We’ll start on the offensive side where RBC brings back eight players who saw starting action and adds three more as transfer students. With Mater Dei Prep folding its varsity program, players from that roster headed off in all different directions. Three of them ended up five miles south down Route 35 and are huge additions to the Caseys’ roster. Senior quarterback Alex Brown, who is committed to Bucknell, is a two-time All-Shore selection and is coming off a season in which he threw for 957 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for 239 yards.
Also coming over from Mater Dei is senior running back/linebacker Rajahn Cooper, who ran for 434 yards and three touchdowns last season, and senior offensive lineman Ashton Mejias.
Behind Brown in the Caseys’ spread offense will be a backfield tandem that should be among the best in the Shore. Along with Cooper, RBC has junior Sabino Portella, who started both ways last season. Portella is also a wrestling standout who is coming off a monster sophomore season.
The Caseys’ group of receivers are excellent, as well, with junior standout Najih Rahman coming off a second-team All-Shore season as a sophomore and senior Jaiden Haynes and junior Robert Stolfa back after receiving starting reps a season ago. Sophomore Emmanuel Ross (6-foot-2, 180) is also in the mix and RBC has additional depth with senior defensive back Joe Diorio having also played wideout in the past.
Somehow we have gotten this far without mentioning Alex Bauman. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end is a three-year starter, a returning first-team All-Shore selection, and holds multiple FBS scholarship offers, led by Notre Dame. He caught 14 passes for 232 yards last season and is a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses.
Rounding out a scary-looking offense is a beastly offensive line that returns four of five starters and averages 6-foot-3 and 274 pounds across the board, and that’s not including Bauman, who is a very good blocker as an inline tight end. Hulking left tackle Vince Carpenter is 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds and is committed to Purdue. Mejias is the left guard and senior Michael Conneely is the center. Sophomore Lorenzo Portella (6-foot-1, 275) was good enough to not just start but excel as a freshman lineman and is back as the right guard. The newcomer is sophomore Tyler Burnham, who only checks in at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds.
Red Bank Catholic averaged 19.8 points per game last season. If there was a betting line on for such a thing, taking the over this season would be a slam dunk.
The Caseys’ 4-3 defense has seven returning starters, four of whom are also regular starters on offense. As good a tight end as Bauman is, he was a monster at defensive end last season when he recorded 53 tackles and four sacks. Opposite Bauman is senior returning starter Ryan McPherson. The interior linemen are all new with senior Liam Kehoe and junior Aidan Donohue as the defensive tackles with sophomore Bryan Miller also in the mix.
Promising sophomore Davin Brewton will start at middle linebacker with Cooper and junior Michael Palmieri as the outside linebackers.
In the secondary, all four players are returning starters. Diorio is a three-year starter and a lockdown corner and Stolfa is also a returning starter at the other cornerback spot. Rahman could also see some time in the secondary. Portella played outside linebacker last season but moves back to strong safety this year while senior Corbett Cimini is the free safety. Portella had 45 tackles and three sacks last season.
Another Mater Dei transfer is senior kicker Jake Jacobsen, who will handle both the punting and kicking duties.
RBC will play in the Constitution Division with Manasquan, Ocean, Raritan and Red Bank Regional. They have three great non-divisional/non-conference opponents, as well, as they open the season in Week 0 vs. Timber Creek and standout quarterback Donovan Leary at Ocean City High School before facing Wall in Week 2. They also have a date with Rumson-Fair Haven on Oct. 15.
Division, Shore Conference and state championships are unquestionably on the table for Red Bank Catholic this season. A lot can happen between now and December, but the Caseys have the goods to be great.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Returning starters: 11
QB: Alex Brown, Sr. RS
RB: Sabino Portella, Jr., RS; Rajahn Cooper, Sr., RS
WR: Najih Rahman, Jr., RS; Jaidin Haynes, Sr., RS; Robert Stolfa, Jr., RS; Emmanuel Ross, So.
TE: Alex Bauman, Sr., 3RS
LT: Vince Carpenter, Sr., RS
LG: Ashton Mejias, Sr., RS
C: Michael Conneely, Sr., RS
RG: Lorenzo Portella, So., RS
RT: Tyler Burnham, So.
Returning starters: 7
DE: Alex Bauman, Sr., RS
DT: Aidan Donohue, Jr.
DT: Liam Kehoe, Sr.; Bryan Miller, So.
DE: Ryan McPherson, Sr., RS
OLB: Rajahn Cooper, Sr., RS
MLB: Davin Brewton, So.
OLB: Michael Palmieri, Jr.
CB: Joe Diorio, Sr., 3RS
CB: Robert Stolfa, Jr., RS
SS: Sabino Portella, Jr., RS
FS: Corbett Cimini, Sr., RS
K: Jake Jacobsen, Sr.
P: Jake Jacobsen, Sr.
Head coach: Mike Lange, 2nd season (3rd overall)
Career record: 4-2 at RBC (5-9 career).
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Joe O’Connor (Offensive Coordinator); Kevin Gaul (Defensive Coordinator); Mike Rosenfeld (QB); Joe Gallagher (WR/DB); Keith Hugger WR/Special Teams); Jay Graham (DL); Jason Rutan (TE/DE); Andrew Lamura (RB/LB); Matt Finucane (asst. OL/Freshmen); Tony Flego (Head Freshmen Coach); Don Gilson (Freshmen Asst.); Laura Barry (Athletic Trainer).
Player to Watch: Alex Bauman, Sr., TE/DE
There are multiple players who fit the bill here, but we’ll go with Bauman because of the impact he has had on both sides of the ball. He’s a daunting cover as a tight end with his size and athleticism and was great coming off the edge at defensive end. He is one of New Jersey’s best all-around players and should come through with a big season.
Player Under the Radar: Joe Diorio, Sr., CB
Diorio will be entering his third year as a starting defensive back and has developed into a very reliable corner that RBC can match up against top receivers. At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds he is exceptionally tall for a cornerback, as well.
Impact Newcomers: Alex Brown, Sr., QB
You can put Brown, Cooper and Mejias into this category since all three should play pivotal roles for the Caseys. Brown gives the Caseys a veteran signal-caller who has played in big games and against tough opponents, and with the weapons around him he can have a highly productive senior season.
Top Position Groups: Offensive line and running backs
RBC’s rushing attack is going to wreak havoc on opponents this season. Portella and Cooer give the Caseys a pair of All-Shore caliber running backs and the offensive line is big and experienced.
Big Shoes to Fill: The Defensive Tackles
All three defensive tackles who will see significant action will be first-time varsity starters. They will also be stepping into a position where Jake Louro dominated the line of scrimmage for the past three seasons. RBC is filled to the brim with talent but replacing Louro’s production in the middle of the defensive line will be a challenge.
X-Factor: Melding All the Talent Together
Chemistry is important and if it’s not there it can hold back a talented roster. Outside of injuries, which is of course a concern for every team, there doesn’t seem to be anything else that could hold the Caseys back from having a big year.
Saturday, Aug. 28 – vs. Timber Creek at Ocean City HS, 2 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 10 – vs. Wall, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 – vs. Raritan, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25 -- @Manasquan, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 – vs. Red Bank, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 8 – at Ocean, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15 – at Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.
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