This Time, It’s Personal: 2020 Monmouth Reg. Football Preview
Heading into the 2020 season, Monmouth is three years removed from an elusive winning season and even accounting for the effect 2020 has had on everyone’s sense of time, that winning season feels like it happened even longer ago. The Falcons followed it up with a 4-5 2018 season and last year, with a new head coach and only 38 players in the entire program, the team fell back to 0-9.
Despite the struggles of 2019 and the challenges that come with a 2020 season played with an active virus still circulating throughout the country, second-year Falcons coach Dan Wendel feels much better about his team heading into this season.
For one thing, the Falcons return nine starters on offense and seven on defense from last year’s team, so the experience level is significantly improved. Additionally, Monmouth is up to 52 players in the program this season, so the depth should make for better practices and more options on game day for Wendel and his staff.
“We have a group, especially on the offensive line, who I think took last year personally and they are our to prove something,” Wendel said. “The players like each other, they look out for each other and they want to work together and play better this year. I would have liked to see a full year in the weight room and a normal summer for them, but everybody is dealing with that. Otherwise I feel good about where we’re at. We went from 14 players in the program on the day I got hired to bringing back some quality people and bring some new kids into the program.”
Once the games start, Monmouth will have a different look on offense, with seniors Yasin Moore and Brian Yadlon switching positions. Moore led the team in receiving last year but will take on the quarterback position as the Falcons look to get more of a running threat under center. Yadlon, meanwhile, will shift out to wide receiver. While it is the most noteworthy change to Monmouth’s personnel, it won’t be the only one for a team looking to orchestrate a quick turnaround.
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter)
QB: Yassin Moore, Sr. RS
RB: Keontae Wiggins, Sr. RS; Julian Jones, So.
FB: Conner Garced, Sr. RS
WR: Sheldon Lariviere, Sr. RS
WR: Brian Yadlon, Sr. RS; Frankie Harris-Thomas, Jr.
TE: Loukas Plasteras, Jr.
LT: Ryan English, Sr.
LG: Matt Fleschner, Sr. RS
C: Ryan Forstenhaulser, Sr. RS
RG: Will Diedrichsen, Sr. RS
RT: Matt Burress, Sr. RS
DE: Lucas Bontempo, So.
DT: Matt Fleschner, Sr., RS
DT: Ryan Forstenhaulser, Sr.
DE: Matt Burress, Sr.
OLB: Brian Yadlon, Sr., RS
MLB: Loukas Plasteras, Jr., RS
OLB: Julian Jones, So.
CB: Keontae Wiggins, Sr., RS
CB: Sheldon Lariviere, Sr., RS
SS: Frankie Harris-Thomas, Jr.
FS: Yasin Moore, Sr. RS
K: Biaggio Puggliano, Sr.; Brandon Ligon, Jr.
P: Yassin Moore, Sr.
At a Glance
Head Coach: Dan Wendel, second season
Career Record: 0-9
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Jason McQuay (Def. Coordinator/LB/RB), Val Barnaby (Special Teams/DL/OL), Clifton Orwick (OL/DL), Malik Wiggins (DB/WR), Anthony Fontana (QB/DB), Billy D. Williams (Volunteer), Jeff Sfraga (Volunteer), Anthony Guarino (Freshman), Rob Micheliche (Freshman), Domenic Miraglia (Freshman), Adam Elsieidy (Athletic Trainer)
Players to Watch: Yassin Moore (Sr., QB/FS) and Keontae Wiggins, Sr., RB/CB
Moore played out wide last year and led Monmouth in receiving with 273 yards on 19 catches and a receiving touchdown, while Wiggins was the top Falcons rusher with 569 yards and six touchdowns. This year, they will share a backfield as Moore moves from wide receiver to quarterback while Wiggins reprises his role as the lead back in the Monmouth offense. With Moore at quarterback, Wendel is hoping for more big plays without having to put the ball in the air.
“Moore is doing a great job at quarterback,” Wendel said. “The idea is to get him as involved in the offense as possible and we felt like the best way to do that was to have him touch the ball every play and give him a chance to do something dynamic.”
Player Under the Radar: Loukas Plasteras, Jr., TE/MLB and Matt Fleschner (Sr., LG/DT)
Fleschner and Plasteras grew in every way possible between 2019 and this fall, according to Wendel, and they return as two of Monmouth’s more imposing players. Fleschner is a 6-foot-7, 300-pound senior who will help anchor the interior line on both sides of the ball.
Plasteras, meanwhile, grew from six-foot to 6-4 and put in the work to fill out as well.
“His dad (Plasteras) built a gym in their garage so he was able to lift a lot and his older brother plays football at Rowan, so he had a workout buddy,” Wendel said. “Him and Fleschner were our big growth spurt guys. Fleschner was big before but now he is every bit of 6-7 and he got a lot stronger as well.”
Impact Newcomers: Frankie Harris-Thomas (Jr., WR/SS) and Julian Jones (So., RB/OLB)
The two key skill players on the Monmouth offense earned some looks at different points last year but will be first-time starters this year. Harris-Thomas is looking at the third receiver spot alongside Brian Yadlon and speedster Sheldon Lariviere and will also play strong safety next to Moore on defense.
Jones is recovered from a torn ACL that he suffered in the team’s second game of the season in 2019 and will challenge Wiggins for carries as a change-of-pace back who looks to be the future of Monmouth’s offense, if not a big part of its 2020 plans.
Top Position Group: Secondary
There are a few candidates for this distinction, with the offensive line returning Flescher, Matt Burress, Will Dietrichsen and Ryan Forstenhaulser back as seniors on the offensive line and Yadlon, Plasteras and Jones making up a solid corps of linebackers. The secondary gets the nod, with Wiggins and Laverniere back at the corners and Moore captaining the defense from free safety spot. With Frankie Harris-Thomas ready to step in at strong safety, Monmouth should be able to hold its own defending the passing game.
Big Shoes to Fill: Brian Yadlon, Sr., WR/OLB
Monmouth has a lot of players back from last year’s team but there are a few key spots vacated by 2020 graduates – Aidan Convery at outside linebacker and John DeMarzo at safety and receiver to name a couple. Yadlon is a returning starter but will be adapting to a new position on offense as he moves from quarterback to wide receiver while also entering the season as a starting outside linebacker after working there last year. Fortunately for the Falcons, there is a reason Wendel does not mind asking so much from his senior.
“Brian is probably going to be more of an H-back in our offense,” Wendel said. “He’ll be doing a lot of motioning – some plays he’ll end up in the slot going out in a pattern and other times he’ll be in the backfield and get some carries. He can do a lot of different things, which is why we felt comfortable moving Yassin to quarterback. We know where ever we put Brian, he’ll bring something to the table.”
X-Factor: Quiet Friday Nights
There are still a number of Shore Conference teams who play their home games on Saturday afternoon, but rarely does a team go an entire season without playing under the Friday night lights. Monmouth will be one of those rare instances this season, as the Falcons will play at Lakewood and Colts Neck for their two road games with a Week 5 bye mixed in.
Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. Shore, noon
Saturday, Oct. 10 vs. Keyport, noon
Saturday, Oct. 17 at Lakewood, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 vs. Point Boro, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 7 at Colts Neck, noon