Turning The Page: 2018 Manchester Football Preview
It hasn't been the four years Manchester head coach Bill Furlong - now entering year number five at the helm of the Hawks - imagined it would be, especially with back-to-back 3-7 seasons in 2016 and 2017. This, however, could be the year where they are able to move forward as a program.
The road to a winning season with playoff aspirations comes after losing their two biggest stars in quarterback Jerry Ward and Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic running back Jalen Glenn to graduation.
With them patrolling the offense, the Hawks scored 220 points in 2017 while surrendering 354 on defense.
"Jerry and Jalen were both, in my opinion, outstanding players," Furlong said. "I"m hoping now that what's been in place for four years means that we've been developing guys that are maybe not on anyone's radar yet but we are happy with their progress and they have to step up."
Facing adversity heading into the season, they'll need to find a way to replace the leadership and ability Glenn and Ward possessed during their time at Manchester.
"I think that it's going to have to be more of an offense-by-committee type of a concept than just Jalen or Jerry," Furlong said. "The thing about Jalen is that he was good on the outside, he was good on the inside, he could block and catch passes."
Furlong is optimistic that with the group of running backs on the roster, they'll be able to collectively fill the void.
"I think we have some good inside runners like Markel Hourigan (Sr., FB) and Devin Zamot (Jr., RB/MLB) who have shown that. We have a transfer, Travell Nickey (from Toms River North), that I think has shown signs of that as well," Furlong said. "On the outside we have Jalen's brother Josh, who's been very effective so far in scrimmages and some other guys coming onto the scene like Julius Barotow, who will be a sophomore, and Zykeem Jenkins (senior), who didn't play last year but is showing he could be an outside threat. Each of those guys can catch a little bit, too."
There's an interesting battle at the quarterback position determining who will succeed Ward.
"We've got Jimmy Johns (junior) and Joey Carchietta (junior) battling it out and we have two freshmen, Anthony Perelli and Savon Myers, who are really developing quickly," Furlong said.
The wide receivers are Will Sohl, Trevor Pruitt and Mikey Conger.
Furlong expects some of his other returning players to make an impact this season, as well.
"The guys I feel most comfortable with (starting) are Eric Cowan (senior) who will probably start both ways as a D-lineman and a tight end, Andrew Dodd (senior), who played linebacker last year, we're looking at him potentially on the offensive and defensive line, John Mayer (junior) who is a two-way starter, Markel Hourigan is a two-way starter, Devin Zamot is a two-way starter," Furlong said. "Then we have Jalen Douglas (Sr., OT/DT) who was a one-way starter last year but most likely we're going to need him both ways.
There are improvements that the whole team will need to make in order for Manchester to succeed this season.
"We just need to work together more and not be self-centered," Zamot said. "Right now, I feel like we're a family. Last year we relied on a couple guys, this year we're relying on each other."
"I think we're looking to move forward from last year and not look back at our losses," Hourigan said. "Our mindset is totally different, we look at our first game (vs. Holmdel) as a playoff game."
"I feel like we have a lot more talent," Cowan said. "A lot of kids who are playing this year didn't play last year and there are a lot more competitive-type kids this year. We're going to do well this year."
With the division realignment that took place in the offseason, Manchester says goodbye to a couple teams and welcomes in some fresh ones to their schedule in 2018, but it doesn't change the approach for Furlong.
"We're still putting in our stuff right now and even looking at them, those few new teams, some of them have a new head coach so it's not like you can look at what Point Beach did or what Keyport did because now it's new," Furlong said. "We're just going to have to be sound with what we do."
However, there is some confidence soaring through Hawks training camp with the schedule they have this season.
"I think the realignment works for us, it was probably designed for teams like us that have not had success where we were and so this is a look at maybe seeing if we could level that playing field," Furlong said. "Can we make the playoffs? I think we have the ability as far as the talent goes. Can we put the consistency on the field? That would be the thing."
"If we don't work together none of us are going to get anywhere," Dodd said. "If it's just a bunch of guys trying to make a tackle, they're (the opposition) basically just going to run all over us like they did last year and none of us are trying to do that so we're focusing on doing our jobs. We have to work together and all of us have to play our part."
At a Glance
Head coach: Bill Furlong, fifth season (22nd overall).
Career record: 78-95.
2017 record: 3-7 (2-5).
Coaching staff: Karl Schaeffer (OL); Joe Serratelli (LB); Bill Hill (def. coord./DB); Paul Findlow (DL); Bill Hill Jr. (OLB/WR); Brian Wilkinson (RB); Mark Mernone (freshmen); Tiffani Helen (athletic trainer).
Base offense: Multiple
Base defense: Multiple
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Devin Zamot, Jr., RB/MLB
The Hawks suffered a big loss in standout running back Jalen Glenn to graduation and heading into 2018 it'll be several of his former teammates looking to fill the void. Zamot is one of the leading candidates to get most of the carries out of the backfield and needs to perform well on the inside and outside to help the Hawks score this season.
X-FACTOR: The Offensive Line
An offense that scored 220 points last season will need to rely on the offensive line this season to create holes for the host of running backs the Hawks will be giving the ball to in 2018. They'll likely be a team that relies on the run so they will need plenty of protection up front.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Jimmy Johns, Jr., QB
While competing for the starting quarterback position heading into the season, Johns could be the one who fills a void left behind by the graduation of Jerry Ward. If he performs well under center, the Hawks will be able to put some points on the board.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 22 at Keyport
With a new schedule and an improved unit, Manchester feels it will be able to make some noise in 2018. The Keyport game comes in the middle of three straight games on the road bookended by Point Beach and Asbury Park.
Vin Ebenau is a Shore Sports Network Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @VinEbenau. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.