Under New Management: 2019 Matawan Football Preview
For only the third time in 36 years, Matawan will embark on a season under new management.
Jay Graber, who crafted an impressive resume lifting Allentown from mediocrity to a sectional championship during his nine-year reign, assumes the the head coaching role. He replaces John Kaye, who followed the fruitful 28-year run of Joe Martucci that included five sectional titles, with seven seasons of his own, marked by a Central Jersey, Group 3 crown in 2014.
Graber inherits one of the Shore’s crowned jewels that is rich in hallowed history, but seeks to bounce back from a 1-8 performance in '18. He has a playbook of wisdom to bestow with aims at adding new chapters to those Matawan annals. But, for the time being, getting acclimated to his new surroundings, new players and a new conference are priorities.
“This was a great opportunity to get into the Shore Conference and be a part of a tradition-laden program,” Graber said of his new home. “It’s been successful in the past and the kids have been great. They want to get better and it’s been a great experience so far.”
Acquaintances made, Graber is already hard at work, setting an example for the Huskies to follow. He’s installed an uptempo pistol set on offense that, when it finds a rhythm, could give opponents fits as well as shortness of breath trying to keep pace. A 4-3 is the base of the defense that will illuminate how good Matawan is, especially at linebacker, where it’s fully stocked.
Player to Watch: Ziare Williams (Sr. WR/CB 6-3, 200)
The leading receiver for the Huskies as a junior (26 receptions for 290 yards, one TD), Williams is a natural playmaker. At 6-3, 200 pounds, he won’t be influenced off his routes by the simple jam of an undersized cornerback. Long and quick, his attributes will entice Matawan to look for him downfield.
Player to Watch, Part II: Dennis Buonagura (So. QB 5-10, 170)
Perhaps no one in the program has worked more directly with Graber than Buonagura. He saw a handful of playing time as a freshman (7 of 14 passing for 94 yards in three appearances), yet that limited action gave him a taste of varsity. This year, he will be entrusted to digest all the intricacies of running multiple formations out of the pistol.
“He’s dedicated and I love working with him,” Graber said. “Dennis is a student of the game.”
Players to Watch, Part III and IV: Brandon Rodriguez (Sr. OLB/FB 5-10, 190) and Vince Guarino (Sr. LB/TE 6-0, 210)
Guarino (64 tackles) and Rodriguez (42) were the top two tacklers for Matawan as juniors, a testament to their keen ball awareness and finishing upon arrival. They are two of the reasons why you could see a dramatic swing in how stingy the Huskies are on defense.
Players Under the Radar: Marcandrew Gagneron (Sr. RB/DB 5-9, 190)
Gagneron is double casted and gets juicy parts on each side of the stage. His speed will serve him well in both regards. Once through a hole, he's a catch-me-if-you-can back who can accelerate and put distance between pursuers.
Defensively, that quickness is equally useful in getting up toward the line of scrimmage in a hurry on run support. It also makes what appears to be open passes to opposing quarterbacks into nothng more than a mirage due to how rapidly he can close on a receiver. A difference maker.
Making an Impact
Matawan will be asking for plenty of that from juniors Baldemar Rojas (6-1, 220) and Nick Glende (6-2, 240). Baldemar, the center, and Glende, who's spaced to his right at guard, are a pair of returning linemen who will guide their buddies up front on the proper way to practice and execute. Senior left tackle Lucas Gokson (6-2, 210) and junior left guard Matt Bauer (6-1, 220) will join them with seniors Theodore Conrad (6-2, 230) and Sam Onuoha (6-4, 250) competing with junior Suhaib Chaudhry (6-1, 190) at right tackle.
The Huskies have to be excited about senior Vince Guarino (6-0, 210). When he's at inside linebacker don't blink because it's how quickly he stuffs a gap off the snap. His instincts are perfectly suited to the position, directing traffic in the center of the defense. He's relentless, productive and will get time at tight end on offense, most likely to spend a good deal of it delivering some crushing blocks.
Area of Strength: Linebackers
At this point, it should go without saying. Guarino and Rodriguez are tackling machines who set the on-field standard for the speed and authority Matawan wants to play with on defense. But, don't let their work overshadow promising sophomore David Onuoha. The 6-2, 220-pounder is explosive coming off the edge and hunts from the weakside with the acceleration to catch running backs through his ceaseless backside pursuit.
Matawan will be successful if…:
It's patient. Graber's accomplishments at Allentown speak for themselves. Over nine years, he compiled a 61-34 record piloting the Redbirds. Not too shabby when measured against the grand total of 11 wins Allentown recorded over the previous seven years combined before his arrival. He teaches, inspires and elevates those around him.
The Huskies will count on the foot of junior Andrew Myerson. A year ago, he converted 13 of 15 PATs and booted a 37-yard field goal. He will also handle punts.
Crunching the Numbers
Of the 43 teams in the Shore Conference, Matawan finished 39th in points scored (12.0 ppg.) and 41st in points allowed (35.1 ppg.), a toxic combination. A sign of strides made this fall will be raise the former and shrink the latter.
AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: Jay Graber, 1st season (10th overall)
CAREER RECORD: 61-34
Mohammad El Sherbini (Def. Coordinator/LB/RB)
Joe Goerge (OL/DB)
Bob Wietecha (WR/DB)
Scott Messler (DL/OL)
Nick Christathakis (TE/FB/Freshmen)
Zach Flaherty (Freshman/Varsity Assistant)
Robert Cordasco (Varsity Assistant)
Matt Goetz (Athletic Trainer)
2018 RECORD: 1-8 (0-5 in the Patriot Division)
OFFENSE: Multiple Pistol
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Dennis Buonagura (Sr. QB)
Wanted: A well-rounded individual with the poise and athleticism to handle a no-huddle offense with only four returning starters involved. Found: Buonagura, who will meet the rigors of the role and could exceed expectations.
A new coaching staff that is installing new formations can get overwhelming at times. A jailbreak blitz or empty backfield offense can have the same effect during a game. The Huskies can ease concerns by sticking to two more emphasized elements in the pre-season: discipline and consistency.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Head coach Jay Graber
After nine years at Allentown, where he crafted a 61-34 mark, posted seven winning seasons and steered the Redbirds to their first sectional title, Graber becomes only the third head coach at Matawan over the last 36 years,
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 6 vs. Raritan
Matawan begins with back-to-back home games, the first against the Rockets, an always well-prepared outfit that pinned the Huskies with a 49-6 loss last season. The matchup should offer instant insight to how far Matawan has come.