Unfinished Business: 2020 Jackson Memorial Football Preview
Offensive trends come and go in the game of football. Some programs will change it up based on personnel or to keep up with the Joneses while others will stick with what they know best. Don’t expect to see many surprises on Don Connor Boulevard this year, or any year for that matter. Jackson Memorial has a philosophy it believes is timeless.
“We have our pieces of the puzzle and each year we can add some new things, but we’re always going to look like the same team,” said Jackson Memorial head coach Vin Mistretta. “Execution is always going to be the key.”
A power running game and a ferocious defense have long been the calling cards of Jackson football and the 2020 Jaguars will once again take the field with the same set of principles. Despite some key losses to graduation from last season’s team that reached a state sectional title game, the Jaguars have the pieces in place to once again be among the Shore Conference’s best teams.
It all starts in the backfield with senior tailback Will Towns, a Wake Forest University recruit who is a returning first-team All-Shore selection. Towns ran for 1,372 yards and 12 touchdowns to finish third in the Shore Conference in rushing, authoring six 100-yard games, including a career-high 242 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Brick and 232 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Freehold. He is the V-8 engine in Jackson’s multiple-I offense.
“Will is stronger, faster and more mature than last year so we have high expectations for a kid who is an outstanding athlete and student,” Mistretta said. “He’s got it all.”
Jackson has traditionally been a one-tailback offense save for some seasons where it had multiple threats in the backfield. Towns will get the majority of the carries with seniors Michael Collins and Damian Henderson serving as the fullbacks.
The offensive line graduated two people-movers in the form of Collin McCarthy (more on him in a minute) and Sean Laverty, but returns three starters from last season’s unit. Senior Matt Milone is the left tackle, senior Sebi Marc is the right guard and senior Drew Trust is the right tackle. Juniors Kyle Laverty at left guard and Donny Zapata at center have elevated to starting roles. The Jags also have returning starter Jaden Persichilli back as the tight end, who is a very good blocker and also has soft hands when called upon in the passing game.
The Jaguars graduated starting wide receivers Jake McKown and Zach Novak but feel good about the new group of wideouts. Senior Wally Doman played many snaps at wide receiver last season and will be joined by seniors Jabari Lofton and Kai Blair, who transferred from St. Peter’s Prep last season and played in the secondary after sitting out the required four games.
“The overall thought based on all the guys we lost is that we have a lot of unproven guys, but the reality is we have a lot of players with varsity experience,” Mistretta said. “Four of five offensive linemen have started games, we lost Novak and McKown but Wally is a three-year starter, Jabari started plenty of games and Kai Blair is probably one of the better receivers in the Shore.”
The quarterback position is the one spot that is still undecided as junior Devin Foderaro and sophomore Tai Mann are battling it out to replace Lonnie Cebulski under center.
“They have different skill sets so we’re not opposed to splitting some time,” Mistretta said. “Devin is more of a pocket passer with a pretty big arm and Tai is the more dynamic athlete. We’re good with either guy as leaders.”
Jackson’s 4-3 defense lost some absolute hammers to graduation, namely McCarthy, who was the 2019 SSN Defensive Player of the Year, the state Defensive Player of the Year and is currently at the University of Connecticut. Still, the unit returns six starters and still expects to bring it with a fast and physical style.
The position group with the biggest shoes to fill is along the defensive line as Persichilli is the only returning starter. Seniors Jared Cadavero and Angel Cespedes along with junior Eric Ibe will join Persichilli to comprise the new front four.
“Between Persichilli and Angel Cespedes we have 600 pounds of beef in the middle, so that’s pretty nice,” Mistretta said. “We don’t have Collin McCarthy and we’re never going to replace that guy, but we have a bunch of angry dudes flying around trying to make plays.”
Senior Tyron Blackwell returns as a three-year starter at outside linebacker and Henderson is also a returning starter at outside linebacker. The middle linebacker will be junior Tom Widawski.
The secondary looks to be a very strong unit with three returning starters. Doman will be a three-year returning starter at strong safety with Lofton and Blair back as the starting cornerbacks. Junior Rob Paneque will look to step in as the starting free safety.
After going 8-3 and reaching the Central Jersey Group 4 final last season only to come up short against Hammonton, the mission statement of the current senior class has been to take care of unfinished business. That won’t be possible in a traditional sense because there will be no sectional playoffs this season, but the Jaguars don’t necessarily need hardware to validate an accomplishment of their goals.
“If we win all the games on our regular-season schedule with Wall and Toms River North; if at the end we’re 6-0 and then we can go 8-0, you can call yourselves whatever the heck you want,” Mistretta said. “You beat everyone in front of you. These guys have the fire and they’re already fired up to get going.”
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
QB: Devin Foderaro, Jr. or Tai Mann, So.
RB: Will Towns, Sr., 3RS
FB: Michael Collins, Sr. and Damian Henderson, Sr.
TE: Jaden Persichilli, Sr., RS
WR: Wally Doman, Sr., RS; Jabari Lofton, Sr., RS; Kai Blair, Sr.
LT: Matt Milone, Sr., RS (6-3, 280)
LG: Kyle Laverty, Jr.
C: Donny Zapata, Jr.
RG: Sebi Marc, Sr., RS (6-2, 265)
RT: Drew Trust, Sr., RS
DE: Jared Cadavero, Sr.
DT: Angel Cespedes, Sr.
DT: Eric Ibe, Jr.
DE: Jaden Persichilli, Sr., 3RS
OLB: Tyron Blackwell, Sr., 3RS
MLB: Tom Widawski, Jr.
OLB: Damien Henderson, Sr., RS
CB: Jabari Lofton, Sr., RS
CB: Kai Blair, Sr., RS
SS: Wally Doman, Sr., 3RS
FS: Rob Paneque, Jr.
K: Antonio Bilancione, Sr.
P: Antonio Bilancione, Sr.
Head coach: Vin Mistretta, 4th season
Career record: 20-12
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Keith Anderson (Offensive coordinator); Jeff Brown (OL); Pat Kilmurray (OL); Ken Bradley (RB); Eric Rado (WR); Chris Rash (DL); Mike McCarthy (DL); Arnell Cozart (LB); TJ Tkac (DB); Khani Glover (DB); Nicolle Figaro (Athletic trainer).
Player to Watch: Will Towns, Sr., RB
Towns, who is verbally committed to Wake Forest, had a great junior season and as a senior is one of the top running backs in New Jersey. The offense will go through him, so if he has another big year the Jaguars will remain one of the Shore’s best teams and play deep into the season.
Player Under the Radar: Tyron Blackwell, Sr., OLB
Blackwell will be entering his third year as a starter and for the first two years was overshadowed by some of his teammates. Now a senior, Blackwell could be in for a breakout year that puts him in the discussion as an All-Shore player. He had eight sacks last season.
“He has a little chip on his shoulder and he plays angry at times,” Mistretta said. “He has an offer from Army but he probably feels under-recruited. He’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, that prototypical size you want in a linebacker, so he’s playing with something to prove. He’s done the right things in the offseason to get himself better.”
Impact Newcomers: Rob Paneque, Jr., FS
Paneque was a ballhawk at the junior varsity level and was able to make an impact on special teams in some important varsity games, namely recovering a fumble in a playoff win over Toms River East.
Top position group: Secondary
Senior Wally Doman will be a three-year starter at strong safety while seniors Jabari Lofton and Kai Blair are both returning starters at cornerback. It is the most experienced level of the Jaguars’ defense.
Big Shoes to Fill: Jared Cadavero, Sr., DE
No one player is going to replace Defensive Player of the Year Collin McCarthy, but Cadavero will do his best to provide production when he steps into a starting role at defensive end.
“He has matured immensely from last year to this year,” Mistretta said. “He understands the defense and has really impressed us in camp.”
X-Factor: Passing game
The quarterback position is an unproven commodity for the Jaguars, to it remains to be seen if either Devin Foderaro or Tai Mann can deliver what Jackson needs from its signal-caller. The running game will be the focal point, so whoever is the quarterback needs to manage the offense, limit turnovers and come through with clutch plays when the moment presents itself.
Friday, Oct. 2 – at Neptune, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 9 – vs. Manasquan, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 16 – vs. Wall, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 23 – at Toms River North, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 30 – vs. Brick, 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 6 – at Jackson Liberty, 7 p.m.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.