Up For the Challenge: 2021 Colts Neck High School Football Preview
For a program that has only been playing varsity football for 17 seasons, Colts Neck has had its fair share of success.
Last season certainly fell into that category, the third under head coach Matt Ahearn, in which the Cougars continued their rebuild after a string of four straight losing seasons. The Cougars have forged a clear identity under Ahearn, and it was that downhill, power-rushing offense combined with a physical defense that yielded a 7-1 record and the No. 6 ranking in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10.
If there was one drawback to having such a successful season last year it’s that it came in a pandemic-altered fall when there were no divisions or no NJISAA playoffs. The opportunities to win a tangible championship just weren’t there. This year, divisions, playoffs; it’s all back. And so is Colts Neck and a strong senior class that will try to leave its mark on a resurgent program.
Like most high school teams, Colts Neck is a mix of proven veterans and promising newcomers. The jury is out until the latter hit the field, but where the Cougars are experienced, they are firmly entrenched.
Of the six returning starters in Colts Neck’s Pro-I offense, four of them have been starters since at least their sophomore years. Leading the way is senior quarterback Tommy Fallon, who will have the rare distinction of being a four-year starter under center. A second-team All-Shore selection last season, Fallon threw for 720 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 475 yards and two scores on an average of 8.3 yards per carry. He brings toughness, savvy and a steady hand to Colts Neck’s offense. He can take advantage through the air and also gain tough yards on the ground with his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame.
The men in front of Fallon in charge of giving him a clean pocket and opening allies in the running game are also not lacking in the size department. A trio of three-year starters lead the way along the offensive line with hulking tackles Dan Volpe and Ryan Whalen and left guard Matt Jannucci. Volpe is a 6-foot-5, 305-pound mountain on the left side who was a first-team All-Shore selection last season. Whalen checks in at 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds and Jannucci – also a standout wrestler – is strong and nimble at 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds. Battling it out for the final two spots are seniors Jack Machu (6-foot-1, 270) and Aidan Maher (6-foot, 220) at center and at right guard sophomores Matt Liggio (5-foot-10, 230), Anthony Lombardi (6-foot-1, 230) and JJ Ciffeli (6-foot, 250) are competing. Senior Colton Bardsley, junior Eoin Fitzpatrick and sophomore Eric Lourero are the tight ends.
With Fallon at quarterback and plenty of beef in the trenches, it bodes well for Colts Neck’s stable of running backs. The Cougars have plenty of options in the backfield, but whoever ends up getting the bulk of the carries will have to replace the production of Joe Barsky, who as a senior last season ran for 1,129 yards and a conference-high 20 touchdowns. Senior John Manos, who started on defense last season, could be the frontrunner after rushing for 207 yards and three touchdowns in a backup role.
The wide receiver corps lost a good one to graduation with leading receiver Matt Scully, a third-team All-Shore selection, moving on to college. The Cougars do have three players who saw starting action last year with seniors John Runfolo and Cade Chrebet and 6-foot-3 junior Will Surdez. Another junior, 6-foot-3, 205-pound Matt Celli, could certainly become an impact player, as well.
Six starters return from a defense that allowed 13.1 points per game last year. The front seven is the strength with Jannucci and Volpe anchoring the defensive line as defensive tackles and all three linebackers returning with Surdez and Manos on the outside and senior Anthony Bonanno, a three-year starter, as the middle linebacker.
With positive results over the past two years and increased expectations comes a major jump into the deepest division in the Shore Conference. Colts Neck now resides in the American Division with the likes of Wall, Donovan Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven and Toms River North. Wall was No. 1, Donovan No. 2 and RFH No. 5 in last season’s final SSN Top 10. The schedule will certainly be challenging but it also presents many opportunities, not the least of which is preparation for a state playoff run.
Regardless, the ingredients are there for Colts Neck to have another big season.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Returning starters: 6
QB: Tommy Fallon, Sr., 4RS
RB: John Manos, Sr.; Sal Marinelli, Jr. Chris Scully, So.; Anthony Bonanno, Sr.; Eric Abbud, Sr.; Sam Surdez, So.
WR: John Runfolo, Sr., RS; Cade Chrebet. Sr., RS; Will Surdez, Jr.; Matt Celli, Jr.; Tyler Donnelly, Sr.; Aidan Diaz, So.
TE: Colton Bardsley, Sr.; Eoin Fitzpatrick, Jr.; Eric Lourero, So.
LT: Dan Volpe, Sr., 3RS
LG: Matt Jannucci, Sr., 3RS
C: Jack Machu, Sr.; Aidan Maher, Sr.
RG: Matt Liggio, So.; Anthony Lombardi, So.; JJ Ciffeli, So.
RT: Ryan Whalen, Sr., 3RS
Returning starters: 6
DE: Louis Guerra, Sr.
DT: Matt Jannucci, Sr., RS
DT: Dan Volpe, Sr., RS
DE: Colton Bardsley, Sr.
OLB: Will Surdez, Jr., RS
MLB: Anthony Bonanno, Sr., 3RS
OLB: John Manos, Sr., 3RS
CB: John Runfolo, Sr., RS
CB: Matt Celli, Jr.
SS: Tyler Donnelly, Sr.
FS: Cade Chrebet, Sr.
K: Christian Monteforte, Sr., 3RS
P: Tommy Fallon, Sr., 4RS
Head coach: Matt Ahearn, 4th season
Career record: 18-10
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Matt Norman (Defensive Coordinator/WR/DB); Dom Polifrone (Special Teams Coordinator/OL/DL); Dylan Hroncich (RB/LB); Doug Zockoll (TE/DE); Mike Campbell (QB/DB); Ryan Byrne (QB/LB); Peter Ficorelli (RB/DB); Jim Portela (Defensive Assistant); Ryan Schoer (Defensive Assistant); Sam Turner (Freshman Head Coach); Joe Conaghan (Freshmen Defensive Coordinator); Brendan Wei (Freshmen asst.); Chris Rossi (Freshmen asst.); Jamie Hand (Athletic Trainer).
Player to Watch: Tommy Fallon, Sr., QB
When you are a four-year starting quarterback with a 15-3 record over the past two seasons, you are obviously a player to watch. Fallon gives Colts Neck everything they want from the quarterback position with his ability to make teams pay with play-action passes and also gain yards on the ground whether by scrambling or through designed runs. He is also a very good punter.
Player Under the Radar: John Runfolo, Sr., WR/DB
Runfolo had just eight catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns last season but that was more a product of Matt Scully commanding most of the targets and Colts Neck attempting just 101 passes all season. He showcased his skills in a huge win over Freehold with two touchdown catches and could emerge as the go-to wideout. He also returns as a starting cornerback to lead the secondary.
Impact Newcomer: Matt Celli, Jr., WR/DB
Celli is slated to see significant time at cornerback and is in the mix at wide receiver, as well. Colts Neck graduated its two leading wideouts so Celli and his 6-foot-3 frame could end up being a major weapon for Fallon in the passing game.
Top Position Groups: Offensive Line and Linebackers
The offensive line is experienced and large with senior three-year starters Dan Volpe, Ryan Whalen and Matt Jannucci leading the way. At the second level on defense, senior middle linebacker Anthony Bonanno, senior outside linebacker John Manos and junior linebacker Will Surdez are all returning starters and will be the heart of a physical unit.
Big Shoes to Fill: Louis Guerra, Sr., DE and Colton Bardsley, Sr., DE
Edge rusher is a premium position and Colts Neck had one of the Shore’s best over the last two seasons with All-Shore defensive end Delano Marcelus, who had 76 tackles, 5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss and 23 hurries last season. Colts Neck is very good along the interior of the defensive line and if Guerra and/or Bardsley can emerge it will give the Cougars an excellent front seven.
X-Factor: The Grind
Colts Neck has a very challenging division schedule and a pair of nondivisional opponents that should be solid, as well. Talking to coaches of teams who have played in the American Division over the past handful of seasons, the biggest key is not getting swallowed up by the unrelenting schedule. It’s all about consistency and the old favorite ‘one-game-at-a-time’ mentality.
If you are a certain again and a fan of a particular NFL team, or just the NFL in general, you may be asking yourself this question: Chrebet? Is that…?
Yes, it is.
Colts Neck senior wide receiver and defensive back Cade Chrebet is the son of New York Jets fan-favorite Wayne Chrebet, who enjoyed a stellar career with the Jets from 1995 through 2005. Cade saw plenty of action at wide receiver last season and is back in that role along with stepping in as the Cougars’ starting free safety on defense.
Colts Neck’s coaching staff is chock full of former players who starred at either Colts Neck or Red Bank Catholic, which is where Ahearn was before taking the head coaching job with the Cougars. They are: Dylan Hroncich, Doug Zockoll, Mike Campbell, Ryan Byrne, Ryan Schoer and Brendan Wei.
Friday, Sept. 3 – at Toms River North, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 – at Matawan, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25 – vs. Donovan Catholic, 12 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 – at Wall, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 9 – vs. Rumson-Fair Haven, 12 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 16 – vs. Lacey, 12 p.m