Upping the ‘Ante: 2018 Freehold Boro Football Preview
After former teammate Ashante Worthy set New Jersey records on the way to leading the Freehold Boro football team within one play of an NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title, returning seniors Quincy Davis, Matt Krauss and Alex Verardi would like to remind everyone of one thing that was often easy to forget while watching Worthy weave his way through defenses.
Believe it or not, there were 10 other players on the field too.
Davis, Krauss and Verardi were among that group and will be among that group again in 2018 when the Colonials will move into the Post-Worthy Era with the same expectations they had during Worthy's illustrious career.
“To be honest, we played every game last year with a chip on our shoulder,” Krauss said. “Everybody called us a one-man team and that made us go out and play even harder. It doesn’t matter how good somebody is, you can’t get to a state championship with one guy.”
“We already have that chip on our shoulder from last year, so this year is nothing different,” Verardi said. “Not many people expect us to be good without Ashante but they also thought they could just focus on him last year and we wouldn’t be able to adjust.”
Despite losing Worthy, Freehold will set out to run a similar spread offense this season under eighth-year head coach Dave Ellis with a couple of options at quarterback. Krauss is the senior option and he has experience playing the position at other levels, while sophomore Ska’kim Shuler might be the long-term solution to filling the spot.
“You’re never going to just replace an Ashante Worthy,” Ellis said. “Those guys don’t just come through every year. What you hope for is that everybody comes in and does a little bit more than they did last year and that some new guys can help us out right away. Ashante covered for a lot of mistakes and a lot of bad plays, so one of our focuses is making sure we clean up those mistakes and get guys into the right play.”
Freehold rarely employed a running back with Worthy taking the snap and Ellis expects his team won’t use a traditional running back that often this year either. That was not initially his plan, but promising sophomore Ahmad Dixon – the younger brother of former standout tailback Josh Dixon – transferred to the Hun School after contributing as a freshman last season. According to Ellis, Dixon is drawing early FBS interest.
“This is the first year where I haven’t really known who our top rusher is going to be heading into the season,” Ellis said. “We have been fortunate to go from Josh Dixon to Ashante Worthy and having Josh’s brother last year as a freshman, it looked like we were going to be able to make that transition again. It is what it is, though.”
Without Worthy and his presumed replacement, Dixon, the Colonials will move around their skill players depending on the formation. Sophomore Matt Grady, junior Marzhon Brinson and Shuler are candidates to play a traditional tailback role should the Colonials go with that look, and all three would be options as receivers with Krauss at quarterback.
“I really feel like whoever we play there, we can be dangerous,” Krauss said. “Sha’kim has done a good job so far and if he’s the quarterback, that gives us one more dangerous receiver. With me in there, I think I can make plays and being a senior, I know the offense and the guys we have. Either way, I think we’re going to put up some points.”
Freehold is best situated at wide receiver – a big reason Ellis wants to stay in the spread, even with Krauss at quarterback. Senior Quincy Davis caught 23 passes for 465 yards and a team-high seven receiving touchdowns last season and will be the team’s primary pass-catching threat. Davis also put on a significant amount of muscle, as well, and at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, could profile as a tight end at some point, even at the next level, according to Ellis.
“He’s added a lot more strength and he’s going to be able to do a lot more for us,” Ellis said. “He blocks, he can run routes well, he’ll go up over a defender – he’s a real weapon and he is probably going to get even more attention this year, but I think he’s ready for it.”
“I feel like I can be a little bit more of a consistent threat,” Davis said. “I always feel like if the ball is anywhere near me, I have the advantage. Without Ashante, I want Matt or whoever is playing quarterback to have the confidence to know that if they give me a chance, I’m going to make the play for them.”
Seniors Jake Hurler, Savion Macon, Makhi Theosmy and Steve Cirillo are also part of the receiver corps. Hurler solely handled kicking and punting duties last year but will see an expanded role as a receiver as well as a cornerback on defense.
“It’s definitely different for me this year,” Hurler said of his increased role. “It’s more work but I like getting more involved in the offense and the defense.”
Verardi, a Second Team All-Shore selection last season, leads a solid core returning to the offensive line, one that also includes senior Knox Stokes, senior Zac Wiles and junior Jake Larsen, as well as senior Vinny Manning.
Verardi, Manning and senior Nelson Mejia will be the three down lineman in Freehold’s 3-3 stack defense, which performed admirably last year considering the breakneck pace with which Freehold’s offense played and forced its opponents to play.
“A lot of times, we wouldn’t know how the play was going to go because Ashante was always just kind of going with what he saw,” Verardi said. “Now it’s more like we know the play, we know what we’re supposed to do and we have to execute it. If guys don’t execute their job, the play probably isn’t going to work.”
Freehold’s group of linebackers is the strength of its defense, with Stokes, Larsen, Grady, junior Zach Neely, and junior Jaylin Canada all in the mix, with Grady and Canada profiling as rovers in the Colonials' stack defense.
Krauss will also be a leader on defense from the safety position, with Hurler, Shuler and Brinson serving as the primary corners.
Despite realignment shifting the Colonials away from a tough field of Class A North teams, Freehold’s schedule doesn’t offer many breaks now that it is playing in the Colonial Division. The division includes three of the better returning public-school rosters in the conference in Rumson-Fair Haven, Brick and Middletown North, as well as a quality Brick Memorial program. To make matters worse, powerhouse St. John Vianney and its 38-game winning streak against Shore competition is also in the division.
Navigating through the division schedule will be a harrowing task for a Freehold team trying to replace one of the best performers in the history of the conference, but the Colonials are confident they are much more than a one-trick pony.
“There is talent here,” Davis said. “We’re all going to have to do more but we’re all capable of stepping up and doing more. When you get that close to winning a championship, you don’t want to stop.”
At a Glance
Head Coach: Dave Ellis, eighth season
Career Record: 34-39
2017 Record: 8-4 (3-3 in Class A North)
Coaching Staff: Mike D’Antonio (WR/OLB), Jason Blum (OL/DL), Matt Whelan (QB/DB), Zac Cooper (DL/OL), John Kinzel (DL/OL), Chris Barbieri (WR/DB), Mike Stoia (Freshman), Nike Rice (Freshman), Jim Lee (Freshman), Mike Stehle (Athletic Trainer)
Defense: 3-3 Stack
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Sha’kim Shuler, So., QB/RB/WR
Ashante Worthy did so much for Freehold last year that you could say the whole team has big shoes to fill. Shuler is going to play either wide receiver, running back and perhaps even some quarterback and considering the Colonials are looking to spread the field as often as possible again, there is a good chance it is as a receiver or taking the snap directly. Either way, Freehold needs a newcomer to step up and Shuler is a prime candidate, even if he is only a sophomore.
X-FACTOR: Matt Krauss, Sr., QB/WR/DB
Krauss was the top Colonials receiver as a junior (53 receptions, 713 yards, six touchdowns) for Freehold but might be better suited to be Worthy’s replacement at quarterback. If coach Dave Ellis likes what he sees out of his young receivers, Krauss would be the logical choice to take over the offense.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Matt Grady, So., RB/LB
The sophomore is high on the depth chart as both a tailback and a linebacker and is one of many newcomers that will need to make an impact for Freehold to thrive again in 2018.
PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 12 at Freehold Township
Not only is the battle for "The Duke" a rivalry game, but after some tough matchups in the first month of the season this game could very well be a must-win for both teams as they pursue a spot in the state playoffs.