Zero to Hero: 2023 Freehold Boro Football Preview
It took three losing seasons for Dave Ellis and his staff to lay the foundation for Freehold Boro’s first winning season under his watch and since that first winning season for Ellis and Co. in 2014, Freehold has posted a record of .500 or better in seven of the following nine seasons.
Last season was one of the two losing seasons Freehold Boro has endured since 2014 and if this year is anything like the Colonials’ last follow-up to a losing season, Freehold Boro will be one of the Shore’s most improved teams.
For that to actually happen, however, the Colonials have a lot of ground to cover after going 0-8 in 2022. It is difficult for anyone – even Ellis and his staff, to some degree – to evaluate how good (or bad) the team was last year because of not only how young the roster was, but also how difficult the schedule was. Without a lot of established upper-class talent (Freehold Boro had six returning starters going into last year), the Colonials had to navigate their way through a schedule that included the likes of Red Bank Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, Jackson Memorial and Colts Neck.
The only opponent from last year’s schedule that remains on this year’s slate for Freehold Boro is rival Freehold Township, so a turnaround could be in the cards. The Colonials boast players with starting experience at 10 of 11 spots on each side of the ball and will have a chance to cultivate some depth – particularly at wide receiver and in the secondary.
The offense will start with second-year starting quarterback Spencer Rushton, who hopes to have a breakout campaign after facing some of the Shore’s best and heading into this season with more experience around him. Rushton will be a threat to run and will complement running backs Gavyn Golub and Amir Smith. Golub is a senior heading into his third year as a starter, while Smith looks to make an impact as a junior newcomer.
The wide receiver corps is plenty deep and led by senior third-year starter Matt Guiffrida. Classmates Mike Bickerton and Aiden Shea-Katz will be targets in the passing game as well, with junior Aiden Hamlin-Woolfork and sophomore Damere Lester serving as a big-play threats who could emerge as a more prominent options during the course of the season.
The offensive line returns four starters and without a lot of depth and experience beyond those four on either side of the ball, the performance of the returning core will be a key for the Colonials. Seniors Carter Stokes, John Russo and Jimai Goodman are heading into their third year as starters, while classmate Jaiden Karce is in year No. 2 as a starter. First-year starter Za’sir Butts rounds out Freehold Boro’s all-senior offensive line.
The offensive linemen will have to double as defensive linemen, with Stokes, Russo and Goodman in line to start on the defensive side of the ball as well. Senior and returning starter Mike Ambrosio will provide a lift to the line as well, which will allow at least two of the starting offensive linemen to get a breather.
Giuffrida, Shea-Katz and senior Anthony Bryant return as starting linebackers, with Bickerton also pushing for playing time at linebacker as well. There is also crossover in the secondary as well with Golub, Rushton and Lester, with sophomore Evan Duffy also tracking to start in the secondary for Saturday’s opener at Keyport.
With an overhauled schedule as a new member of the Independence Division, Freehold Boro will not be a regular victim of lopsided losses this season, especially considering its lack of losses to graduation from last year’s team. If past precedent is any indication, the Colonials will bounce back up after getting knocked down last year.
Freehold Boro at a Glance
Head Coach: Dave Ellis, 13th season
Career Record: 52-65
2022 Record: 0-9
Coaching Staff: Noel Kavanagh (Off. Coordinator/WR/DB), Nick Tyson (QB/LB), Joe LaFerlita (WR/OLB), Zac Cooper (DL/OL), Mike Kasten (OL), Chris Juliano (OL/DL), Matt Whalen (RB/DB), John Kinzel (OL/DL), Jeremy Mercer (Quality Control), Matt Esposito (Freshman), Matt Meleo (Freshman), Scott Royer (Athletic Trainer)
Circle the Calendar: Sept. 14 at Freehold Twp.
A Week 3 road game is not likely to make or break Freehold Boro’s season, but don’t tell that to anyone who has played in this or any other rivalry. The Colonials hope to turn the tables after last year’s 39-7 loss to the Patriots, which ended a three-game winning streak for Freehold Boro in the annual rivalry. As the only team that Freehold Boro played last year on this year’s schedule, it is the most direct way for the Colonials to measure their progress from last season.
Big Shoes to Fill: Gavyn Golub, Sr., RB/S
With the graduation of Cameron Crooms, Golub assumes the role of senior tailback for the Colonials while also taking the reins as a lead in the secondary. While there is starting experience throughout the roster, Crooms is one of several seniors who played a lot in 2023 and will have to have their contributions accounted for in order for the Colonials to take a significant step forward.
X-Factor: The Schedule
Last season, Manalapan was the only team with a losing record that Freehold Boro faced and the Braves’ 3-7 record came while playing in the loaded American Division. This year, the Colonials face three teams – Keyport, Brick Memorial and Matawan – that posted winning record last season and one (Freehold Twp.) that finished with a .500 record. Couple that with 10 returning starters on either side of the ball and Freehold Boro has a chance to make last year’s 0-9 season a distant memory.
Saturday, Sept. 2 at Keyport, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 9 vs. Brick, Noon
Thursday, Sept. 14 at Freehold Twp., 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23 vs. Barnegat, Noon
Friday, Sept. 29 at Holmdel, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 7 vs. Brick Memorial, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 14 at Neptune, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 21 vs. Matawan, Noon