Camp Reports: RBC, Midd. South, Midd. North/Coaching Change at Manalapan

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Before I get to the reports from Thursday, Manalapan is going to have a new head coach, as Tom Gallahue has stepped down after being approved as an assistant principal at Manalapan on July 26, which forced him to resign as coach because he cannot be an administrator and head coach, which was first reported by the Asbury Park Press. That means that an interim coach will be approved on Aug. 30 at the next Freehold Regional Board of Education meeting. The Braves have two former head coaches on their staff in Dom Lepore, who was Freehold Township’s head coach before stepping down after last season, and Eddie Gurrieri, who was Manalapan’s head coach before Gallahue took over in 2007. The position is open to candidates now, but you would think that someone from the current Manalapan staff would be elevated to ensure continuity, although I guess anything is possible.

Manalapan went 14-13 under Gallahue in three seasons and should be a contender for the Class A North crown this season behind Rutgers-bound quarterback Mike Bimonte. I guess we will find out if a change at the top this late in the preseason will have an affect on a talented team that has had several slow starts in the past few seasons.

Now, on to some quick reports from Thursday.

I started over at the dust bowl at White Road in Little Silver, where Red Bank Catholic is gearing up to rumble in the loaded Class B North. The Caseys have a new turf field at Count Basie Field this year and return a host of veterans on both sides of the ball. They should be right in the hunt for a division title.

Junior Ryan Spahr, who pitched in some big games as a sophomore on the baseball team this past spring, is the leader for the starting quarterback job in the competition with senior Peter Glover, according to RBC head coach Jim Portela. Two positions that look very solid are fullback, where Mike Dorsi and Chris Donald both return, and tight end, where Division I-A prospect Jack Tabb and junior Doug Whitlock, whom Portela said has drawn interest from UCLA and Penn State, will both be playing. Obviously, the backfield will be strong considering it returns 1,000-yard rusher Andrew Casten, a senior who was recently offered by Monmouth University.

The offensive line also returns some experience and should have a good amount of depth. Defensively, this team looks very strong on paper. Junior Joe Coscarelli really showed flashes of dominance down the stretch at defensive tackle as a sophomore and could be poised for a big season, while seniors Matt Paolillo and Dylan Chayes are experienced playmakers at defensive end.

On paper at least, this team looks to have one of the best linebacking groups, if not the best, in the Shore Conference. Dorsi returns after leading the team in tackles last season and should be one of the Shore’s best, and Tabb, Whitlock and Donald will also be at linebacker with Dorsi’s younger brother, Anthony, and sophomore Dylan Hroncich also adding depth there.

Portela likes this sophomore class, and you may see several sophomores being important contributors. Sophomore Jesse Flaherty, the son of assistant coach Harry Flaherty, could see time at tailback, James Taylor should be in the wide receiver rotation, and Richie Curran could see time on the offensive and defensive lines along with Josh Klecko, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons lineman and former Marlboro star Dan Klecko and the son of former New York Jets great Joe Klecko. Mike Corcione is another sophomore who could see time at safety.

A good sign for RBC is that is has depth, which it will need against a rugged schedule that includes Neptune, Ocean, Long Branch, Freehold, Monmouth, Southern, Toms River East and Rumson-Fair Haven. Portela said that in the past, sophomores like Klecko and Curran might have started, but now there is talent ahead of them to the point that they will see time but won’t have to be thrown right into the fire. They will need all the bodies available to weather that schedule.

Another name that should ring some bells to RBC brethren is junior wide receiver/cornerback Greg Golden, the nephew of former RBC/Penn State star tight end and current Temple head coach Al Golden.

Up until last season, RBC had more of a reputation as a high-octane offensive team (which they think was more media-created than reality because they had some good defenses during those years). Last season, they won with a physical defense and a smashmouth running game, and as Portela said, “What’s wrong with that identity?” I see his point because that style often is necessary to get to the playoffs and win some games. However, he added that he thinks they will be able to throw the ball better this season and get Tabb more involved to complement a running attack that is always statistically one of the best in the Shore.

The Caseys are also well aware of the major knock against them – they have not won a state playoff game since 1998. Granted, they play in one of the hardest state playoff brackets in the country, let alone New Jersey, Non-Public Group IV, where Don Bosco Prep, St. Peter’s Prep and Bergen Catholic roam. Still, they feel that is no excuse, and are once again looking to get over that hump. That’s why the emphasis has been on being a physical, smashmouth team because if you don’t match the physical nature of teams like Don Bosco, you have no shot. This year, by the way, marks the 30th anniversary of the last time the Caseys reached a state sectional final, as they lost 14-6 to St. John Vianney in the Parochial A South championship game in 1980, which also happens to be the last year that any non-public team from the Shore Conference won a state sectional championship.

From RBC, I headed to Middletown North, where the Lions are hoping to make the state playoffs three times in a row for the first time since they made it every year from 1981-86.

Head coach Joe Trezza has tweaked the offense from the I-formation that was employed the last two years to take advantage of now-graduated 1,000-yard backs Uly Gibson and Sean McKee to a Wing-T set that also employs some option. The feeling is that the offensive line is more fast than big, and there is not necessarily going to be one workhorse back like in past years, so this offense suits the personnel better.

North has an experienced quarterback in returning starter Frank DeRise and a primary passing target in 6-foot-5 tight end Shilique Calhoun, a Division I-A prospect who also has drawn Division I basketball interest. For those recruiting hounds out there, Trezza said Calhoun has narrowed it down to Rutgers, Pittsburgh, N.C. State, West Virginia, Michigan State and Louisville and is lining up his official visits for this fall. Calhoun was not at practice on Thursday, as he was being treated for a minor injury, according to Trezza.

A newcomer who should make an impact is sophomore running back Austin Borrero, who has good speed and size already for a sophomore and will see time in the backfield. Another sophomore to watch is Chris Stark, a 185-pounder who looks like he will start at middle linebacker and has the makings of a future standout.

A player Trezza feels could be poised for a big season is senior two-way lineman Jake Smith, who will play at the nose on defense and also will be starting at right guard this season. He should be a force on a defensive line that looks to be the main strength of the Lions’ defense.

The schedule looks to be much tougher than last year’s Constitution Division slate, and to get to 4-4 or 5-3 by the state playoff cutoff, the Lions are going to have to win the games they will be favored in (Marlboro, Freehold Twp.) and get two or three more wins against the slate of North Brunswick, Toms River North, Manalapan, Howell, Toms River East and Southern, which won’t be easy.

While the Lions should be solid this year, their promising sophomore class should make this team a real threat by next season. Depending on how fast the young guys come along this year and how this new offense works out for a team that has had trouble scoring points against playoff-caliber defenses, the Lions could find themselves back in the postseason.

I also visited the 800-pound gorilla across town, Middletown South, which has come up just short of winning Central Jersey Group III titles by losing in the finals in the last two years. At other schools, an 11-1 season is cause for celebration, but after dominating for 10 games last year and then losing 30-10 to Monroe in the CJ III final, it was almost like the season was a failure at a program whose goal is to win a state title every year. The Eagles have won 9 sectional titles in their history since the creation of the playoff system in 1974, second in the Shore Conference only to Manasquan, which has 11.

Offensively, this season is a flip-flop of last year. Last season, they had an experienced offensive line of returning starters and all new skill players, and now this season, they have a seasoned group of skill players and pretty much a brand new offensive line. Quarterback Scott Meeker, 1,000-yard rusher Kyle Bunge, wideout Taylor Rogers, slotback Tim McArdle and senior slotback Andrew Suarez, who missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL, have all returned. So it’s basically up to molding an offensive line, and this offense should be improved from last year. If Suarez can stay healthy, he should be a big help not only in giving them a running threat on the perimeter, but also in being a player who can take a kickoff or punt 80 yards to the house with his breakaway speed.

Another weapon is sophomore kicker Connor Ryan, one of the best kickers the Eagles have had in a long time. South coach Steve Antonucci feels that every time the Eagles reach the red zone this season, they should at least come away with three points because of the range of Ryan, who made some big kicks as a freshman.

A player to keep an eye on for the future is freshman Taylor Hendrickson, who could see time at tight end. It’s rare for a freshman to see much time on the varsity for the Eagles, so that will tell you about Hendrickson’s potential. Also, a player better known as a pitcher on the baseball team, junior lefty Howie Brey, also will see some snaps at quarterback this season, according to Antonucci.

Defense has long been the backbone of the program, and the Eagles graduated some top talent, including linebacker Sean Campbell, the All Shore Media Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. Rick Lovato and Tom Masi return up front at the tackle spots, which should be a strength. The secondary also should be strong with Rogers moving from corner to safety, and Suarez and Dave Elkhatib returning as starters as well.

All in all, this is a team that once again has the goods to reach the CJ III final and win it. The offense looks like it should be better able to mount longer drives against playoff-caliber defenses and also force teams to respect the passing game, while the defense is perennially one of the Shore’s best no matter who graduates.

After losing badly to Monroe last year, the Eagles’ schedule up to that game came into question, but this year, I don’t think anyone is going to say they weren’t tested. They open against perennial playoff foe Ocean, and as part of the newly created Class A North, will face some high-flying passing attacks at Manalapan and Howell after playing mostly smashmouth running teams the past few years. They also face 2009 CJ IV finalist Brick Memorial and a loaded Lacey team that should be one of the Shore’s best and is a state title contender in its own right.

A funny/exasperating moment for Antonucci on Thursday came after he reprimanded the team following practice about scheduling other things during practice, missing practice and constantly bugging the coaches for buckles, chinstraps, pads, etc., and told the players to stop annoying the coaches with all that and handle their business properly. He then said he would bet everything he owned that after practice someone would come knocking on his door. Sure enough, while I was talking to him in the coaches’ room, the door cracks open, a head pokes in and says, “Um, coach, sorry to bother you but can I get some new pads because these ones are all worn out.” Antonucci could only shake his head and say, “Sure. No problem.” Ah, the joys of coaching high school players.


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