Camp Reports: Monmouth Regional, TR North

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Dropped in on a  pair of camps on a rainy Monday, hitting Monmouth Regional early and then popping over to Toms River North in the afternoon.

Monmouth once again has a very tough schedule as a member of the newly created Class B North, and its primary strength will be its skill players in the backfield. Running back Davonte Thomas, who transferred to Monmouth from Asbury Park before last season, is back as a senior along with Matt Showanes and Shayne Henderson, the latter of whom missed all of last season with a torn ACL after a promising sophomore campaign. Those are three players who are a threat to run for 100 yards in a game, which is a luxury.

Just think about the running backs in B North for a minute. It’s ridiculous. Long Branch has Miles Shuler (a QB but obviously a dangerous runner), Karon Hair and Dwight Clark, Neptune has Charles Davis, Ikie Calderon, and David Gutzmore, Freehold has Derrick Bender, Willie Thomas and more, Red Bank Catholic has Andrew Casten, Mike Dorsi, Chris Donald and more, Ocean has Kevin Rogers and Greg Moore, and Monmouth has that trio. Only Colts Neck is a little bit of an unknown in that department. But just making All-Division at running back out of that group is going to be quite an accomplishment.

Senior A.J. Visconti is back for Monmouth at quarterback after being inserted as the starter in the third week of the season last year. The Falcons, while still employing some Wing-T sets, will go to more of a spread look this season to take advantage of that speedy trio in the backfield. They have some players who can make plays in space and want to take advantage of it. The big question mark is the offensive line, which returns two starters but graduated several standouts. The performance of that unit will go a long way toward the success of this team.

Another area of concern for the Falcons is depth. They have only 44 kids in the program, and that includes freshmen, and they do not even have a freshman team at this point. Right now, it looks like eight players will be starting on both sides of the ball. That’s a little scary in a division where every week will be a battle and should take its toll on some bodies. The closing of Fort Monmouth, where many players have come from over the years, certainly hasn’t helped the participation numbers, as many are leaving to go to another base in Maryland and no new players are coming in to replace them.

I also forgot about a notable addition to the coaching staff as I was walking toward the field and scrolling through 8 million texts/e-mails on my phone before hearing, “Look at the diagram! Holy crap!” in frustration in front of an offensive huddle. Yes, the legendary John Amabile, who was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame this summer, is now an assistant with the Falcons after deciding to step down as the head coach of Allentown after a one-year stint there last season. Monmouth head coach Sal Spampanato is certainly happy to have him aboard, and he is technically a defensive assistant but is helping out in a lot of areas.

Another addition to the coaching staff that Shore Conference fans will remember is new quarterbacks coach A.J. Roque, a former star quarterback at Matawan who went on to a tremendous career at Kean University.

Down in Ocean County, Toms River North looks to be a prime contender for the title in the newly created Class A South. The Mariners have four core players who they expect to lead the way in seniors Demetri Davis (QB/DB); Anthony Carrington (WR/DB), Steve Franco (OL/DL) and Cody Groves (RB/LB).

Carrington is back after a one-year hiatus at Lakewood, as he transferred back to Toms River North, where he played as a sophomore. He gives the Mariners the ability to stretch the field vertically in the passing game with his speed and hands, and he already has offers from Wagner and Monmouth University. Davis, a converted running back, is much more comfortable in his second year as the quarterback and is the first quarterback in head coach Chip LaBarca Jr.’s five seasons to return for a second year as the starter.

The Mariners are going from an I-formation running team to a shotgun spread team, putting Davis in the shotgun on every play and running some option and zone read plays while also throwing the ball more. Davis often would tuck the ball and run out of instinct last year, but trusts his strong arm a little more this year and looks to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield under a rush now instead of just taking off.

They also will have mostly one-back sets without a fullback in the running game, and Groves will be the main guy a year after they were basically a running back by committee offense. Groves has interest from Sacred Heart, Monmouth and Albany. Franco, who is 6-4 and just under 300 pounds, is the only returning starter on the offensive line and has already been offered by perennial Division I-AA power Youngstown State.

A newcomer who will be one to watch is Carrington’s younger brother, Kyle. He is a freshman, but has the potential to be a star and will see significant minutes at wide receiver this year. LaBarca thinks he has the potential to be an All-State-caliber receiver before his career is done. You can tell the Mariners are looking to throw the ball more this year considering LaBarca listed seven receivers in the rotation, including another promising freshman, R.J. Bromell, who has blazing speed.

The main question marks are the offensive line with four new starters, and the defense, which lost a bunch of studs to graduation. The Mariners seem to be able to consistently produce standout defensive units no matter who graduates, but this will be one of their biggest tests yet after losing the likes of Drew Kollman, Rob Cassidy and Steve Barroso. The main newcomer to watch in that area is junior outside linebacker Eevan Sutton, who could be a force in his first season as a starter.

Even though the divisions changed, Toms River North has nearly the exact same schedule because two of its nondivisional games are against Howell and Manalapan, who were their foes in the American Division last year, and two of their former nondivisional games, against Toms River South and Toms River East, are now divisional games. In an A South division that looks fairly wide open, they have as good a chance as anybody, especially because they have had the number of fellow contender Brick Memorial in the past few seasons.


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