Camp/Scrimmage Update: TRE, Ocean, Rumson-FH

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Stood out in the rainy weather on Tuesday to check out a couple of scrimmages involving some teams I am previewing – Toms River East, Ocean and Rumson-Fair Haven and learned some things about each team. As for the scores of the scrimmages, don’t ask me. I pretty much don’t care. I just look at individuals and how certain units performed (i.e., can this secondary cover a fast group of receivers? Can this O-line match that physical D-line? That sort of stuff).

I’ll start at Dvorak Field down at Toms River East, which scrimmaged Ocean in the morning in an annual scrimmage between two perennial playoff teams. As we all know, the Raiders graduated running back Nico Steriti, the All Shore Media Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, but they return his younger brother, Mario, who has been a starter since his freshman year and is now a junior. It was hard to get a gauge on the Raiders’ offense in the scrimmage because Mario sat out with a blood blister on his heel, but I did come away with a few things.

New quarterback Joe Clarizio, a senior, gives the Raiders more of a running threat at QB than last year’s quarterback, Charlie Diskin, the son of the head coach, who was more of a dropback passer. Clarizio is a running threat when he breaks the pocket and has a solid arm. He hit returning wideout Cory Cardini for a nice gain down the field on a rollout and also showed some elusiveness.

They don’t really have that big, bruising back in the run game, as it’s more of a selection of smaller, scatback types in their multiple wing offense. The offensive line lost some standouts and is all new, but they always seem to be able to find new guys to plug in and succeed in that area.

Cardini also looked solid in the secondary, particularly in run support. Defensively, the linebackers and secondary should be strong, with almost everyone coming back. Also, they have a three-year starter, Jimmy Smith, at defensive tackle. Ocean, which has an excellent backfield, moved the ball in five- or six-yard chunks on the ground in the scrimmage, but Toms River East did a nice job in the goal line/red zone situations.

Mario Steriti’s performance and the cohesion of a new offensive line will go a long way toward determing the Raiders’ fate, as well as the ability of Clarizio, who is also one of the better returning kickers in Ocean County, to keep defenses honest with his throwing ability.

As for Ocean, the Spartans have a strong backfield that features junior Greg Moore and senior Kevin Rogers. Moore has added 30 solid pounds and is now up to 200. He has the ability to simply run through people after being a little undersized as a sophomore, although he still ran for 1,000 yards. He also looks like he has gotten an inch or two taller. While he was tough to bring down offensively, I almost liked what I saw from him more as a linebacker. He covered sideline to sideline and showed great burst and closing speed there. He has received preliminary interest from Rutgers, UConn, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, according to Ocean head coach Don Klein.

He is the thunder to the lightning of Rogers, who is known as “Juice” by his teammates and coaches. Rogers is a little smaller but is shifty and elusive in tight spaces. While Moore is more of a “one cut and go” kind of back, Rogers has a little more shake and bake to make defenders miss and stays low to the ground. He is very quick laterally and can make people miss in a phone booth. He also is the vocal leader, as senior teammate Connor Hayes, a returning starter on the line, jokingly referred to him as “Coach Juice.”

With those two back there, Ocean has gone from a Wing-T team to an I-formation team to take advantage of those backs. It also helps that there are two of them, so that one of them won’t have to endure the pounding of 250-plus carries against perhaps the Shore Conferences’ toughest schedule (although Toms River East and a few others have an argument that their schedule might be even harder). Rogers, in particular, looked good running the ball against TRE and the two were picking up yardage at five or six yards at a clip during most points.

The Spartans’ new quarterback is their kicker from last year, Joe Pingitore Jr., who made a clutch field goal that beat Long Branch. He is a gritty player who will be asked to make the throws on third down and use play action to his advantage. He just needs to be accurate and keep the chains moving because this is the type of offense that is built to shorten the game with the running attack. The best way to keep the ball out of the hands of Miles Shuler or Charles Davis or Andrew Casten or Derrick Bender or Kyle Bunge or whomever is to make them stand on the sidelines or play defense for long stretches.

A good addition to the team is junior fullback/defensive tackle Colton Bigelow, a talented transfer from St. John Vianney who is the younger brother of former Ocean tackle Shane Bigelow and the son of the late pro wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow. Bigelow has to sit out five weeks because of the NJSIAA transfer rule, according to Klein, so he won’t be available at the beginning of the season.

Defensively, they have some beef up front that will only be more fortified when Bigelow is available. Junior Kyle Gora is 6-4, 290 out of that new group.

From the Ocean-TRE scrimmage, I headed over to Rumson, where the Bulldogs hosted a gathering that included perennial juggernaut St. Peter’s Prep, Group IV power East Orange, and Group III power Middletown South.

As for St. Peter’s, the state’s top running back recruit, senior Savon Huggins, a Jackson resident, is as advertised. He had a ridiculous, 35-yard touchdown run vs. Middletown South in the early going and also had another good touchdown run against East Orange. Middletown South defensive coordinator Al Bigos even described his first touchdown run as “Knowshon-style.” Huggins didn’t get a lot of carries in the scrimmage because I’m sure SPP wants to keep him healthy and not give away anything as far as how it is going to use him considering everyone and their grandmother was filming.

SPP is so loaded that it was initially hard to tell which one was Huggins because SPP’s other running back, Sheldon Royster, was equally as impressive and has a similar build to Huggins. Despite the impressive cutback running from those two, the player who may have been most buzzed about was 6-foot-8, 300-pound senior lineman Keith Lumpkin, a human eclipse who has numerous Division I-A offers. He is so big that at one point, Middletown South thought they accidentally only had 10 guys on defense, but it was because they couldn’t actually see their defensive tackle because he was lined up across from Lumpkin.

There was a pretty big crowd there for a scrimmage, and it wasn’t just all opposing coaches scouting.Long Branch’s Miles Shuler and Brandon Dinkin were in the house, as Shuler is good friends with Huggins. They are two of the top recruits in the state and it remains to be seen that if a school gets one, it will get both. I know Rutgers would certainly like that scenario, but we’ll see.

Middletown South somewhat walked in with a knife to the gunfight, as some linemen were out injured along with senior wide receiver/safety Taylor Rogers and a few others. The Eagles had some receivers get behind the defense against all of the teams but could not connect on the touchdown throws until Scott Meeker hit a nice one against Rumson.

Honestly, I can’t really tell much about Middletown South from what I saw because it wasn’t really the full team, so hopefully their scrimmages against Sayreville and Piscataway at least allow a better look at their personnel.

As for Rumson, I thought senior quarterback Mike Villapiano looked very good. He threw a pair of touchdown passes and a pick against St. Peter’s, but what I really liked was that he stood in the pocket and delivered some strikes while getting walloped on a few blitzes. That’s the kind of toughness you can’t teach. Last season, he was much more of a running quarterback when he rotated with Sean Burke, but this season he has shown that he has worked on his pocket presence now that he is the full-time starter. He threw a perfectly timed rainbow on a fade to senior wideout Jack Wise down the sideline for one touchdown and then threw a few rockets on crossing routes. He and Wise have the potential to be one of the Shore’s more prolific duos this season, and Villapiano could be a breakout player as a senior.

Rumson and Villiapiano are going to be working out of the shotgun with one-back sets, which they did plenty last year, and have added some four wide receiver sets this year.

Rumson’s junior-laden defense also did a solid job of holding its own against most of the teams, which is a good sign for a Group II school against that array of talent. SPP kind of manhandled them a little up front as they had a hard time getting off their blocks against the long arms of SPP’s linemen, but that doesn’t really make Rumson any different from most other teams SPP will face this year. A player to watch up front on defense for RFH is 6-2, 230-pound junior Jack Eisenstadt, who should be a big addition to returner Mike Alonzo. Senior Mike Huttner looks to be one of the top linebackers in the Shore this year in his third season as a starter.

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