Camp Report: Manasquan

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E-mail: stump@allshoremedia.com

I only hit one camp today as I am trying to knock out some more full preview stories for you to read before I hit a bunch more camps in the next two days.

I took a trip to last season’s Central Jersey Group II finalist, Manasquan, which is “a work in progress,” as head coach Pete Cahill put it. The “progress” at Manasquan usually culminates with a game on the first weekend of December, as they have won more state sectional titles (11) than any team in Shore Conference history. They won CJ II in 2008 and fell to Matawan, which is geared up for another run this year, in last season’s final.

Clearly they lost some studs. Linebacker/defensive end Dan Sullivan, and wide receiver/defensive backs Ryland McTighe and Neal Sterling were all first-team All Shore Media selections who have graduated, and they were just the headliners from a strong group of players. They also lost lineman Rob Forst, the younger brother of former Squan star and starting Rutgers offensive lineman Art Forst. The younger Forst also went on to sign with the Scarlet Knights, but he has since quit the team. The good news is that the talent well is far from dry in Warrior-land.

Junior Tyler Saito, who was an ASM first-team selection as a first baseman in baseball this past spring, takes over the starting quarterback role after seeing time as the back-up to C.J. Davis last year, including some big minutes in the state final after Davis got hurt. He is the classic dropback passer with a strong arm who will stand in the pocket and deliver it downfield. Manasquan will be a real threat throwing the ball with him. He has shown flashes of ability so far in his career and will be counted on to be more consistent and productive this season. While McTighe and Sterling are gone, Saito does have an experienced receiver in senior tight end Ryan Casey, who really came on in the passing game in the latter half of last season.

After a chaotic running back situation last year because of injuries and Lorenzo Venable quitting the team, the Warriors look to be much more solid in that area this season. Senior Tariq Turner, who played fullback the last two years, will be the tailback. I think he is going to have a really big season, and he is part of a deep group along with senior Zack Ogden, who is also a threat in the passing game, as well as promising juniors Kodie McNamara and Cole McMahon.

The Warriors were already dealt a tough blow in the preseason when starting offensive guard/middle linebacker Adam Iatesta, a junior, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee. He had a pretty bulky brace on at practice on Thursday, and Cahill spoke highly of him as a hard worker, so that is a bad loss. Here is hoping for a speedy recovery for Iatesta.

This is the second year that the Warriors have lost a player early in the season who was expected to get significant minutes, as last year, now-senior starting offensive lineman Eddie Kapalko suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff in the season opener against Point Boro. Kapalko is back in one piece and will start at guard. The offensive line is pretty much entirely new, so that is an area to keep an eye on.

Iatesta’s absence means that the Warriors have to find another starting linebacker to go with Turner and returning starter Brendan Brock. A newcomer to keep an eye on is 310-pound senior Jack Cuttrel, who missed last season because of concussion issues but could be a big run stopper up front in the middle of Manasquan’s defense. Although he wasn’t mentioned by the coaches because he is only a freshman, there is another huge Forst brother who looks about 6-4 and 220 as a freshman.

All in all, this team has what it takes to make it back to the promised land, but it has to be on its game from the outset because the Warriors start with Point Boro and Raritan back-to-back in the new Class A Central. On paper at least, those may be their two hardest games until the state playoffs, although Group III Jackson Liberty is also lurking out there. The only fear is that the schedule might not really prepare them for the likes of Long Branch, Matawan or Rumson in the playoffs, but their veteran coaching staff should be able to work around that issue.

They have some quality skill players but need the offensive line to coalesce and need some more receivers to emerge to complement Casey. I think they will certainly put the ball in the air plenty, but they are also focused on returning to a power running game that will set up the pass. Manasquan usually gets better as the season progresses, so once Saito gets more comfortable, the backs settle into a rhythm and the front seven on defense comes together, they will be ready to make a run at title No. 12 and possibly get some revenge against Matawan, which is the clear favorite in CJ II at this point.

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