Mega-Preseason Camp Report – Matawan, Keyport, TRS and More

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I hit a couple scrimmages and camps in the last few days and did some writing on top of it, so I’m pretty much throwing it all in a blender here.

I’ll start with Matawan, which returns all of its top skill players from last year’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II champions and has added some more to the arsenal. The Huskies look like the preseason No. 1 team in the Shore Conference, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I watched the Howell-Matawan scrimmage on Friday morning and here are some notes from that about the Huskies and Rebels.

—Matawan senior quarterback Jared Allison took some snaps at quarterback after not playing there in the Huskies’ first scrimmage vs. Red Bank Catholic because he was a little banged up. That team just plays at a different speed when he is in there, and he looked as elusive as ever. He already has offers from Bryant University, Wagner and Eastern Illinois.

—Also on the recruiting front, senior offensive lineman/linebacker Andre Hodge has an offer from Eastern Illinois and interest from Holy Cross, UConn and West Virginia. He is a tweener in that he is a talented offensive lineman but a little undersized and a solid linebacker who could put on weight to play defensive end.

—Allison’s heir apparent looks like Matawan’s next big star – freshman quarterback Kashawn Barnes. He is a lefty who is already about six feet tall and has a rocket arm. He threw about a 30-yard bullet for a touchdown against Howell’s first-team defense on a post pattern and looked very advanced for a freshman. Matawan is going to use him in some packages this season in order to split Allison wide, put him in the slot or put him in the backfield to give the defense even more to think about.

—Matawan senior running back McArthur Underwood ripped off maybe the highlight run of the year, juking about 10 Howell defenders for about a 70-yard touchdown, although it was called back for an illegal block down the field. I have it along with other highlights from the preseason that I will post as we get closer to the start of the regular season.

—Matawan’s biggest question mark is its front seven on defense because it has to replace an excellent defensive line and nearly all of its linebackers, including ASM first-teamer Dave Incle.

—The Huskies are obscenely deep at running back. Junior Cassius Williams and senior Keith Beaty would be 1,200-1,300-yard rushers on most other teams in the Shore Conference, and they don’t get the publicity of Allison and Underwood. It will be interesting to see how they spread it around with that much talent on offense.

—A newcomer to watch offensively is senior wide receiver Austin Davis, who is about 6-2 and can run. He could be yet another weapon.

—The offensive line isn’t as big as it was last year, but a little quicker and more technically proficient, according to O-line coach John Kaye. With that kind of talent in the backfield, they just need to give those ballcarriers a crease and they will do the rest.

—Interesting sentiments around the Shore about Matawan. When I mention that they look like they could be the preseason No. 1 team in the Shore, here are the comments I’ve gotten from coaches and other players.

“I know they have to be No. 1 because of who they have back, but they aren’t really the No. 1 team.”

“They are not No. 1. No way.”

“They have some skill kids, but I want to see how their line does. They’re good, but they’re not the No. 1 team.”

Then I inevitably followed that up with, “Well then who is No. 1?” That is followed by “Uh, umm, errr, who else is good?” In other words, “I don’t know who is No. 1, but it’s not Matawan.”

Ahh, you’ve got to love the preseason rankings and the competitiveness around the Shore, where every coach thinks all the teams near the top are overrated but can’t give you a team that they would replace them with.

—As for Howell, junior quarterback Ryan Davies, the son of head coach Cory Davies and a first-year starter, looked good. He has the prototype size as he is about 6-4 and 200 pounds and he hit some deep throws with great touch on the ball. Howell’s offense is more based on timing and throwing to a spot than trying to gun it into small spaces, and Davies had some really nice throws to the sideline. Running back Eli Blue looks like he’s put on some size and will be a factor on draw plays.

—Senior wideout Ryan Handy looks like he’s added some power to his game, as he caught a pass in traffic and bowled over a few defenders for one long gain while also catching a short touchdown pass. Benton Burdin, who played running back last year, also looks like he will help offensively at wideout. All in all, I thought Howell’s no-huddle spread looked pretty solid, especially playing against a fast and experienced Matawan secondary that includes Allison, Underwood and returning starter Joe Urcioli. Howell’s defense looked shaky, but that may just be because Matawan has so much talent and will make a lot of defenses look like that.

Before I went to that scrimmage, I stopped by Keyport, where head coach Mike Ciccotelli, who is part of a select club along with Warren Wolf, Vic Kubu, Lou Vircillo, Chuck Donohue Sr. and John Amabile as current or former Shore Conference head coaches with more than 200 career wins. He is now entering his 33rd season as head coach and his 37th overall at Keyport, as he was an assistant for four years. He congratulated me on getting married recently, and remembered that he got married on a Saturday in October back when he was an assistant and then was back coaching in a jayvee game by Monday. Now that’s a football coach.

The Red Raiders got hit by the graduation tidal wave during the offseason, but still have the components to make a run at the title in the newly created Class B Central. They return senior Jordan Edmonds, who will bounce around between halfback and fullback in Keyport’s Delaware Wing-T offense after forming a 1-2 punch with the now-graduated Christian Castell last year. Edmonds is one of the top returning running backs in the division.

Senior Cyrus Williams, who is a good all-around athlete who is a hurdler on the track team and a basketball player, steps in at quarterback and gives Keyport a good running threat there. They also have a Monmouth Regional transfer, junior Lamair Hill, who should see some carries at fullback. The players also think that first-year player Mike Konish should be a good weapon as the primary wide receiver.

Obviously, the main question is replacing the experience and size they had up front on both sides of the ball last season, including perhaps the best defensive tackle in the Shore Conference, Bryan Thomson. The good news is that they return senior Greg Velasco, a three-year starter. He has slimmed down dramatically, from 310 to 250, by having a mongoose gnaw at him while he was sleeping. OK, I made the last part up. He said he just radically changed his diet and cut out the fast food and soda while working out maniacally. Ciccotelli said he is a “machine” who always wants the coaches to challenge him in the weight room and on the field. He said he wanted to lose the weight to get more quickness and endurance, so look for him to have a big season.

The Red Raiders have also changed defenses, from a 4-4 to a 3-5 and have a new defensive coordinator, veteran assistant Jay Graham. They like their depth and talent at linebacker and wanted to take advantage of that, and they can play Velasco at the nose up front.

Another interesting wrinkle is their kicking game. Keyport usually has a quality kicker/punter and this year that’s true except for one thing – he won’t be eligible until about midseason, so it will be a case of patching the hole up to that point. Casey Calmon has transferred from Red Bank Regional, where he was the Bucs starting kicker last year. He actually lives in Union Beach, whose residents have the choice to go to Keyport or RBR, so he’s actually closer to his home by going to Keyport, but still has to sit out because of NJSIAA transfer rules.

On Friday, I saw the beginning of the Manchester-Wall scrimmage and then took a trip to the RBC-Bergen Catholic-Toms River South scrimmage.

As for Manchester, it has two key players out right now as senior wide receiver Monwell Brown has missed the first two scrimmages and senior Anthony Prendimano is out with a separated shoulder suffered on the last play of the Hawks’ intrasquad scrimmage. Brown was playing basketball and got his fingers caught in the net, resulting in a cut between his index and middle finger that required stitches. He is expected to be back by Manchester’s game scrimmage and ready to go for the opener, while Prendimano, a starting guard and middle linebacker, is questionable for the opener against South Plainfield.

Manchester has some intriguing offensive weapons and a good group of linebackers with Prendimano, senior Ron Spicer and junior Stephen Bick. Junior Joe Johnson is the feature tailback this year and even though he is undersized, he accelerates quickly and has breakaway speed. He was a special teams dynamo on kickoffs last year.

The quarterback spot could possibly be a rotation of senior Nate Nickens, who played last year, and junior Tim Rogers, who broke his left forearm in a JV game last year and missed most of the season. Nickens is a good all-around athlete at 6-4 who can hurl the ball 60 yards in the air, while Rogers is more of a pinpoint passer/field general type. If Nickens isn’t at quarterback, he will be at wideout, and you could see why in the scrimmage against Wall. They were doing goal line situations, and when Rogers put it up there for Nickens, there was no one who could stop him because of his size advantage. Nickens has the big arm to get it downfield to Brown, who is a good vertical threat, while Rogers is solid as well, so they could be tough to defend.

The main issue is the size and experience on the line on both sides. When you lose studs like Jimmy Lawson and Josh Siemanowicz, who are a combined 600 pounds and are now both at Monmouth University, any team would have trouble replacing them. However, this unit looks fairly small and they were also dealt a blow when junior Tommy Sokol, a 260-pounder who played a bunch last year, decided not to come out for the team for personal reasons. He also was the team’s clicker and made three clutch field goals in an upset win over RBC last year.

This team has some skill guys to have an explosive offense, so the question is whether it can block anybody and whether it’s defense can get the other team off the field.

I left while they were still doing situational stuff at the scrimmage, but Wall’s running game looked pretty good and junior quarterback Steve Cluley is a deceiving runner who can scramble for a big gain if necessary.

Now, on to RBC. First of all, the new turf at Count Basie Field in Red Bank looks outstanding. It’s a major upgrade and the facility looks great. I believe the company that did the turf was the same company that did the turf at the New Meadowlands Stadium, so they did it right.

As for what went on, I thought RBC held its own against Bergen Catholic and did some nice things. Toms River South did some good things in the passing game but was having trouble stopping anyone defensively, although it was missing some starting linemen, according to head coach Bill Hill Sr.

RBC’s front seven on defense looked good, and senior running back Andrew Casten broke off about a 60-yard TD run on TRS and had some nice runs against Bergen Catholic. The bad news is that senior Dylan Chayes, a starting defensive end and offensive lineman, ended his day with a boot on his left foot after an ankle injury and could possibly miss RBC’s season opener.

While I know BC is part of that group of parochial juggernauts up north, I wouldn’t put the Crusaders on the level of St. Peter’s Prep, which I saw the other day. They are still a physical, talented team, so we’ll see if they close the gap on Don Bosco Prep and SPP this year.

I was very impressed by BC’s quarterback, senior Tanner McEvoy, a 6-5, 200-pound converted wideout who has close to 20 Division I-A offers. He can really wrong and has some elusiveness in addition to his arm. I think he projects as a wideout/tight end in college, although some are recruiting him at QB. He had a tremendous run against TRS, some good plays against RBC and certainly seems like the real deal. One of BC’s wideouts, Cameron Dickerson, is committed to my alma mater, Northwestern, one of its defensive backs, Shutang Mungwa, is headed to Stanford, and its running back Karell Bostick, has committed to Akron.

Toms River South did some nice things throwing the ball at times and has a solid receiving corps, including senior Bill Hill Jr., the son of the head coach, who has drawn interest as a wideout and also mainly as a safety from Iowa, Villanova, Temple, William & Mary and Holy Cross. He went to camps at Iowa and Monmouth University this summer but missed some others with a hamstring injury. Talking to some of the players, depth is a concern. The Indians can’t have the injuries that wiped out four or five starters at a time in last year’s 2-8 season.

I got a few reports from some other scrimmages. Barnegat wideout Mike DeTroia nearly made a few crazy circus catches against Manasquan, while Maryland recruit Ryan Malleck did his thing for Point Boro against Pinelands, leaping over a defender, and juking another for a long touchdown. Point Boro’s quarterback, who I’m thinking was John Dunbar, also looked good. Matt McLain had a good showing for Pinelands, running the ball fairly well and also returning a fumble 95 yards for a touchdown. It looks like a main question mark for Pinelands will be how good the Wildcats are up front offensively.

Finally, I wrapped up Friday by watching some Shore Conference alumni at Monmouth University’s last preseason intrasquad scrimmage. Stay tuned for a story on former Raritan star quarterback Andrew Mandeville in that area.

Some freshmen look like they may be immediate contributors for the Hawks – Manchester defensive tackle Jimmy Lawson, Toms River North linebacker Steve Barroso and Colts Neck kicker Eric Spillane. Barroso, in particular, has been impressive. Sophomore Justin Pandorf, the former Lacey star, also started at H-back. He added that lineman Cory Neal, a 2010 Lacey grad who had committed to Monmouth, has quit the team.


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