Camp Reports: Mater Dei Prep, Jackson Memorial

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Stopped by a pair of camps today as the whirlwind continues, going from one of the smallest teams in the Shore, Mater Dei Prep, to Group IV Jackson Memorial.

I’ll start with the Seraphs, who now have the rare principal/head coach combination in Steve Sciarappa. He takes over for Ron Raymond, who was not brought back with his staff when the administration, including Sciarappa, decided to go in another direction. Sciarappa is Mater Dei’s third new head coach in three seasons at a program that ended a 29-game losing streak with a 7-0 win over Newark Academy in its NJSIAA consolation game last year. By the way, it’s “Mater Dei Prep” now officially, as they have changed the curriculum and other aspects to become a college preparatory school. All their gear already has “Mater Dei Prep” on it, so I’ll go with that.

There is some continuity on the staff, with some of the assistants from last year returning, so that helps. Sciarappa also is keeping the offense relatively similar, as they are running the triple option, “somewhere between what they run at Middletown South and what they run at Brick Memorial,” as he put it.

The players I spoke with were blunt, saying that when they heard Raymond was not being brought back they thought the program was going to be folded. They added that there were only about nine or 10 players at the first few meetings, which was another sign that made them think the program was doomed. They also said that they were initially skeptical when it came to buying into what the third new guy in three years was selling. Now they are up to 29 players in the entire program and just got transfers from Monmouth Regional and Carteret, respectively, who should help. It seems like the situation is not nearly as bleak as initially thought, and the Seraphs have a schedule conducive to them making strides.

Defensively, they are going to be a 3-4 team. They don’t have a whole lot of size, considering only three players on the entire roster are over 200 pounds, so everything will have to be a team effort, particularly on defense. They have a lot of returning experience at fullback, and it looks like senior Parker Lampe will take over for last year’s starter, Jesse Meyer, at quarterback, with Meyer playing slotback and outside linebacker. Junior Lantz Jones is a Monmouth transfer who should help at wide receiver, and Carteret transfer Elyjah Dumont, a sophomore, is raw but could be a real find considering he is 6-5 and will also play wideout.

This team has players who have experienced winning from the one game last season and hope to build on it, and there seems to be positivity in camp despite all the offseason changes, so we’ll see how it turns out.

I also have to add to an earlier blog post about the Mater Dei connections of many successful coaches around the Shore, as I forgot to add current assistant Shannon Hoadley, who was on Mike Ciccotelli’s staff at Keyport in the late 1990s/early 2000s when the Red Raiders were snapping up state titles. Manasquan assistant Lou Certo also is a former Mater Dei player and is part of a staff that is perennially in the hunt for a state title, winning the last one in 2008 and making the CJ 2 final in 2009. So it is a program with a proud tradition despite the major struggles since going 4-6 in 2006 under former coach John Corneliusen, who is now an assistant at Rumson.

Also, here’s a fun wrinkle. Mater Dei Prep opens the season on the road at Middlesex in a nonconference game. Want to take a guess who the new defensive coordinator is at Middlesex? Yes, it’s none other than Ron Raymond, last year’s head coach, who was scouting at Mater Dei’s scrimmage against St. Joseph’s-Metuchen on Monday.

On to Jackson Memorial, where the Jaguars have revamped their usual smashmouth, I-formation running offense and gone to the ever-trendy spread shotgun look with one back and four wide receivers. They have two beasts up front in Division I-A prospects Dimitrius Smith and Joe Nolan and should have a very good line on both sides. The problem in recent seasons has been scoring points, and the Jaguars feel like they finally have the speed at the skill positions to make that happen, prompting the change to the spread shotgun look.

Senior Fred Scheer takes over at quarterback, and promising junior Brandon Winston, who has the potential to be a breakout player because of his speed, will be the tailback. Head coach Mike Smith listed eight wide receivers who will see time, so the Jaguars should be much more of a 50-50 run/pass team than in past years when they were seemingly about 80-20 in favor of the running game. Junior Johntel Thomas is one to watch out of the new crop of wide receivers. Their streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 1995 came to an end last year, and now all they care about is scoring enough points to compete for a title in Class A South, regardless of who gets the stats.

Smith, who is the youngest brother of Denver Nuggets guard and former Lakewood star J.R. Smith, already has an offer from Buffalo and has several other schools heavily interested. It sounds like if he gets an offer from Penn State, who has been in contact with him, that is where he will wind up. The Nittany Lions sound like the clear favorite if they offer. There already is a starting lineman for the Nittany Lions from the Shore as former Ocean star Lou Eliades will start at right tackle for them this year.

Nolan, a 310-pound center, also has generated interest and will be making a visit to Temple this weekend for the Owls’ season opener, according to Mike Smith, so the Jags could have a pair of Division I-A recruits up front by the time it’s all said and done. They also will both start on the defensive line, which will be the clear strength of a team that has to replace most of its starters at linebacker and in the secondary.


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