The pieces are starting to fall into place for the Millville High School football team.
The Thunderbolts’ most glaring vacancy was filled Monday when coach Jason Durham announced Rashon Sorrell would handle starting quarterback duties when the team’s season opens Sept. 7 at Atlantic City.
Though the battle with junior Roberto Rivera was neck-and-neck throughout training camp and the team’s first three preseason scrimmages, Sorrell’s familiarity with the offense due to his varsity experience played a big determining factor in him winning the job.
The lengthy competition between Sorrell and Rivera seemed to elevate the play of everyone around the program.
“Everyone wants to be out there Friday nights and there are definitely spots open for that first Friday night game,” senior starting center Jimmy Cessna said. “Rashon and Roberto are both great players. We aren’t the same team as last year, we’re rebuilding, we have some younger guys stepping up, but everyone is hungry to build off last year.”
Of course, Millville went a remarkable 11-1 in 2011 while advancing to the Group IV South title game where it suffered that lone loss to Pennsauken.
Sorrell should play a big part in trying to help the Bolts repeat their success. He will likely line up at safety on defense in addition to his role as quarterback, so the senior has a pretty good handle on where the team is at right now.
“I think (the offense and defense) are both the same,” Sorrell said. “We have a lot of confidence in both teams. We have a lot of talent, we just need to stay focused and do the right things in practice when we get out on the field.”
Having made the playoffs each of the last two years since not qualifying for the state tournament since 1998, Millville is intent on continuing the proud tradition of Bolts football behind players like Sorrell and other leaders like offensive/defensive tackle Antoine White.
The team knows reaching the postseason for a third consecutive year will help solidify its identity.
“It feels great not to have the eyes looking over you,” said White, a junior. “There’s always naysayers, but it feels good to have some attention on us and people know we are trying to better ourselves as a program.”
— Anthony Coppola
Last year during the preseason, there was a battle raging for the starting spot at quarterback for Buena Regional.
That battle was eventually won by junior Kyle Norton. Four games into the season, however, then-sophomore Eric Rainear took the helm. He won just one of his six starts, but showed flashes of talent that ultimately made him the man going into this season.
Rainear will QB the Chiefs offense with valuable experience under his belt and the confidence of knowing the job is his.
“I got the experience and got the jitters out,” Rainear said.
Rainear, while he wasn’t particularly efficient through the air, completing just 17-of-54 pass attempts, proved to be effective rushing the ball.
He carried the ball 40 times for 167 yards (4.175 average) in games in which he started and 131 of those yards came in his final three games.
Rainear said he hopes to use his arm with more success this year, but knows it’s his legs that will be key.
“(We’re going to do) a lot more throwing, a lot more sprint out stuff,” Rainear said. “It’s a lot easier for me when I have the run option.”
Rainear’s legs also make it easier for standout junior running back Love Scott to find some holes.
But the 5-foot-8, 150-pound signal-caller knows this season isn’t going to be a cake walk. He has drawn praise from coach Jonathan Caputo in scrimmages, but there’s work to be done.
“(I need to work on) just reading defenses and stuff, (assigning) pass coverages and stuff,” Rainear said.
Rainear has gained the confidence of his supporting cast so far during the offseason as well.
“He’s improved a lot as a quarterback,” Guilford said. “He can throw the ball a lot farther now. I think it’s going to be a good season for him.”
— Patrick Buganski
Vineland Fighting Clan
For all the fans who ask “Where are all the big kids on the team?”, meet junior Jamil Demby.
The two-way lineman checks in at 6-foot-4¼, 275-pounds, giving Vineland some much-needed brawn up front.
“He’s a big kid,” Vineland coach Josh Hedgeman said. “Jamil has done some nice things in there so far and we’re counting on him to keep going in the right direction.”
Demby was able to keep moving forward last year as he saw his playing time steadily increase throughout the season. However, he knew that the offseason would set the tone for his junior year.
“I had to improve my overall stamina and strength,” he said. “I did a lot of agility drills, worked out with the (exercise) bands and did other workouts with just the weights.
“I knew I needed to work harder than everybody else if I wanted to get better. That’s what I tried to do.”
So far, so good for Demby, who has been pulling double-duty in Vineland’s two scrimmages, lining up at right tackle and defensive end.
When asked why Vineland has struggled at getting some bigger guys out for the team in recent years, Demby offered a simple explanation.
“It’s hard work,” he said.
■ Vineland had its first kicking competition of the season. Chris Atoki and Rovell McArthur were the two finalists to handle the placekicking chores for Friday’s final scrimmage against Schalick.
— Tom McGurk