The Bishop Ahr High School football team experienced growing pains in head coach Don Sofilkanich’s first two seasons at the helm with a boatload of very young and inexperienced players. But two season’s worth of game experience has the former Asbury Park and Neptune head coach believing this year’s team is poised at making a run at the program’s first winning season since 2009.
The main reason for Sofilkanich’s optimism is experience. The youngsters that filled key starting positions the past two seasons are improved and have a better knowledge of the game now, and it starts with junior quarterback David Holder.
“Training camp has been a big blessing for me this year,” Holder said. “It’s helped me become a leader on the offensive side of the ball and helped us grow as a team. The nature of camp this year made a lot of us grow up and learn the ropes, and we’re hoping to make it happen on the field when it counts.”
Teammate Kaysaan Neal has also noticed Holder’s maturation.
“Dave has definitely stepped up a lot from last year,” Neal said. “He’s a lot more vocal in the huddle. His timing has been on point, and he’s been doing very well in the pocket. I expect him to have a very good year.”
After a couple years of trial by fire, the Trojans’ diverse backfield will look to take the next step in its progression this fall.
Neal, a senior wing back, had 32 carries last year but will see a lot more touches this season. He, along with junior Tim Howard who’ll line up as the other wing back, are about as fast as anyone in the Greater Middlesex Conference. They’ve each been clocked running the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. Add bruising junior fullback Nelson Thomas to the mix and the Trojans have quite a bit a versatility at the position.
“Nelson is a big power back, but he was a little tentative last year,” said Holder. “He’s going to get a lot of the carries this year. Kaysaan can put a move on you and be gone. If he or Howard get free in the open field I’m not sure there’s anybody in the conference that could catch them.”
“I think we’re capable of a lot this season,” said Neal. “The one thing our backfield gives is versatility. Tim can actually go to wide receiver is needed, and Dave directs the team well. The biggest thing for us (running backs) is being very versatile. We block for each other. We can do a variety of things out of the backfield and I think were capable of a lot this year.”
Somebody has to open up running lanes though.
“The play of the offensive line is key,” said Holder. “Bishop Ahr hasn’t been know for big interior linemen since Brandon Vitable was here, but the new guys are starting to learn the concept. If the line holds up the sky is the limit for us.”