The standards Manasquan has set for itself over the years are so high that it is a shock to the system when the Warriors stagger out of the starting gate like they did in 2012.
“It’s unacceptable. It’s not Manasquan,” said senior running back/safety Joe Murphy. “The coaches don’t like it. The players really don’t like it. We know the standards are championships.”
The Warriors started 1-4 last year. They did recover by winning four of their last five games to finish 5-5.
An emotional home win over Rumson-Fair Haven in the eighth game — the first game after superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc — enabled Manasquan to qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs for the eighth straight season. It then built a 14-0 halftime lead over eventual Central Group III champion Nottingham before losing 21-14.
There were legitimate reasons for Manasquan’s early season struggles. The schedule, which consisted of Long Branch in Week 1, Red Bank Catholic in Week 2 and Middletown South in Week 5, was unforgiving. The Warriors also were young on both sides of the ball.
They lost a close game against Long Branch, were solid defensively but struggled offensively against RBC, let a 35-6 lead get away in a 39-35 loss at St. John Vianney and were soundly beaten by Middletown South.
“It was more of a confidence thing than anything else,” said Manasquan coach Jay Price. “We actually brought in Teddy Atlas (a boxing personality) to talk to the kids about confidence and about doubting yourself. We were really trying to exorcise some demons.”
“I’m not saying he (Atlas) turned things around, but we started the season 1-4 and finished 4-1 and came out of there thinking, ‘Maybe, we can play a little bit.’ A lot of the kids got confidence and we’re hoping that rolls over into this season.”
The Manasquan players and coaching staff feel they can get back to the way Manasquan has traditionally played. That means the Warriors will rely on a power running game, a play-action passing game off the running game and a solid, well-prepared defense. That formula, along with outstanding talent through the years has produced a Shore Conference-record 11 NJSIAA sectional championships.
The hard-nosed Murphy appears to have become a team leader and is the prototypical Manasquan player.
“He’s a very emotional kid, a volcano of a kid,” Price said. “But, this year, his attitude has been outstanding. He’s controlling his emotions a little bit. From Day One, he’s been leading from the front.”
Murphy will slash his way behind a good-sized offensive line, led by guard Monte Sinisi and center/tackle Matt Forst.
Seniors Tucker Caccavale, who started all of last season and Will Pezzollo were competing for the starting quarterback job during the preseason.
Connor Grogan and Chris Miller, Manasquan’s two leading receivers last year, graduated.
However, Earl Peters, a transfer from Ewing, could provide a big-play threat. He impressed in the Warriors’ first scrimmage at Lakewood.
Pat Padgett will provide height and Joe Fittin, who was both a receiver and a running back last year, will provide versatility. Junior tight Tanner Cowley, who is a rising recruit, will be asked to provide both blocking and receiving.
Forst and Sinisi return on the defensive line. Cowley and Blaine Birch return as a strongside linebacker. Murphy, at safety, will be a key player in the secondary.
The ingredients are there for a revival at Vic Kubu Warrior Field.