Two quarterbacks with complementary styles were given the keys to the offense during the Middlesex County All-Star squad’s initial practice Monday for MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XX.
Tyler Rodriguez, a drop-back passer who holds Carteret’s career passing records for yards (3,592) and touchdowns (37), took snaps on the Woodbridge High School field alongside Colonia’s Trent Barneys, a dual threat who amassed 1,710 yards rushing and passing with 19 touchdowns last season.
Rodriguez, who will continue his career at Montclair State University, guided the Ramblers to the 2012 Central Group II championship while Barneys, who will play at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, piloted the Patriots to a third consecutive NJSIAA playoff appearance.
All proceeds from the contest, which pits a team of recently graduated high school seniors from Middlesex County against counterparts from Union County, will benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School in Edison. The game will be played at 7 p.m. July 18 at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium.
More than $415,000 has been raised for the charities since the Snapple Bowl’s inception including a single-game record $47,000 last summer.
Middlesex has won six of the last seven games, including last year’s 39-15 victory, and holds an 11-8 lead in the series.
Union County, which opens practice on Saturday, should not anticipate that Rodriguez will stay strictly in the pocket or that Barneys does not have the ability to drop back.
Both signal-callers are malleable enough to adjust to the basic scheme Middlesex County offensive coordinator Bill Nyers began to implement Monday night.
“They do what they do very well,” Colonia head coach Ben LaSala said of the two signal-callers. “Some people think Tyler can only stay in the pocket, but he can run the ball, and Trent will throw the ball, so they actually do a little bit of (everything). I don’t think you could have two better kids for the game than those two. They are going to pose problems for Union County.”
Monday night’s practice was about getting acclimated to personnel, formations and terminology.
“Today is a critical day in terms of getting cadence down, snaps, terminology and putting in the first phase of the offensive game plan,” Snapple Bowl founder and game director Marcus Borden said.
“It’s a critical day in the sense that we have all 22 of the (offensive) athletes from different schools, many of who are learning new terminology, and we are trying to make it as simple as possible.”
Nyers met with the offense in the locker room at Nicholas A. Priscoe Stadium before he took the field with his new charges.
“It’s a challenge and it’s exciting at the same time,” Nyers said. “You are getting some real good athletes out here, so what you want to do is have an offense that at least in some small parts can take advantage of the types of talent that you have as a team.”
Middlesex County is loaded with gifted skill position players, especially at wideout where three of Middlesex County’s top receivers will line up.
They include Spotswood’s Corey Brown (1,109 yards), South River’s Thomas Pitera (665 yards) and Piscataway’s David Claybrook (516 yards).
North Brunswick’s Nick Sidotti, who was among Middlesex County’s all-purpose yardage leaders, will also play wideout along with grossly underrated Michael Jensen of Bishop Ahr, who has outstanding hands.
The running backs include Edison’s Jordan Dunn, who, not unlike a compass, has moves in all directions, Cardinal McCarrick’s Jahmal Pryce and South Plainfield’s Joe Pellegrino.
Pryce, a Perth Amboy native, was a diamond in the rough at a struggling program, while Pellegrino was Middlesex County’s most dangerous return man, bringing back three kickoffs for scores and amassing 1,599 all-purpose yards.
Bruising fullback Naji Johnson, who served as a personal escort for former teammate Jerod Johnson, Carteret’s career rushing leader, rounds out the skill spots.
South Plainfield’s Anthony Torchia and Piscataway’s Amir Nave will anchor the offensive line.
Middlesex County will run a spread offense with a variety of looks including four-wide and three-wide sets with a lot of single-back elements.
Nyers, however, said he may tinker with the offense as the first week of practice unfolds, allowing personnel to dictate schemes.
“Everyone has to gel,” Barneys said, noting “getting to know the players and their tendencies” is the biggest challenge.
“It’s going to be fun. It (the Snapple Bowl) is a great springboard (to college).”