This time last year, Barnegat was the solid favorite to win the Shore Conference Class B South championship and Central was a bit of an unknown.
This time around, Central, with a standout running back and a returning starter at quarterback, begins the season as the favorite to win the Class B South championship while Barnegat is somewhat of a mystery after major graduation losses.
Central and Barnegat shared the divisional title last season as Central defeated Barnegat in Week 2 after Lakewood had defeated Central in Week 1.
There are other teams capable of giving Central and Barnegat a run for their money in Lakewood, Point Pleasant Boro and Jackson Liberty.
Here is a look at the teams in Class B South in predicted order of finish:
1. CENTRAL: Central took a big step forward last season under head coach Willie Jacobs.
The Golden Eagles reached the NJSIAA South Group III semifinal, thanks in large part to running back Mike Bickford and an experienced offensive line.
Bickford, a junior who rushed for 2,052 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, is back. However, there will be four new starters on the offensive line.
“Our offensive line is made up of underclassmen,’’ Jacobs said. “We have senior Darius Marrow back, but the rest of the guys are young.’’
For Central to take the next step this season, it will need underclassmen such as sophomores Blake Horgan (center) and Lino Delgiudice (linebacker) to develop quickly.
“Without a doubt, they have to,’’ said Jacobs, who is entering his third season as the head coach at his scholastic alma mater.
“(Class) B South football you are playing iron-man football, but the key is your studs, they need a break.
“When we’re making adjustments in the middle of the game and we’re winded, they need a break and the younger guys have to step in and play football. The other guys (starters) will get back out there but they have to step up and play.’’
The Golden Eagles may be young up front on both sides of the ball, which could bode well for the future, but for the six returning starters on offense, including senior quarterback Mike Miserendino, and five on defense, the focus is on the present.
“Coming off last year I think we still have the talent to win B South again and I think we’ll go even further in states,’’ Bickford said. “I’m hoping we go to the state finals and win it.’’
Central’s depth on offense and defense will be tested right away in the first four games of the season beginning with a game at Southern on Friday night in the Golden Eagles’ only road game this season after playing just one home game in 2014 while their FieldTurf playing surface was being installed.
“Our first four games are really, really tough. Southern, Lakewood, Barnegat and St. John Vianney,’’ Jacobs said.
“Just look at the records the last couple of years. Those guys are quality programs. That’s no knock at the rest of our schedule, but Southern is a Class A South school, they are well coached and disciplined. They go after it.
MEET THE CENTRAL GOLDEN EAGLESCoach: Willie Jacobs, third season (13-8).
Staff: Pat Ramsey, Justin Colianni, Tige Dillard, Rob Taylor, Jarrett Pidgeon, Dennis Pidgeon
Classification: South Group IV
2014 Record: 8-3
Offensive formation: Spread
Defensive formation: 4-4
Returning starters: Michael Miserendino (QB/DB), Matthew Aires (WR/DB), Darius Marrow (OL/DL), Mike Bickford (RB/LB), Brandon Vuono (LB).
Top newcomers: Isaiah Turner (WR/DB), Brandon Mickens (DB), Anthony Holloway (WR/DB), Andrew Kelly (TE), Jonathan Matuska (OL/DL), Alex Maj (OL/DL), Blake Horgan (OL/DL); Lino Delgiudice (RB/LB).
2. BARNEGAT: The next-man-up mantra is a message preached at Barnegat.
It is an attitude the Bengals will need to carry into the 2015 season.
Barnegat graduated four players who made commitments to NCAA Division I-A or I-AA schools in quarterback Cinjun Erskine (Bucknell University) and defensive lineman Xavier Young (Stonehill College), as well as linebacker Manny Bowen (Penn State) and offensive lineman Sam Madden (Georgia).
“The next-man-up mentality is something our kids carry with them,” said Barnegat head coach Rob Davis, who is entering his 10th season as the program’s only head coach. “We’ve had a good off-season, a good summer, and did very well in our seven-on-sevens. If we continue to work hard, I think we’re going to surprise some people this year.”
But it will not be easy.
Davis and the Bengals will also need to fill voids left by the graduation of running back Tyler McGuinness, as well as defensive backs Ricky Gerena and Kyle Morris.
Juniors Connor Lustenberger and Joe Monaco were competing for the starting quarterback job in the preseason.
The Bengals will rely heavily on Paul Wickwire.
The speedy Wickwire (a 4.40 40-yard sprinter who won both the 50 and 100 at the Ocean County Outdoor Track Championships this past May) was a wide receiver last season.
And though he’ll see time as a wide receiver in 2015, the senior will be counted on at running back and defensive back as well.
Barnegat will also return fellow two-way starters senior tight end/defensive lineman Josh Bowen — Manny Bowen’s younger brother — and senior two-way lineman Danny Dugan, as well as senior defensive tackles Greg Schmalz and Joe Scaglione and senior safety Nick Camarato.
MEET THE BARNEGAT BENGALS
Coach: Rob Davis, 10th season (52-42).
Assistants: Kevin Smith, Chris Clerico, Greg Oavets, Mike Burke, Paul Covine, Steve Fence, Mike D’Ambrosio, Mike DeTroia, Ralph Adorno, Dave Smith, Brian Fitzpatrick, Jarrod Verge.
Classification: South Group III
Offensive formation: Multi-Spread
Defensive formation: 4-3
Returning starters: Paul Wickwire ( RB/WR/DB), Danny Dugan (OL/DL), Greg Smalls (OL/DL), Joe Scaglione (OL/DL), Mick Camorotta ( DB), Josh Bowen ( LB/TE).
3. LAKEWOOD: Amir Tyler has always been talented, but always a second option in the running attack of the Lakewood High School football team.
Now, with the standout running quarterbacks the Piners have had in the past few years in Tyrice Beverette and Chapelle Cook having moved on to collegiate football, it is Tyler’s turn to be the main option in the Piners’ running attack.
“Him getting the majority of the carries is a recipe for a good season.’’ Lakewood coach L.J. Clark said.
Clark said Tyler rushed for around 800 yards last season while getting about half the attempts Cook, who ran for around 1,200 yards, had.
Tyler, also a standout defensive back is being recruited by NCAA Division I schools at several positions, Clark said.
The University of Pittsburgh and Army are recruiting Tyler as an athlete, Clark said. Old Dominion and Syracuse are recruiting Tyler as a running back and Temple is recruiting him as a safety, Clark said.
“Any time you’ve got a player of Amir’s caliber, who is ranked in the top 15 in New Jersey, you feel you’ve got a lot coming back,’’ Clark said.
Tyler will have an experienced offensive line to run behind. Three starters return up front in Elijah Gill, Isaih Francis and Josh Lezin.
“Uncharacteristically, we have size up front,’’ Clark said. “The offensive line is definitely the strength of our team.’’
Zyare Jones, a sophomore who Clark has a lot of confidence in will be the quarterback.
MEET THE LAKEWOOD PINERS
Coach: L.J. Clark, fifth season (19-22).
Staff: Evan Baubles, Jamil Jackson, Kyle Watson, Al LaMura, Tim Brown, Frank Harrison, Jay Graham, Luke Peccarelli, Mike Muth, Bobby King.
Classification: South Group III
2014 Record: 4-6.
Offensive formation: Shotgun-Wing T.
Defensive formation: 3-4
Returning starters: Elijah Gill (OL), Isaih Francis (OL), Josh Lezin (OL/DL), Amir Tyler (RB/DB), Adi Palmer (LB, WR), Jaquel Hunter (WR), Ryson Barnes (DL), Sheldon Cobbs (RB),
Top newcomers: Zyhier Jones (QB), Jyhier Jones (WR/DB), Tye Pierce (OL).
4. POINT BORO: The heartache that was a 1-9 season for Point Boro in 2013 could lead to big things in 2015.
“We threw these seniors to the wolves when they were sophomores,’’ Point Boro coach Sean Henry said.
Henry said about 12 current seniors started when they were sophomores and that about 18 starting positions in 2013 were manned by sophomores.
“A lot of them are much bigger and stronger,’’ Henry said. “We’re high on this group of kids.’’
The Panthers made progress last year, when they went 5-5, just missed qualifying for the NJSIAA Central Group II playoffs and defeated Central II qualifier Lakewood in their final regular season game.
Henry said 10 players who started games last year on defense return from a unit that allowed just 13.6 points a game.
Leading those returnees are linebackers Nate Husak, Gene Franceschini, Jack Cawley, Austin Druqcuer, defensive linemen Dom Infante, Aiden Connelly and Gavin Hynes and defensive backs Mike Waddleton and Devin Connelly.
Henry said there has been an emphasis in training camp on getting the offense to catch up to the defense.
He can take comfort in the fact the two key components in the running game are very familiar with each other in twin brothers Noah Husak at quarterback and Nate Husak at “A’ Back’’ (the setback that lines up behind the quarterback in the flexbone alignment).
Noah Husak started two games last season when the coaching staff moved then starting quarterback Jack Fitzsimmons to “A Back.’’
MEET THE POINT BORO PANTHERS
Coach: Sean Henry, fifth full season, sixth season overall (19-25).
Staff: Tom Orrok, Matt Cilento, Ryan Canary, Shane O’Connor, Dan Drymkowski, Todd Hughes, Pat Brady, Dave Drew, Brian Grainer.
Classification: Central Group II
2014 Record: 5-5.
Offensive formation: Flexbone.
Defensive formation: 3-3-5.
Returning starters: Nate Husak (RB/LB), Gene Franceschini (RB/LB), Devin Connelly (RB.DB), Hayden Frey (WR), Mike Waddleton (WR/DB), Doug Messlar (OL), Dom Infante (OL/DL), Aiden Connelly (DL), Gavin Hynes (DL), Jack Cawley (LB), Austin Druqcuer (LB), Tom Amsback (PK).
Top newcomers: Tanner Gordan (RB/LB), Kyler Rossi (WR/DB), Sam Livolsi (OL/DL), Noah Husak (QB), Brandon DeFeo (LB), Justin Rafi (RB/LB).
5. JACKSON LIBERTY: Jim Sharples knows the players he coaches on the Jackson Liberty football team are not the most gifted athletically or the biggest team out there.
But, he feels his team make up for those deficiencies in other areas.
“These are the type of kids you want to coach,’’ said Sharples, in his third season as the Lions’ head coach. “They do what they’re told. They understand what is expected of them and they are character kids.’’
Jackson Liberty also has experience in perhaps the most important position — quarterback. Senior Ryan VanWickle is in third season as the starter. Sharples feels VanWickle is on the cusp of a big season.
“Ryan had a tough go of it, this time last year,’’ Sharples said. “He wasn’t really banged up, but he had some tightness in the legs and he never seemed to get loose. It bothered him the entire season and I really think it got to him.
“He kind of feels like his junior year slipped away and he expects to make up for lost time.’’
Sharples also feels he and his coaching staff have found a “Diamond in the rough’’ to help take some of the pressure off VanWickle in senior Kenny Pommerencke. A starter on defense last year, Pommerencke will now also be a starter at running back.
“He looks like a natural runner,’’ Sharples said.
The Lions spent four days beginning Sunday at the Team USA Sports Camp in Port Jervis, N.Y. Sharples said the team practiced twice a day at that camp and with private schools from the New York City and Westchester County area.
MEET THE JACKSON LIBERTY LIONS
Coach: Jim Sharples, third season (9-11).
Staff: Frank Giannetti, Ryan Hesnan, Anthony Myres, Keith Farr, Vin Spadvecchia Brian Chesley, Ronald Brown, Matt Spader, Mike McCarthy, Len Albline, Chris Grande
Classification: Central Group IV
2014 Record: 5-5
Returning starters: Ryan VanWickle (QB/LB), Jared Dizenzo (OL/DL), Ryan Downer (DB), Steve Schuster (LB), Kenny Pommerencke (DB), Braden Yorke (WR/PK), J.J. Goodman (OL./LB), Bobby Millr (P),
Top newcomers: Joe Low (WR/LB), Jake Stillwell (DL), Justin Mayes (LB), Jared Pommerencke (WR/DB), Xavier Roman (OL), Emmanuel Flores (WR), Nick Johnson (OL), Javier Duran (OL/DL).
6. MANCHESTER: The 2014 season was one where the Manchester players and coaches were trying to get used to each other.
Bill Furlong was named the Hawks’ head coach in late June, and that obviously did not give him and his coaching staff much time to lay the groundwork for the program they wanted to implement.
“We were adjusting on the fly. It was really hard,’’ said Furlong, a 1983 Jackson Memorial High School graduate who came to Manchester after a distinguished head coaching career at first Burlington Township and then Phoenixville (Pa.).
Manchester struggled as it lost its first nine games before it concluded the season with a 21-17 win over Donovan Catholic.
“We had so many kids who started in that game who were barely getting repetitions at the beginning of camp,’’ Furlong said. “It helped their confidence going into this year.’’
Furlong said there are only seven seniors on the varsity roster. He said he has never had a team with that few seniors in a 19-season head coaching career.
One of the underclassmen who receive valuable experience last year is sophomore quarterback Jerry Blackburn. Furlong said Blackburn started about half the games, including the Donovan Catholic game.
“Jerry is a hard worker,’’ Furlong said. “He’s got great character. He’s a good leader and has a good skill set. He has the basic things you need to be a successful quarterback. The biggest thing was being thrown into the fire so early and having to make decisions. It was hard. He’s definitely one of the bright spots.’’
And with a year of the players getting to know the coaching staff and the coaching staff getting to know the players under their belts, Manchester could be on the upswing.
MEET THE MANCHESTER HAWKS
Coach: Bill Furlong, second season at Manchester, 19th season overall (1-9 at Manchester, 103-99 overall).
Staff: Joe Serratelli, Karl Schafer, Paul Raucci, Zack Brebner, Mark Mernone.
Classification: South Group III
2014 record: 1-9
Offensive formation: Multiple
Defensive formation: 3-4
Returning starters: Phil Pender (OL/DL), Dan Hourigan (RB/LB), Mike Rosario (RB/DB), Alex Lunn (RB/DB), Jake Lloyd (OL/DL), Bobby Hart (WR/DB), Jahsir Cooper (RB/LB), Dylan Cervenak (RB/LB), Chris Blaine (TE/LB), Jerry Blackburn (QB/DB), Josh Mercado (PK/P), Jsaon Santos (OL/LB).
Top newcomers: Jalen Glenn (RB/DB), Mike Durkin (OL/DL), Khari Jenkins (RB/LB), Nick Nuccio (WR/LB), Steven Rodriguez (RB/DB), Roy Dudley (WR/DB), Israel Almesteca (TE/DL), Nick Briggs (TE/DL).
7. DONOVAN CATHOLIC: Nestled behind the football field at Donovan Catholic High School on a Friday morning in late August, the Griffins listened intently to veteran head coach Dan Duddy give instructions on a play.
The Griffins ran the play and it wasn’t successful. So, Duddy said do it again.
On the second try, the quarterback handed the ball off crisply to the running back and the running back made the right decision on which hole to run through. It was that type of second effort and attention to detail that the Griffins will need this season as they try to rebound from last season’s 0-10 season.
“We have a lot of fast kids. Our offense is going to be running a little bit faster than last year,” said senior running back David Calderon, who is a three-year starter. “We have a lot of experience so we have to take that experience into this season. We have to play more physical than last year and we have to show people who we really are this year.”
The Griffins have a difficult task to start this season as four of their first five games are on the road. They’ll open at Pinelands Friday night, travel down Hooper Avenue to Toms River South on Sept. 11, have their lone home game in that stretch against Point Boro on Sept. 18 before going on the road again for Barnegat (Oct. 2) and Jackson Liberty (Oct. 9).
“We have to step it up from last year and we need all 11 players on the field to do their jobs all the time,” said senior running back Alex Rosario, who has two years experience in the starting lineup.
The Griffins only scored 12.5 points per game last year while giving up 32.4 points per game and that’s a ratio that Calderon, Rosario and senior tight end and defensive end Kyle Schremmer want to change this season.
“We had a poor season last year but we are excited about this season. We didn’t lose many players and the incoming senior class has been in the weight room non-stop in the offseason,” Schremmer said.
“We are using a new offense this season and it is looking good so far in the preseason. I can’t wait to see it work in a game.”
MEET THE DONOVAN CATHOLIC GRIFFINS
Coach: Dan Duddy, 10th season at Donovan Catholic, 22nd season overall (34-56 at Donovan Catholic, 102-104-1)
Staff: Vito Sterit, Chad Dougherty, Jim Papalia, Adam Sacco, Gerard O’Donnell, Greg Hyslop, Anthony Pasqua, Angelo DiSalvo, Chris Winn, Devin Solvik, Bob DeStefano (athletic trainer).
Classification: Non-Public Group III
2014 Record: 0-10
Offensive formation: Spread
Defensive formation: 4-3
Returning starters: David Calderon (RB/DB), Alex Rosario (RB/DB), Kyle Schremmer (TE/DE)
8. PINELANDS: Graduation hit Pinelands hard.
Eighteen players from last year graduated, according to head coach Brian Wilkinson.
The Wildcats will have three returning starters this season on offense and one returning starter on defense.
Wilkinson said the returning starters are Cameron Winters (offensive line), Max Schnepp (offensive/defensive line), Dean DiSanza (fullback) and Dave Fairl (linebacker).
“I’m counting on those returning starters for leadership, and those that are lineman, we’re hoping to have a good offensive line,” Wilkinson said.
The Wildcats will continue to generate their offense by running the football. Expect to see Will Jenkins, Brennan Richardson, Justin Kirkpatrick and Fairl as the primary ball- carries this season. Wikinson said Fairl has the most game experience because he played fullback last year.
Jenkins, Richardson, Nick Rex, Kyle Hreha, Rob Eagle and Jordan Gomez are the top newcomers. Rex will be the starting quarterback.
“We’re counting on Nick Rex for steady leadership because of the style of offense we run, which is predicated on running the football,” said Wilkinson, who is in his third season at Pinelands. When we do throw the football, we need to be accurate and we need to hurt teams doing it. Nick has all the tools to do that for us this season.”
Pinelands went 2-8 in 2014, which was its most wins since it went 5-5 in 2010.
MEET THE PINELANDS WILDCATS
Coach: Brian Wilkerson, third season (3-17 at Pinelands, 38-53 overall)
Staff: Matt Fuller, Anthony Allocca, Scott Peterka, Dave Dempsey, Justin Loomis, Albert Rowland, Rob Sanzari, Stacey Childs.
Classification: South Group III
2014 Record: 2-8
Offensive formation: Double Wing
Defensive formation: 3-5
Returning starters: Cameron Winters (OL), Max Schnepp (OL/DL), Dean DiSanza (RB), Dave Fairl (LB)
Top newcomers: Will Jenkins (RB/LB), Nick Rex (QB/DB), Kyle Hreha (RB/LB), Brennan Richardson (RB/DB), Rob Eagle (LB), Jordan Gomez (TE/LB)
Contributing: Ryan Norton