The Marlboro High School football team was running passing drills. A pass came in low to Jaydon Mianti, almost hitting the ground. The receiver quickly cut short his pattern and made a spectacular sliding catch, snaring the ball while almost flat on his back.
The slide was made a bit easier because Mianti was on a basketball court. The Iron Dukes had their first football practice on Monday afternoon, but the session was held in the school’s gymnasium as the temperature climbed to the mid 90s.
Marlboro returns 13 starters after reaching the state Class B semifinal, but, for a team that has won four consecutive Section 9 titles, there’s some uncertainty, namely at quarterback.
Three-way race under center
Phil Desantis, Paul Evans and Sam Mongelli are in competition for the starting job.
DeSantis, a sophomore, has varsity experience and is said to be a strong leader. The freshman Mongelli has great athleticism and teammates laud his potential. But it was Evans who most distinguished himself in the first practice. The junior, a self-described “pocket passer,” threw with velocity and accuracy.
“I see it as us having depth, like any other position,” wideout Frank Zebrowski said. “It pushes all of them to stay sharp and give their best. Plus if one guy struggles or gets hurt, you know the other guys have gotten reps.”
Alvarez above ‘jitters’
There were several dropped passes during the session, but receiver Josiah Alvarez — who didn’t drop a pass — chalked it up as “first-practice jitters.”
“Plus, the quarterbacks were fired up and throwing harder, so we just have to adjust,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez was impressive in running sharp routes and snagging the balls that came his way. The senior is more experienced at cornerback and said the footwork as a defensive back transitions well to route running.
Alvarez came to camp sporting an Odell Beckham-like haircut (the fade with a mini “fro-hawk” dyed blonde). He said he had that hairdo once before, but his parents forced him to cut it off for senior photos, but he went back to it a few days ago.
Tamburri, spread still working
A couple of things that haven’t changed for the defending champions is its offensive approach, and their most dangerous “weapon.” Standout running back Rino Tamburri is back for his senior season after rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a junior.
Marlboro will continue to utilize the spread offense. During practice, they ran some set plays out of the shotgun formation, including sweeps and end-arounds.
Coach Rich Ward said his offense “has a lot of weapons; kids who are huge threats with the ball in their hands.” Marlboro lost two of its best receivers last season, but Ward believes sophomore John Perugino and senior Tanner Harshberger could emerge as playmakers. Both receivers are 6-feet and showed good quickness coming out of their breaks and are dangerous after the catch.
The offensive line will be anchored by center Josh Jennison, a converted guard. Jennison said he hasn’t played center since his Pop Warner football days, but has prepared himself mentally and added 10 pounds this summer.
Nick Mongelli didn’t get to show off his powerful leg — can’t boom field goals indoors — but Ward all but guaranteed his kicker “will be an all-state selection.”
It’s not the size that counts
The Iron Dukes’ defense doesn’t have much size, but inside linebacker Tayo Akinboboye said that for what they lack in mass, they more than make up for with speed and ferocity.
“We don’t have a lot of big kids, so we read the plays and know where it’s going then use our quickness,” said Akinboboye, who idolizes star NFL linebackers Brian Kushing and Luke Kuechly. “We’re just fast and aggressive.”
The defense also will utilize the versatility of several players. Zebrowski, for example, is capable of playing linebacker and defensive end.
Jennison said that there “definitely is pressure” as the defending champion, but it will serve as motivation. “Everyone will be gunning for us, so it just means we have to work harder and give maximum effort. It’s a good kind of pressure.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
Section 9 Class B
First game: Sept. 5, 1:30 p.m. at Dover
2014: 9-3 (won Section 9 Class B title, reached state semifinals)