As the offensive coordinator of the winningest football team in Colonia High School history, Joe LaSala had an arsenal of weapons at his disposal last season.
The talent Lasala will be able to utilize as Middlesex County’s offensive coordinator in MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII, however, exceeds the gifted players he mentored a year ago.
“I have seen them all play and I don’t know if I’ve seen this much talent assembled in one offense in 21 previous games,” said MyCentralJersey.com football analyst Marcus Borden, who is the Snapple Bowl’s founder and game director.
“We’ve had some pretty talented players in the past, but to this extent, I don’t know if we’ve had that many. It all comes down to how well everybody can jell.”
Middlesex County is as deep in the trenches as it is at the skill positions, which could pose major problems for Union County when the two sides of recently graduated high school seniors renew their annual summer rivalry at Kean University on July 16 at 7 p.m.
Both teams opened training camp on Monday night with Middlesex County practicing at Colonia High School and Union County practicing at Union High School.
All proceeds from the Snapple Bowl benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities. Since its inception in 1994, the game has raised more than $485,000.
Middlesex leads the series 13-8 and has won eight of the past nine meetings including last year’s 34-20 comeback victory. Five of the past 10 Snapple Bowls have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Tenny Adewusi of Colonia, who became the first signal caller from Middlesex County in 14 years to pass and throw for more than 1,000 yards each in the same season, and Mike Gargano of Old Bridge will split time at quarterback.
The duo combined for an astonishing 3,882 yards and 44 touchdowns from scrimmage last season.
Middlesex County’s offense will mirror that which Colonia employed while reaching last year’s North 2 Group IV final, meaning Adewusi and Gargano will operate out of the spread shotgun with four and sometimes five receivers.
“It’s not going to be boring for the fans,” Colonia head coach Tom Roarty said. “We’ve got two good quarterbacks who can run, which makes it even more exciting. For an offense, it’s a dream.”
LaSala and his father, Ben, who was inducted into the New Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame during halftime of last week’s Phil Simms North-South All-Star Classic, will serve as co-offensive coordinators for the Middlesex County squad.
“I grew up watching him work for plenty of years and I’ve learned a lot,” Joe LaSala said of his father, with whom he coached two years ago before Ben resigned as Colonia’s head coach to become the school’s athletics director.
“It’s going to be pretty cool to work one more time with him, especially with a lot of Colonia guys playing in the game.”
Middlesex County features three 1,000-plus yard ground gainers at running back in Sam Pero of Colonia, Akeer Franklin of Monroe and Chase Fee of Spotswood.
The trio rushed for 3,829 yards and 43 touchdowns. Fullback Zahneer Shuler of Woodbridge, who amassed 973 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage, will join them in the backfield.
Middlesex County has so much talent that quarterbacks Kevin Hemmings of East Brunswick and Javon Hicks of St. Joseph will actually line up at wide receiver (Hicks began last season as a wideout before moving behind center).
Hicks passed for 1,017 yards and rushed for 564 more, while Hemmings threw for 867 yards and rushed for 508 more.
Borden said Union County should be concerned about the double pass, noting that Hemmings and Hicks are “both very good athletes” who could line up on opposite sides of the field and end up “catching a pass and then launching one.”
Edison’s Joe Kim (508 receiving yards) and J.F. Kennedy’s Stepp Oziegbe (341 receiving yards) remain other options through the air, along with Piscatway’s Elijah Pierson, Perth Amboy’s Albert Thomas and Metuchen’s Tyler Valovcin.
“We’ll try to get the playmakers the ball in space and let them do what they do best,” Joe LaSala said, adding that he and his father will likely emphasize a short and intermediate passing game.
The tight ends are North Brunswick’s Joe Castellanos (487 receiving yards) and Spotswood’s Mason White.
The offensive line features Home News Tribune second-team All-Area selections Xavier Wilson (South Plainfield), Greg Chaves (Monroe) and Elon Capers (Woodbridge) and third-team All-Area selection Brandon Williams (Carteret).
Joining them up front is Aidan Rogers (South Brunswick), Mike McGuire (Middlesex), Anthony Nystrom (Colonia) and Austin Cooper (South Brunswick).
“The whole key to running the offense is the five guys up front,” Roarty said. “They’ve got to be able to protect and open some holes. If they can do that, we are going to have a nice night.”
What: MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII, New Jersey’s most successful charity all-star football game
Where: Kean University’s Alumni Stadium, Union
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 16
Participants: Recently graduated high school senior players and cheerleaders from Middlesex and Union counties.
About the event
Beneficiaries: All proceeds from the game, which has raised more than $485,000 since its inception, benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.
Practice venues: Colonia High School (Middlesex County All-Stars) and Union High School (Union County All-Stars).
Key dates: Middlesex County All-Stars and Union County All-Stars begin practice July 6; Middlesex County All-Stars visit the Lakeview School in Edison and Union County All-Stars visit Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside on July 13; Snapple Bowl banquet at Pines Manor restaurant in Edison July 15.
Tickets: Can be purchased at the gate for $10.
Previewing the game: Leading up to Snapple Bowl XXII, the Home News Tribune, Courier News and MyCentralJersey.com will feature at least one story daily, as well as videos.
Game coverage: Look for a game story, a notebook, a Middlesex County sidebar, a Union County sidebar, an A1 story, a photo gallery and video highlights from Snapple Bowl XXII in the Home News Tribune, Courier News and at MyCentralJersey.com.
Social media: Follow us via Twitter @MyCJ_Sports and @SnappleBowl for updates and to interact with reporters and Snapple Bowl XXII game director Marcus Borden.
MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII official web site: Can be found at https://worknotes.com/NJ/SouthRiver/SnappleBowl/