MIDDLETOWN – For the first time in a long time, there are great expectations on the north side of Middletown.
The Lions are relishing the opportunity.
Middletown North went 6-4 last season — its first winning year since the 2000 season. With a slew of key players returning, the Lions are primed to improve upon that mark.
“We’ve taken a little step each year and we want to build off the success we had last year,” Bush said. “Last season, we won the games that we should have. Now we want to win on the big stage too.”
Bush is in his third season at the helm at Middletown North and 10th overall in the Shore Conference. He also worked on the Miami Dolphins coaching staff in 2008. He believes his players are ready to take the next step because they understand his system better.
One of those players is junior quarterback Donald Glenn, who was thrust into the fire as the starter during his freshman season. He has developed into one of the Shore Conference’s better quarterbacks.
“Donald has done a great job so far in terms of leadership,” Bush said. “He seems much more comfortable and sure of himself in his third season. His age isn’t showing anymore. He’s taken the next step. He’s ready to lead this team, and I think we’ll be very effective throwing the ball because of him.”
Glenn has thrown for 2,800 yards and 31 touchdowns in 19 career games.
“It’s everybody’s third season under coach Bush and his offense, and everything has gone a lot smoother,” Glenn said. “Personally, I’m a lot more comfortable and confident coming in, but my offensive line has done a great job helping me out with that, and being able to hand the ball off to Chad (Freshnock) takes a lot of pressure off too.”
When Glenn isn’t looking downfield, the Lions will have one of the Shore’s best running backs in Bucknell University recruit Chad Freshnock.
“Chad is an explosive, physical ball carrier, but also has the speed to run away from people,” Bush said. “He’s capable of making a big play on the ground, but he’s also a weapon in the passing game. He and Donald should complement each other nicely.”
Freshnock is a two-time, 1,000-yard rusher. Last year, he had 1,285 rushing yards and an average of 6.9 yards a carry.
“Your senior year goes by so fast, and I just want this team to go out with a bang,” Freshnock said. “Our record was decent last year. Now people are expecting bigger things out of us, and we’ve placed those same expectations on ourselves. We’ll do the best we can to chase down that state championship.”
The Lions will also return senior tight end/safety Josh Gomez; Senior offensive tackle/defensive end Matt Dombrowski; Junior wide receiver/free safety Dwight Wilkerson; Junior wide receiver Brendan Cooley; Senior offensive lineman Pat McGowan; Senior offensive lineman Mike Hoverson and junior linebacker Nick Kisch. Kisch led the team in tackles last year.
“The atmosphere around camp has changed,” Gomez said. “Guys are bringing a higher intensity than I’ve ever seen here. It comes from a belief in ourselves that we can do something special this year, and the excitement that has generated. It’s crazy how much a program can change in such a short amount of time.”
The Lions have earned a state playoff berth the past two seasons, suffering a first-round loss in 2014 to eventual Central Group IV champion Jackson Memorial in the first round.
Middletown North will look to get back to the state playoff stage when the team opens up the season on Friday, Sept. 11 at home against Perth Amboy.
Three key players
Donald Glenn: The junior quarterback was the Lions starter as a freshman and has thrown for more than 2,800 yards and 31 touchdown passes in two seasons.
Chad Freshnock: The senior running back has committed to play for Bucknell University next year. Freshnock is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher.
Nick Kisch: The junior linebacker returns to the middle of the Lions defense after leading the team in tackles last season.
Three games to watch
Sept. 26, at Freehold: Middletown North’s 2014 campaign began in disappointing fashion with an opening-night loss to Freehold. The Lions will have a shot at avenging that defeat.
Oct. 2, vs. Manalapan: Coach Steve Bush believes his team is capable of winning games on the big stage. The Lions will have their first shot in Week 4 when the defending Central Group V champion Braves come to town.
Nov. 26, at Middletown South: Middletown South has won this game 14 consecutive seasons. Last year, the Eagles rallied in the fourth quarter for a 20-13 win.
Greatest Players in Middletown North History
Ed “Too Small” Jones: Went on to play with the Buffalo Bills in 1975.
Chris Barnes: Running back played for Syracuse University and coached both Jackson Memorial and Wall.
Rich Toland and Patrick Toland: Brothers who both excelled at running back.
Greatest Teams in Middletown North History
1969: Lions went 9-0 and defeated Toms River in one of the most memorable games in Shore history.
1983: Middletown North went 11-0 and won the NJSIAA Central Group IV championship.