By Tom Szieber
It is the summer, so where better to go than to the shore—or in our case, the Shore Conference. Like its many counterparts, the SC was shaken up a bit by realignment, but there still ought to be the same fierce rivalries and exciting matchups that we are accustomed to in the granddaddy of all superconferences.
Division A-Central looks to be exceptionally competitive, with Matawan, Raritan and Rumson-Fair Haven all believing they have a legitimate shot to win a league title. While the Huskies and Bulldogs would figure to be the favorites, the Rockets think they have the talent to upend last season’s Central, Group 2 champs and the always-strong Rumson, which has not had a losing campaign during the Gridiron New Jersey era.
The same can be said for Division A-South, which should see two Toms River teams (East and North) in the thick of things, and the third (South) making some big improvements with a star-quality player in WR Bill Hill. And keep paying attention to Brick Memorial, which made a magical run to last season’s Central, Group 4 championship game before falling to East Brunswick. With players like RB Jihaad Howard, the Mustangs should be a good team once again in ’10.
The Shore is star-studded this year, to say the least. Matawan QB Jared Allison is one of the more versatile players in all of New Jersey, and is set on leading the Huskies to a second straight Central, Group 2 championship. All-American QB Miles Shuler of Long Branch is a similar type of player, with the smarts and skill to make plays through the air, and the intelligence to work it on the ground. The list goes on and on, but I won’t spoil it for you here. Let’s break things down a little more and take a look at some of the best the Shore Conference has to offer.
The Huskies are a well-oiled machine under head coach Joe Martucci, and Allison isn’t their only weapon. RB MacArthur Underwood and guard Andre Hodge are top-flight talents, as well.
Dark Horse: Raritan
The Rockets will be looking for revenge after losing twice to Matawan last year. LB Tyler Murphy is a force on the defensive side of the ball.
Top Player: Jared Allison, QB, Matawan
Allison’s work ethic and “us against the world” mentality are just the icing on the cake for the ultra-talented QB. He is a highlight reel waiting to happen, and defensive coordinators are already trembling thinking about trying to stop him.
Game to Watch: 10/2, Rumson-Fair Haven @ Matawan
The Bulldogs will look to make amends for their late-season stumbles last year. This could have been last year’s Central, Group 2 final if not for Manasquan.
Favorite: Middletown South
After losing two consecutive state sectional finals, the Eagles will be more motivated than ever. Steve Antonucci doesn’t know how to do anything but win.
Dark Horse: Middletown North
The Lions’ losses last season were to top-caliber opposition. They have a stud in TE/DE Shilique Calhoun, who is 6’5” and being recruited by virtually everyone in the Big East Conference.
Top Player: Timothy Donahue, OT, Howell
Donahue is an imposing presence at 6’4” and over 300 pounds. Don’t let his size fool you, he’s got uncanny athleticism for his size and is an accomplished basketball player as well.
Game to Watch: 10/2, Middletown South @ Howell
Both teams have had a lot of recent success (save a 3-7 season by the Rebels in 2008), but haven’t played each other in recent memory. Here’s a chance to see who the top dog in the division is.
Favorite: Toms River East
A winning program with a chip on its shoulder—thanks to an undefeated season that was shattered in the South, Group 4 semis last year—can be very dangerous. The Raiders fit that description.
Dark Horse: Toms River North
The Mariners have been champions before, and still believe they can be the best team in this division even after falling to their crosstown rivals from East last year. Their opening day game with Howell has potential to set the tone for their year.
Top Player: Mario Steriti, RB, Toms River East
He isn’t just the second Steriti, and has shown that he is a primetime playmaker. He caught, returned and rushed for a touchdown in last season’s 41-30 playoff loss to Egg Harbor.
Game to Watch: 9/24, Brick Memorial @ Toms River East
For two teams that suffered disappointing playoff exits last year, this clash could be just the jolt the winner needs to make another run.
Favorite: Asbury Park
Three straight state titles and a 33-3 record over three seasons. Any question about why they’re the favorite?
Dark Horse: Keyport
Despite losing two of three to close out ’09, the Raiders still pulled out their first winning season since 2005. They’ve improved by at least a win every year since ’06.
Top Player: Jordon Edmonds, RB, Keyport
Edmonds is an explosive runner who not only hits the holes hard but has the speed to break plays after doing so. He is a skilled returner, receiver and defensive back, as well.
Game to Watch: 10/16, Keyport @ Asbury Park
Asbury will want to be careful not to overlook the Raiders. This could be a trap game if the Bishops are too focused on Rumson Fair-Haven two weeks later.
Favorite: Long Branch
The Green Wave were successful in 2009 despite fading down the stretch. With a player like QB Miles Schuler, anything is possible.
Dark Horse: Neptune
Coach John Fiore bolted for Montclair, but new head man Don Sofilkanich isn’t starting from scratch, coming over from rival Asbury Park. He’s got a spectacular running back in Charles Davis to keep this team a solid threat on the ground.
Top Player: Miles Shuler, QB, Long Branch
He’s being recruited by just about every major program in the nation, and its easy to understand why. He is a true threat on every snap, and tallied 2,500 total yards and scored 25 times in 2009.
Game to Watch: 9/25, Neptune @ Long Branch
If you like watching star youngsters at work, you’ll want to check this one out. With the quality of Davis and Shuler as playmakers, this game could come down to which one out does the other in the “big play” category.
The Lions haven’t suffered a losing season—or a season with less than six wins, for that matter—since 2004. They’ll have 16 starters returning from last season’s 8-3 squad.
Dark Horse: Manchester Township
After two 5-5 finishes that saw the Hawks finish relatively strong, a fast start will be crucial. A key to success might be finding a suitable replacement for the graduated James Lawson (now at Monmouth University), who wreaked havoc in the trenches.
Top Player: Nick SanGiacomo, QB, Barnegat
SanGiacomo tossed 16 touchdowns and threw for nearly 2,200 yards last year to establish himself as one of Jersey’s best. He’ll need to cut back on taking chances a bit, as he threw 12 interceptions as a junior.
Game to Watch: 10/8, Lacey @ Barnegat
The division’s top team against a hopeful and hungry group of Bengals. Barnegat wants to use this one to make a statement.
The Warriors are used to playing in December, so failure to win this division would be a huge letdown.
Dark Horse: Lakewood
You don’t generally lose 27 games in a row and come back to win a title. But with the legend Warren Wolf taking over, anything is possible for the Piners.
Top Player: Ryan Malleck, TE, Point Pleasant Boro
Tall and athletic, Malleck had 500 yards receiving and scored three touchdowns as a junior. With him, Boro could be a team on the rise—they won four straight to close out 2009.
Game to Watch: 10/1, Point Pleasant Boro @ Wall
After three straight losing campaigns, Wall broke through to go 8-2—and still missed the playoffs. This game will be as hard-fought as any for two teams looking to make meaningful postseason runs.
Tom Szieber can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.