The Jeep Store Shore Sports Network 2021 Preseason Football Top 10
What would a new high school football season be without a preseason top 10 to get the conversation started?
The Shore Sports Network/Jeep Store Top 10 is back and with the 2021 season set to get underway, it’s time to present our initial Shore Conference rankings. These are, of course, projections largely based on returning starters and recent history. Rankings are earned on the field and in the coming weeks and months it will all (hopefully) work itself out between the lines.
Last season, five teams who were unranked in the preseason finished the season inside the SSN Top 10. And it took only one week for our No. 2 team to go down. Maybe it’s better to not be ranked right now? Hey, at least we got the No. 1 team right.
The Shore Conference has some true juggernauts this season, then a handful of teams that could be classified as being in the second tier and several more who could take turns bouncing each other in and out of the rankings throughout the season.
Here is our look at the top teams in the Shore in the SSN Preseason Top 10
1. Wall (7-0). Final 2020 Ranking: No. 1
The Crimson Knights finished No. 1 in 2019, went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team last season and begin 2021 as the team to beat in the Shore. The throne is theirs until somebody takes it. Wall returns 17 starters, including reigning SSN Defensive Player of the Year Charlie Sasso, senior linebacker Colin Riley, senior tight end/defensive end Blake Rezk, senior two-way linemen Brian Byrne and Max Oakley, senior wide receiver/defensive back Matt Dollive, senior linebacker Lou Pilla, senior quarterback/safety Jake Davis, junior running back/linebacker Mike Fumarola and several other standouts. The Knights will be tested early and often, including a brutal two-game, five-day stretch against Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank Catholic to open the season.
2. Red Bank Catholic (4-2). Final 2020 Ranking: No. 3
The Caseys were already bringing back multiple high-octane players before they added three transfers from Mater Dei as result of the school folding its varsity team. They have state championship potential with players like senior tight end/defensive end Alex Bauman, wide receiver Najih Rahman, running backs/linebackers Sabino Portella and Rajahn Cooper, linemen Vince Carpenter, Michael Conneely, Lorenzo Portella, Tyler Burnham and Ashton Mejias, edge rusher Ryan McPherson and cornerback Joe Diorio. It shouldn’t shock anybody if the Caseys are the ones holding the belt quite soon.
3. Donovan Catholic (7-1). Final 2020 Ranking: No. 2
The Griffins continue to rise up the ranks of the Shore Conference and were inches away from dethroning Wall in the Shore Conference championship game last season. Several All-Shore players graduated but the Griffins are certainly not lacking for talent. Jalin Butler and Nunes Bukula take over as the starting quarterback and running back, respectively, in DC’s power spread offense and will work behind a road-grading offensive line that features Caron McNair, Aaron Crooms, Rob Madison, Nico Ippolito and EJ Smith. Senior wide receiver Kyree Drake comes over as a transfer from Mater Dei Prep and Levi Wilkins returns as a four-year starter at tight end. Defensively, Wilkins, Ippolito, linebackers Connor Farrell and Nat Ianello and safety Myson Rush-Esdaile lead a unit that surrendered just 8.4 points per game last season.
4. Rumson-Fair Haven (6-2). Final 2020 Ranking: No. 5
First-team All-Shore linebacker and University of Pennsylvania commit John Lista leads a cast of eight returning starters that will look to lead Rumson to the program’s seventh sectional title. Lista anchors the defense alongside fellow senior linebacker Ryan McKay and All-Shore defensive end Aiden Moriarty. The Bulldogs’ offensive line should be a strength with four returning starters: seniors Charlie Pearson, Patrick Malpass, George Clough and Christian Smith. Senior Geoff Schroeder takes over as the starting running back after sharing the backfield the last two seasons and Colin Kennedy steps in as the starting quarterback.
5. Colts Neck (7-1). Final 2020 Ranking: No. 6
The Cougars are coming off a breakout season under head coach Matt Ahearn and have the talent and experience to run it back. Senior Tommy Fallon, a four-year starter at quarterback, spearheads the offense behind a wall of humanity that includes hulking tackles Dan Volpe and Ryan Whalen and guard Matt Jannucci. Senior John Manos looks to be the bell cow in their power rushing offense while John Runfolo and Cade Chrebet lead a solid group of receivers. All-Shore linebacker Anthony Bonanno anchors the defense along with junior linebacker Will Surdez plus Jannucci, Volpe, Manos and Runfolo. The Cougars will face major tests each week while competing in the American Division with Wall, Donovan Catholic, Rumson and Toms River North.
6. Southern (5-4). Final 2020 Ranking: unranked
The Rams finished just outside of the final top 10 last season but begin this season at No. 6 thanks to a running game that should be formidable. Senior Jaiden Brown, the program’s all-time leading rusher and a first-team All-Shore selection, is primed for a big year running behind versatile fullback Nate Committee and an offensive line that averages 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. Committee and Brown are also standouts on defense along with linemen Donovan Drew, David Casas, Logan Doherty and Sean Rowland.
7. Middletown South (2-4). Final 2020 Ranking: unranked
A veteran team led by Steve Antonucci and his longtime assistants is a pretty good bet be a top-10 team. A total of 14 starters return off a 2-4 season that had more to do with the schedule and circumstance than a lack of talent. Senior quarterback/safety Tom Schork, senior running back Dan Primiano, senior wide receiver/defensive back Matt Grab, senior tight end/defensive end Jack Latore, senior linemen Jake Williamson and Dante Miranda, senior linebacker Jack Willi and junior wide receiver/defensive back Logan Colleran comprise a strong core that will look to lead the Eagles back into championship contention.
8. Freehold (6-2). Final 2020 Ranking: No. 7
With Kamore Gill and Yahsin Calhoun leading the way, the Colonials should once again have an explosive offense. Quarterback Sha’Kim Shuler accounted for over 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns last season and now Gil will move to quarterback after posting over 800 yards and five touchdowns last season between running back and wide receiver. Calhoun had an incredible season on both sides of the ball as an All-Shore defensive back, leading the conference in tackles (113) and interceptions (6) while combining for over 900 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage. Senior Tyler Ochojski moves from defensive end to inside linebacker after recording 10 sacks last season and also starts at tight end. If Freehold can play solid defense it will be a threat all season.
9. Raritan (6-1). Final 2020 Ranking: No. 10
The Rockets lost their first game of the season before ripping off six straight wins to finish the season 6-1 and earn the 10th and final spot in the SSN Top 10. Versatile All-Shore talent Luke O’Hea graduated and will be missed but Raritan has several important pieces back including junior running back Kieran Falzon, senior linebacker Alex Dekis and senior quarterback Ben Hutchins.
10. Manasquan (5-3). Final 2020 Ranking: unranked
The Warriors have tremendous potential and thus get the nod for the final spot in our initial rankings. After going 5-3 last season with losses to Jackson Memorial, Wall and Holmdel, Manasquan returns 16 starters and is led by a large senior class. Cole Kozlowski is the team’s jack-of-all-trades and leads the way along with running back/defensive back Pat Woodford, receiver/defensive back Robert Pendergist, linemen Joe Franklin, Bob Marks and JJ Cavanagh, defensive end Jack Burns, and linebackers Ryan Burns and Dylan LeBlanc. A pair of standout juniors, quarterback Brett Patten and running back Jhamier Howard, give the team a multitude of weapons on offense.
Keep an Eye On:
St. John Vianney