COLTS NECK, N.J. - Going into their season opener against Monmouth Regional this past weekend, many questions surrounded the Colts Neck High School football team.
Under new head coach Matt Ahearn, the Cougars knew they were getting a leader with over 17 years of winning coaching experience, but still needed to find their identity.
On Saturday, Colts Neck got a sense of what its identity could be this season, coming back from a 7-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Monmouth Regional 8-7 to start the season 1-0.
“The kids have been working hard all offseason and have continued to get better each and every day,” Ahearn said during the preseason. “We have a bunch of good kids on this team.”
Senior Brendan Wei, one of the team’s leaders for this fall, came up big for the Cougars in their win catching the a game-tying 11-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Colin Campbell.
On the following play, Campbell and Wei hooked up again on the successful two-point conversion try to give Colts Neck the lead and ultimately the win.
Wei said after the team’s scrimmage against Red Bank Regional, during the preseason, that the goal for the team was to gain a victory in Week 1 and show the rest of the Shore Conference that there is a new culture at Colts Neck.
“Biggest thing we have worked on is changing the culture and showing everybody out there that this is a new Colts Neck team,” Wei said. “We know what type of team we have and our abilities and that we can have a good season.”
Wei, along with fellow classmates Gianperio Oriolo and Justin Dibise and juniors Gabe Lugo and Aidan Horan, give first-year starter Campbell a deep receiving corp to work with this season. Campbell went 6-of-10 for 72 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. Both Oriolo and Lugo had first-down catches in the contest.
Seniors John Giacalone, Dom Velardo and Mark Salib and juniors Tom Lindonici and Jackson Sparacio make up the Cougars’ offensive line. Senior Tristan McMerty will move from fullback to tight end to be a vital part of the Colts Neck run game up front in the trenches.
In the Colts Neck backfield behind Campbell at running back, the Cougars running game will be anchored by a running back by committee philosophy says Ahearn.
Senior Luciano Pabon, junior Romeo Thomas and sophomore Joe Barsky will all be instrumental parts of the Cougars’ rushing attack at the running back position.
Thomas rushed for a team-high 130 yards on 16 carries in the team’s season opening win over Monmouth Regional. He also had a 23-yard catch out of the backfield as well.
“It’s been exciting seeing us have success running the football to begin the season,” Campbell said after the Red Bank scrimmage. “We have a good group of guys that just want to win.”
Defensively, the Cougars will run out of a 4-3 base defense primarily this fall under new defensive coordinator and former Red Bank Catholic head coach Jim Portela.
Giacalone and Lindonici will anchor the Colts Neck defensive line, both picking up a couple of sacks in the season opener. Senior Bryce Blaikie is another player expected to make a huge impact up front on defense for Colts Neck as will Sparacio.
At linebacker, Pabo will lead the Cougars defense in the middle with both McMerty and senior James O’Mahony flanking him at the outside linebacker spots. O’Mahony led the team with a 13 tackles in the win against Monmouth Regional, while both Pabo and McMerty each had 10 tackles in the win for the Cougars. Senior Michael Boliver will also see time at linebacker for Colts Neck.
Wei, Campbell, Oriolo and Lugo make up the Colts Neck secondary. Dibise, Thomas, junior Aidan Horan will play a role in the defensive backfield for the Cougars.
“Our defense has improved a lot from last year,” Giacalone said after the Red Bank scrimmage. “Our linebackers are really good. We have a really good defensive line. The secondary is much improved from last season.”
Coming off a 2-8 record in the 2017 and not reaching the playoffs for the fourth straight season, Ahearn made it his mission when coming in to get his team to forget the past and focus on the present. Making it a goal for every player on the team to focus on trying to improve themselves each and every day to help the team be successful this fall.
So far, Ahearn has been pushing the right buttons with the Cougars out to a 1-0 start to the season.
Colts Neck will look to make it two straight wins to start the season when they travel to face Point Pleasant Borough on Friday night.
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