A Return to Form: 2022 Manalapan High School Football Preview
A major part of building and maintaining a program is consistency from class to class. Much of that is uncontrollable for a high school coaching staff until those players begin their freshman year, but developing players from the time they enter high school until it's their turn to play significant snaps is what separates the contenders from the pretenders.
Few Shore Conference programs are better at this than Manalapan.
After a rare losing season in 2020, the Braves rebounded in 2021 to go 6-3 and qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs. It was a step back in the right direction for a program used to winning division championships and competing for state sectional crowns, but it still left them yearning for more. A quick glance at the rosters from last season and this season reflect an exodus of talent and leadership through graduation that would leave most programs in a lurch. But for Manalapan, the pantry is well-stocked for year three under head coach Dom Lepore.
A total of 15 starters return between offense, defense, and special teams as Manalapan looks to return to the upper echelon of the Shore Conference. The Braves will have plenty of opportunities to do so now that they've moved up to the American Division to clash with fellow heavyweights Rumson-Fair Haven, Red Bank Catholic, Middletown South, Donovan Catholic, and Wall.
Manalapan is known for its strong play along the offensive line and this season the guys in the trenches will anchor the Braves' multiple-pro offense. The interior linemen are all three-year returning starters with senior Julian Santo at center, senior Artem Reinikov-Jouk at left guard and senior Jack Boyle at right guard. The newcomers on the line are junior Evan Radosevich (6-4, 240) at right tackle and junior Matthew Makfinsky (6-2, 245) at left tackle. Adding depth are sophomore Reggie Bennet (6-0, 310) at left guard and junior PJ Ranieri at center.
Manalapan greatly values tight ends who are effective blockers and can also contribute in the passing game. Both starters return from last year in senior Preston Birnie and junior Joseph Melo. The skill positions have three returning starters among the group with senior running back Thomas Clark-Glasco, senior wide receiver Alex Dille, and junior wide receiver Anthony Macchio. Clark-Glasco was more of a No. 2 running back behind Elijah Marquez last season but played significant snaps on both sides of the ball. Dille caught 26 passes for 320 and one touchdown and Macchio had a handful of huge plays, notably in the return game. Also at running back is junior Joe Santana while seniors Darius Colleton and Austin Stakeman complete the group of wide receivers.
If there is an offensive question mark it's at quarterback after the graduation of Mike Heckel. The job could say in the family with senior Nick Heckel, or it could be fellow senior Matthew Grzejka.
While Manalapan's offense struggled at times last season and was in the middle of the pack averaging 19.8 points per game, its defense was among the best in the Shore Conference, ranking eighth in scoring defense at 16.1 points per game. There are returning starters at all three levels with considerable strength in the secondary and with the three down linemen. Up front, Reinikov-Jouk is a three-year returning starter at one defensive end spot and Santo is a returning starter on the opposite side. At 6-foot and 350 pounds, senior Anthony Cardinale is the type of space-eating, run-stuffing nose guard that 3-4 linebackers dream of playing behind. Radosevich and Ranieri will rotate in at defensive tackle and Bennett will back up Cardinale at nose guard.
The linebackers who should benefit from sturdy play in front of them are Birnie and Melo at outside linebacker and seniors Brendan Catalano and Joseph Kaminski at inside linebacker. Birnie and Melo (6-4, 200) are both returning starters. Junior Aidan Wilmot is also on the depth chart at inside linebacker and should see playing time.
A strong and experienced secondary has Macchio and Colleton at cornerback with Stakeman also in the mix. Both safeties are returning starters with Clark-Glasco at strong safety and Dille at free safety. Dille tied for the team lead with two interceptions last season and Clark-Glasco made 60 tackles.
Manalapan had excellent special teams last season - and for many seasons prior - and that should not change this season. Senior kicker/punter Michael Calton is one of New Jersey's best kickers and is coming off a junior year in which he connected on 21 extra points and five field goals with a long of 38 yards to earn Second Team All-Shore honors. He also averaged 43 yards per punt and boomed 15 touchbacks on kickoffs. Macchio was electric on kick returns last season and is a dangerous weapon.
The Braves have a nine-game regular-season schedule, including a brutal division slate plus games against Middletown North and district rivals Freehold Township, Freehold Boro, and Marlboro. It will be challenging, to say the least, but being battle-tested isn't the worst thing when the ultimate goal is winning football games in November and December.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Returning starters: 8
QB: Nick Heckel, Sr.; Matthew Grzejka, Sr.
RB: Thomas Clark-Glasco, Sr., RS; Joe Santana, Jr.
WR: Alex Dille, Sr., RS; Anthony Macchio, Jr., RS; Darius Colleton, Sr.; Austin Stakeman, Sr.
TE: Preston Birnie, Sr., RS; Joseph Melo, Jr., RS
LT: Matthew Makfinsky, Jr.
LG: Artem Reinikov-Jouk, Sr., 3RS; Reggie Bennett, So.
C: Julian Santo, Sr., 3RS
RG: Jack Boyle, Sr., 3RS
RT: Evan Radosevich, Jr.
Returning starters: 6
DE: Julian Santo, Sr., RS; PJ Ranieri, Jr.
NG: Anthony Cardinale, Sr.; Reggie Bennett, So.
DE: Artem Reinikov-Jouk, Sr., 3RS; Evan Radosevich, Jr.
OLB: Preston Birnie, Sr., RS
ILB: Brendan Catalano, Sr.
ILB: Joseph Kaminski, Sr.; Aidan Wilmot, Jr.
OLB: Joseph Melo, Jr., RS
CB: Anthony Macchio, Jr.; Austin Stakeman, Sr.
CB: Darius Colleton, Sr.
SS: Thomas Clark-Glasco, Sr., RS
FS: Alex Dille, Sr., RS
K: Michael Calton, Sr., RS
P: Michael Calton, Sr., RS
Head coach: Dom Lepore, 3rd season (13th overall)
Career record: 8-7 (44-71 overall)
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Cody High (Offensive Coordinator/WR/DB); James DiPaolo (Defensive Coordinator/LB); Bill Smith Jr. (OL); Anthony Cialdella (TE); Lou Profera (RB/LB); Dan Anerella (QB); Mike Caggiano (K/P); David Calderon (DL); Jesse Shenker (DB/WR); FRESHMEN: Andrew Jones, Bryan Doel, Reggie Grant Sr., Pete DiCataldo, Anthony Mucciolo, Danny Rodriguez; Shannon Tomasula (Athletic Trainer).
Player to Watch: Alex Dille, Sr., WR/FS
Manalapan graduated many of its skill players from last season but returns a dynamic two-way player in Dille, who caught 28 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown and intercepted two passes last season.
Players Under the Radar: Thomas Clark-Glasco, Sr., RB/SS and Anthony Macchio, Jr., WR/CB
Clark-Glasco saw some time at running back last season and looks to be RB1 this fall. He also started in the secondary and is the team's leading returning tackler. Macchio flashed his potential as a kick returner last season and will get more opportunities to make big plays as a starter at receiver and cornerback.
Impact Newcomer: Evan Radosevich, Jr., RT/DE
Radosevich will be the third son of Brad and Theressa Radosevich to suit up for the Braves, following in the footsteps of brothers Trevor and Reily, who played collegiately at UPenn and Princeton, respectively. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior will start at right tackle and rotate in at defensive end.
Rivalry Game: Sept. 9 vs. Middletown South
The Braves play three of their Freehold Regional sister schools during the season, but their Week 2 matchup with Middletown South will be an emotional one. Not only is it a critical American Division game between the two teams, but the Braves will be honoring former standout Kyle Mullen, who died tragically during Navy SEAL training earlier this year.
Aug. 26 - @Freehold Township, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 - @Middletown North, 6 p.m.
Sept. 9 - vs. Middletown South, 7 p.m
Sept. 16 - @Donovan Catholic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 - vs. Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 - @Freehold, 2 p.m.
Oct. 7 - vs. Red Bank Catholic, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 - vs. Marlboro, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 - @Wall, 7 p.m.