Plan of Succession: 2022 Long Branch High School Football Preview
Coaching changes at the high school level often mean 16 and 17-year-old players learning new systems and new coaching personalities and when the outgoing coach was an institution for nearly half-a-century like Dan George was at Long Branch, the adjustment figures to be especially pronounced.
In many ways, however, the returning Green Wave players knew their new head coach even better than their former one before the first practice ever started.
Chad King takes over a prestigious Long Branch program following the retirement of George after 23 seasons at the helm and does so after having served as an assistant under George – most recently in the role of defensive coordinator. Not only do the returning players know King from his time as one of their coaches, but many of them know him as a teacher, with King having taught several of them in second grade.
“You’ve got to bring your personality to the job,” King said. “I’m not Coach George by any means. I learned a lot from him, but at the same time, I’m Chad King, so I’m going to put my spin on it. I’ve known these guys since they have been in second grade – I taught at the elementary school so I have known a lot of them since they were very young. I spent 180 days with them, so they understand who I am on my good days and bad days, and my job is to be a consistent presence for them.”
With its new head coach, Long Branch will try to build upon an 8-2 season in 2021, during which the Green Wave won a playoff game. This year’s squad will be inexperienced at quarterback, on the offensive line and throughout the defense, but the feeder system remains strong and King is expecting depth players from 2021 to thrive in greater roles and for several underclassmen to jump right in and contribute.
It is indeed a new era at Long Branch, but if King has his way, the team will not look all that different between the lines on Friday night – even as he adds his own twist to the sidelines and the practice field.
“The hardest part about the summer is waking up and showing up at 6 a.m., 6:30, so the kids have been buying in to what we’re doing,” King said. “The expectations haven’t changed. Most of the staff is still in place, so it’s been a smooth transition.”
Long Branch at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter)
Returning Starters: 5
QB: Earnest Reevey, Jr.
RB: Sekou Kamau, Sr. RS
RB: Zaheem Brown, Jr. RS
WR: Michael Hall, Sr. RS
WR: Shamar Williams, Sr. RS
TE: Miguel Maldonado, Fr.
LT: Khaleeq Ingram, Jr.
LG: Tyler Taylor, So.
C: Bryce Gordon, Sr.
RG: Luke Tracey, Sr. RS
RT: Kyrie Lamber, Sr.
Returning Starters: 3
DE: Antonio Castanon, Sr. RS
DT: Joseph Corley, So.
DT: Danny Velez, Sr.
DE: Mathues Marcos, Sr.
LB: Esau Walker, Sr.
LB: Havier Gonzalez, So.
CB: Akeel Gaines, Sr.
CB: Aulander Daniels, So.
CB: Christopher Moses, So.
SS: Shamar Williams, Sr. RS
FS: Sekou Kamau, Sr. RS
K: Wesley Garcia, Jr.
P: Arthur DeJesus, P
Head Coach: Chad King, first season
Career Record: 0-0
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Greg Penta (Associate Head Coach/Off. Coordinator), Ben Woolley (Off. Coordinator/OL), Gary Beddoe (RB/Special Teams), Val Barnaby (Def. Coordinator), Ryan Burgess (DL), Devron Clark (Freshman/WR), Jamil Pitts (Freshman/LB), Jayce Maxwell (Freshman/Special Teams), Jordan Rodriguez (Quality Control), Billy George (Volunteer Assistant), Kim Small (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Sekou Kamau, Sr. RB/CB
Kamau was the top rusher on an 8-2 Green Wave squad, amassing 779 yards on the ground with six rushing touchdowns. With a new quarterback and some new faces in the receiving corps, Kamau brings an important element of experience and established performance to an offense that will be lacking in that department in some other position groups. Kamau will also be faced with the challenge of working with a mostly-new offensive line, so getting on the same page with that new front-five will be an early priority.
Player Under the Radar: Luke Tracey, Sr., Guard
The lone returnee on the offensive line, Tracey will be as integral as any player on the roster to the success of the team. He will be tasked with helping four new starters on the line getting up to speed, while also leading an offense that returns a quality running-back duo of Kamau and junior Zaheem Brown, but also must replace a quarterback who put up major numbers. It’s a lot on one plate, but Tracey is the kind of player and leader that King is glad to have during his first season as head coach.
Top Position Group: Backs and Receivers
Up to this point, King is comfortable with what he has seen from Long Branch’s skill players on both sides of the ball, even if there is some inexperience to overcome. Kamau and Brown offer a dependable one-two punch at running back, while Michael Hall and Rashad Jennings form a senior duo at the wide receiver position that is poised to post a big season for the Green Wave. Freshman Miguel Maldonado is also a player to watch in the passing game, giving Long Branch some options for its new quarterback to target.
“Over the summer, we had a bunch of seven-on-sevens, so we saw what we could do in a t-shirt and shorts where there is no line and no contact,” King said. “We’ve got a bunch of numbers – a lot more than there was last year. There are a bunch of first-timers, guys who haven’t been out here because of COVID, so we’re interested to see what they can do. I expected us to perform in 7-on-7’s, so now I’m excited to see what we can do with more physicality.”
Big Shoes to Fill: Earnest Reevey, Sr., QB
Christian Rodriguez was as important to Long Branch as any player was to his team in 2021, so in that regard, there is almost no way for Reevey to fill those shoes. The versatile senior can still, however, be an effective quarterback and as a senior with varsity experience in other parts of the game, as well as practice reps at quarterback, he is as ready as can be.
There is enough senior leadership in place for Long Branch to continue its winning ways under King, but as is almost always the case in high school football, some young players will need to step up to get the most out of the season. In Long Branch’s case, there is a collection of sophomores will get significant time on the field, with Aulander Daniels and Christopher Moses both in line to start at cornerback, Havier Gonzalez at linebacker and Joseph Corley at defensive tackle.
On the offensive side of the ball, Sophomore Tyler Taylor will play left guard next to first-year starter at left tackle Khaleeq Ingram – a 6-foot-3, 310-pound junior. Throw in the freshman, Maldonado, at tight end and Long Branch has a group that could be the difference on this year’s team while also laying the foundation for the next several seasons.
Rivalry Game: Middletown South, Week One
George and Middletown South coach Steve Antonucci have been coaching giants in Monmouth County for parts of three decades and in multiple sports, so this rivalry will be a little different with Antonucci returning and George now retired. King, however, knows all about this rivalry and after the two teams did not meet in 2021, they will resume the rivalry on opening night for both teams. The last time the two teams met in a season-opener was in 2020, when Long Branch upended the Eagles, 14-10, behind a gritty effort from Rodriguez.
Friday, Sept. 2 vs. Middletown South, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 10 vs. Lacey, 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 16 at Southern, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 24 vs. Toms River North, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 7 at Middletown North, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 14 vs. Neptune, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 21 at Central, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 23 at Red Bank, 6 p.m.