Twenty-Three and Free: 2022 Marlboro High School Football Preview
Jason Dagato took the Marlboro head coaching job 10 years ago knowing that it would be a long haul trying to get a downtrodden program back to the NJSIAA Playoffs for the first time since 1999 and with a 5-2 record in late October a season ago, that long haul appeared to be just about complete. With a win over Jackson Memorial, the Mustangs would lock up their first state playoff berth in 22 years and even with a loss, Dagato and his team were hopeful a 5-3 record in the Shore Conference would produce enough power points to sneak in.
Marlboro lost a 19-14 heartbreaker to the Jaguars and fell out of the playoff picture in Group V, extending the drought to 23 years and leaving the fire burning for the group of returnees heading into 2022.
“The initial feeling when we found out we weren’t going to be in the playoffs was definitely frustration,” Dagato said. “At the same time, we got together as coaches, players and staff and said ‘We’re 5-3, let’s play the rest of the season like it’s the playoffs. Let’s send a message and set the tone going into the offseason,’ and to their credit, our guys totally bought in, they won their last two games and I think they really proved to themselves that they really do know how to win.”
With an impressive collection of playmakers back on offense and some developing depth on defense, Marlboro once again has designs on ending is now-23-year state playoff drought and after getting so close a year ago, there is optimism that this is the year the Mustangs kick in the door.
“It’s hard not to be excited after last year,” Dagato said. “We feel really good about last year, but we’re taking that humble and hungry approach. Last year is last year and it has to stay last year. We can’t let that define this year, because if you do that, you’re not really setting yourself up for success.”
The challenge for this year’s group will be adjusting to a more challenging schedule, which no longer contains any Group III schools and is instead filled with Group V, Group IV and non-public opponents. Two of Marlboro’s wins last year were against Group III programs with losing records.
The benefit to the upgraded schedule is Marlboro will now have an opportunity to bank enough power points to comfortably qualify for the NJSIAA Playoffs. The obvious caveat is the Mustangs will have to be able to beat most of the quality opponents on their schedule and with the success of last year’s team coupled with the talent returning, the team expects to do just that.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back: three offensive linemen back, a tight end back, a fullback who is moving to tailback, quarterback and a receiver. That’s a lot of guys back, so we definitely feel like we can build on last year. Offense usually takes time to get rolling, so I expect us to be ahead of schedule with all that experience coming back.”
Marlboro at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter; 3RS=Third-Year Starter)
Returning Starters: 7
Offense: Multiple Pro
QB: A.J. Schwartz, Sr. RS
RB: Matt Cassidy, Jr. RS; Dylan Miccoli, Sr.; Dan Alcide, Jr.
FB: Anthony Tropeano, Jr.
WR: Ryan Mendes, Sr. RS
WR: Alex Frank, Sr.; Jake Houston, Sr.
TE: Lucas McEvoy, Sr. RS
LT: Corey Shanin, Sr. 3RS
LG: Lou Ogno, Jr.; Mike Garcia, Jr.
C: Pete Budveit, Sr. RS
RG: Hunter Boilen, Sr. RS
RT: Jon Moskowich, Jr.; Nate Emerson, Jr.
Returning Starters: 6
DE: Corey Shanin, Sr.
DT: Rob Kenyon, Jr.
DE: Lucas McEvoy, Sr. RS
OLB: Alex Frank, Sr. RS
ILB: Anthony Tropeano, Jr.
ILB: Dan Lacertosa, So.
OLB: Ryan Mendes, Sr. 3RS
CB: Anthony LaFonte, Sr. RS
CB: Nick Scaff, Jr. RS; Jake Houston, Sr.
SS: Matt Cassidy, Jr. RS
FS: A.J. Schwartz, Sr. 3 RS
K: Luke Rubin, Jr. RS
P: Luke Rubin
Head Coach: Jason Dagato, 10th season
Career Record: 24-63
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Reid Stapp (Def. Coordinator/RB/LB), Jim Papalia (Special Teams/WR/DL), Tom Caporale (QB/DB), Bill Cook (OL/DL), Ryan Cassidy (RB/LB), Chris Juliano (WR/DB), Cory Varrial (Freshman), Mike Warnock (Freshman), Mike Luzio (Freshman), Anais Mixson (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: A.J. Schwartz, Sr., QB
In his first year as the starting quarterback at Marlboro, Schwartz proved to be both effective and efficient. He produced a completion percentage of better than 60 percent (62-for-103) while throwing for 834 yards and connected on 14 touchdowns while throwing only two interceptions. He will also have his favorite target, classmate Ryan Mendes, back in the passing game and three starters on the offensive line, so the table is set for Schwartz to feast in 2022.
Player Under the Radar: Corey Shanin, Sr., LT/DE
Marlboro’s strength is in its experience at the skill positions, but Shanin is a critical player to what the Mustangs are trying to accomplish this season. Shanin is a third-year starter on the offensive line, manning the left tackle spot while center Pete Budveit and guard Hunter Boilen play on the interior. Shanin will also be a key cog on the defensive line, which is the least experience aspect of this year’s Marlboro squad, but a source of optimism thanks to quality depth.
“Defensively, we have to replace our defensive line, so that’s one of our bigger projects during the preseason and early in the season,” Dagato said. “We have some young guys who got to play in some rotational roles and got some exposure and experience, but that’s really the spot where we’re going to have to put our work in. We feel like that’s going well. There is great competition, to the point where if we can stay healthy, we’re looking at being potentially two-deep an every spot on the defensive line.”
Top Position Group: Receivers
Ryan Mendes was Schwartz’s go-to receiver a year ago, with the 6-foot-2 target hauling in 27 catches for 426 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. He will be a focus for both Schwartz and opposing defenses this year, while classmate Lucas McEvoy returns at tight end. Alex Frank is the newcomer to watch among the receiving corps and fellow senior Jake Houston will also see action as well, with Marlboro looking for additional options to take the pressure off Mendes and Schwartz
“At the end of the day, A.J., Ryan and Matt (Cassidy) are three really good skill position players – guys pretty much any team would love to have,” Dagato said. “For our team to be as good as we want to be and for those guys to be at their best, we’re going to have to develop a few other guys to become a threat in the offense, so that has been our main focus.”
Big Shoes to Fill: Matt Cassidy, Jr., RB/SS
The toughest player to replace in last year’s lineup will be Zach Mendes, but fortunately, Marlboro has a junior with starting experience who is ready to elevate his game. Cassidy played fullback a year ago and will assume the role of feature tailback within an offense that has a capable quarterback running the show. On defense, Cassidy will return to the strong safety spot and take on more of a leadership role on that side of the ball.
Classmate Anthony Tropeano will also help replace Mendes by taking over the fullback spot vacated by Cassidy’s position switch, as well as an inside linebacker position formerly occupied by Zach Mendes.
Rivalry Game: Sept. 23 at Howell
Marlboro’s schedule will be tougher this season and one of the opponents that picked off the Mustangs last year was Howell. Both Marlboro and Howell have a good chance to be improved teams, so their Week 4 matchup is likely to be a crucial one for both teams as they try to march forward toward a postseason berth. For a team a team looking to end a two-plus-decade drought, every week is important, so while Marlboro might like to exact some revenge for last year’s loss to Howell, the Mustangs’ focus will undoubtedly be on the next game.
Thursday, Sept. 1 at Brick, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 10 vs. Freehold Twp., Noon
Saturday, Sept. 17 vs. Freehold Boro, Noon
Friday, Sept. 23 vs. at Howell, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 1 vs. St. John Vianney, Noon
Saturday, Oct. 8 vs. Jackson Memorial, Noon
Friday, Oct. 14 at Manalapan, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 22 at Colts Neck, Noon