By Wayne Witkowski
Two-time state champion Jackson Memorial High School will have a solid representation with three players on the Ocean County team that will play the Monmouth All-Stars in the 39th annual U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic at Central Regional High School June 30.
They are led by defensive lineman Tyler Towns, who also was selected for the North-South High School All-Star Football Classic June 27 at Kean University.
Towns had 33 tackles and 7.5 sacks, as Jackson Memorial finished 8-4, routing Brick Memorial High School, 42-14, in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV championship game.
Vin Lee as a running back and Adante Davis as a linebacker were the other selections. Jared Calhoun also was selected but declined, and Kyle Johnson had been chosen but declined early in the selection process as he prepares for a college baseball career at Rider University.
Davis had 34 tackles last fall, and Lee rushed for 325 yards on 50 carries.
“This shows we had a talented group, winning back-to-back state championships, that was very successful,” Jackson Memorial coach Walt Krystopik said.
Eight players from both Jackson Township high schools have been selected for the Gridiron Classic, but four have committed to play. Three were selected from Jackson Liberty High School, but only team Most Valuable Player and captain Braden Yorke, a tight end and linebacker, will participate. He’ll play as a tight end. Yorke, also an outstanding placekicker, is headed to the University of Delaware in the fall to continue his football career as a kicker. He played on a 4-6 Jackson Liberty team that dropped its final regular-season game and its Central Jersey, Group IV opener decisively to Brick Memorial. Yorke made 20 solo tackles — seven for losses — and assisted 22 tackles on defense. As a tight end, Yorke caught 26 passes for 475 yards and six touchdowns.
Yorke is only the third player in Jackson Liberty football history to earn selection to the All-Shore team after last season, with Justin Billups and Remy Martin of the 2011 team as the others.
Jackson Liberty quarterback and linebacker Ryan Van Wickle and center/defensive tackle Jared DiZenzo also were invited to play in the Gridiron Classic but declined.
Although 18 players graduated from the Jackson Memorial roster, many of the key elements to last year’s late-season surge return and will participate in summer workouts four days a week beginning July 11.
“They know what’s expected,” Krystopik said, as his team again opens its season Sept. 9 at Jackson Liberty. “We have a lot more experience. Many are back on the line, unlike last season when we lost seven [to graduation from the previous season] and Dylan Smith was the only experienced starter and he was out all season with an injury.”
Four starting linemen return, three for their senior seasons: guards Larry Richardson on the left side and Sean Martin on the right and big left tackle Mitch Mills, who measures 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 275 pounds. Joe Hurley was an All-Shore Conference C South selection as a sophomore at right tackle. He’s 6 feet 3 inches tall and 255 pounds.
They’ll block for running back Mike Gawlik, a senior in the fall heading into his third season as a starter, and quarterback Dan Barker, who struggled at times but is ready to make major strides as a senior.
“He looks good. He’s stronger, and we expect a big season from him,” Krystopik said of Gawlik, who rushed for 1,503 yards on 202 carries and 16 touchdowns.
Barker, who shared time at quarterback with Al Tolmachewich and Johnson, completed 40 of 67 passes for 395 yards and nine touchdowns. He was intercepted only once.
They will adjust to new offensive coordinator Anthony Compitello. Corey Lavin, who has been the offensive coordinator, left for another career opportunity.
Defensively, Zach Lubertazzi will lead the way as a senior after making 22 tackles at middle linebacker last season. He’ll look to help make up for the loss of defensive stalwart Nick Papandrea, who led the team in tackles last fall. Justin Martin-Culet had a solid sophomore season last fall, and Krystopik said he expects freshman Chance Benjamin to make an early impact.
Jackson Memorial has an ambitious scrimmage schedule against Point Pleasant Borough High School, which was 8-2; Middletown High School South, regarded as the top team in the state in an unbeaten season that included a North Jersey, Section II, Group IV championship; and Williamstown High School, which ended a 9-3 season in a South Jersey, Group V championship loss to Toms River High School North, 14-7.
“We’ll find out very quickly how good we are,” Krystopik said.