By Tim Morris
The Freehold Township High School football team earned a state playoff berth in Cory Davies’ first year as head coach last season.
This season, Davies wants to see his team back in the playoffs, making it a habit rather than a one-time blip. He also wants to secure a winning season, which would go a long way toward bringing the program respect.
Even though the Patriots made the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V tournament in 2015, they finished with a 4-6 record.
With six starters back on offense and seven on defense, those goals are well within the Patriots’ grasp.
Davies brought his pass-friendly “Air Raid” offense to Freehold Township last year, and it was a hit. Points were up and so was excitement, as graduated quarterback Jack O’Brien passed for a school-record 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“The players are picking up the offense very well,” Davies said. “We have some talented, skilled players that have a good grasp of what we are doing on offense.
“We still need to improve on the basic things so that we can become more proficient as an offensive team.”
Freehold Township will have a new quarterback in senior Charles Sabbagh, who has a lot of tools to work with.
Returning are receivers Adrian Rybaltowski, who set the school single-season reception record with 44, Anthony Lotti and Tyrique Hall. The trio caught a combined 91 passes for 11 touchdowns.
Sabbagh’s strong arm will bring the home-run throw to the passing game, stretching defenses.
Running back Max Nowak is back and gives defenses something else to think about — stopping the run. He had close to 600 total yards running and receiving last fall.
“Our skilled players are our strength at this time,” Davies said. “We have been able to move the ball well thus far in our scrimmages.”
Seniors Matt Cruz, who is 6 feet 3 inches tall and 265 pounds, and John Lucas, who is also 6 feet 3 inches tall as well as 245 pounds, are both tackles and anchor the offensive line.
Jake White will start at center, backed by Jon O’Brien. Riley Crowley and James Latona are set to play guard.
Freehold Township actually has its most experience on defense, with 11 players who either started or saw considerable playing time.
Up front in the 4-2-5 formation are Eric Quartey and Damian Rybaltowski at the ends and Jordan Jones, Crowley, Matt Cruz, John Lucas and Latona in the mix at tackle and end.
Returning senior Mike Ferdinandi heads the linebacking core. He’s starting in the middle with Javier Castro, who is also a senior. Pablo Loza and Nowak will provide depth there with Mike Cenname and Zach Gonzalez.
The strong safeties and outside linebackers are D’Andre Sanders, Nick Coluccio, Shawn Poole and Rybaltowski.
The defensive backs are led by free safety Lotti. He topped the team in total tackles (72). He is a four-year starter at the position.
Mike McCormick and Poole are expected to fill in at safety, along with Pat Laricy and Hall, who were both starters in 2015.
Kevin Doherty will start at cornerback, with Artie Bader and Richie Norton also seeing action there.
To forge the team’s first winning season in more than a decade, the Patriots have to keep moving forward.
“As it is every year, we need to continue to improve as a team in all areas,” Davies said. “I am hoping that we can continue to grow as a group and that we can become a solid football team at the end of the season.”
Out of the gate, the Patriots play their crosstown rivals, Freehold High School, in the season opener Sept. 9. The game is at 6:30 p.m. in Freehold Township.
This will be the first time that both teams are coming off state playoff seasons.
The teams are playing for the Norman “Duke” Farrell Trophy.
Freehold Township plays at Colts Neck High School Sept. 17 at 12 p.m. The Cougars move back up to the A North Division this year with the Shore Conference realignment.