By Tim Morris
The 2016 high school football season kicks off Sept. 9-10 with rivalry week.
That means that the six Freehold Regional High School District (FRHSD) teams play each other the first week of the season.
Freehold High School travels to crosstown rival Freehold Township High School at 6:30 p.m. and Howell High School hosts Colts Neck High School at the same time Sept. 9. Manalapan High School and Marlboro High School resume their rivalry Sept. 10 in Marlboro at 12 p.m.
This fall, with the Shore Conference realigning, the A North Division has become the FRHSD division. Gone are Middletown High School North and Middletown High School South and joining the fold are Colts Neck and Neptune High School. All six district schools are all in the same division for the first time.
Thanks to a string of state championships won in the last decade by Howell, Freehold and Manalapan, the football season has generated a lot of excitement and produced some great players and memorable games.
Last year a trio of teams — Manalapan, Freehold and Freehold Township — qualified for the NJSIAA Central Jersey sectional tournament. Defending champion Manalapan gave a brave defense of its title, reaching the semifinals before losing to eventual champion South Brunswick High School on the last play of the game.
There’s reason to believe that 2016 can continue the district’s gridiron success. With the new lineup in A North, the division race will be more exciting than ever.
At Manalapan, head coach Ed Gurrieri has made the Braves not only the benchmark for district teams, but also one of the state’s best programs.
In what most would consider a down year, Manalapan (6-5) still made the Central Jersey, Group V semifinals and with a considerable number of experienced and talented players at the skill positions — led by quarterback Luke Corcione — the Braves seem poised to return to championship form. They won A North from 2010-14.
The main concern for Gurrieri looking ahead is breaking in a new offensive line. Manalapan has the most returning talent on the defensive side of the ball, which will make it easier on the team early, as the players settle in on the offensive line.
Dave Ellis has Freehold (6-4) playing playoff football again with appearances in the state playoffs the last two years. Graduation hit the Colonials hard, but they have one of the best playmakers in the Shore in running back Ashante Worthy, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards last year.
It’s head coach Cory Davies’ second year at Freehold Township (4-6), the coach, who won a Central Jersey, Group IV title at Howell, brought his high-octane, pass-friendly “Air Raid” offense to the Patriots and promptly had them in the state playoffs for just the second time in program history.
At Howell, Luke Sinkhorn has the Rebels (3-7) on the upswing. They were in contention for the state playoffs right up to the final week. This fall, the Rebels would like to clear that hurdle and return to the postseason and be a factor within the division.
They have an exciting quarterback in Eddie Morales and more receiving depth than in the past, giving Howell a more explosive look on offense.
Marlboro (1-9) is looking to change its identity by becoming a more physical team, led by bruising running back Carmine Caorsi and a dominating defense end in Nnamdi Unachukwu. Opponents may be surprised to see coach Jason Dagota’s Mustangs in attack mode.
It’s the second year for Darian Barnes as head coach at Colts Neck, and the Cougars are ready to turn things around. They have a number of returning starters, including a big senior class. The Cougars have a proven quarterback, quality runner in Carmen Catena and a playmaker at linebacker in Vincent Gargiulo.