Quarterback position up for grabs at Matawan

By Wayne Witkowski

Matawan Regional High School’s football team will have a different look from the past two seasons when it opens Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at Shore Conference A Central Division and local rival St. John Vianney High School, which reached the NJSIAA Non-Public, Group III finals last December.

That different look depends on who will play quarterback.

Senior Jake Burlew, a spot starter last season, and freshman Russell Derector are competing for the starting quarterback spot after George Pearson, who has started since his freshman year, transferred out for his junior season. Pearson initially enrolled at Saint Joseph Regional High School of Montvale but has since shifted over to Mater Dei Prep.

Matawan won its seventh sectional title two years ago and last season lost in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III semifinals to eventual champion Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School. Last season, the Huskies started off 0-3 and then won seven straight before losing in the state playoffs.

Injuries limited Pearson to eight games, during which he threw for 1,277 yards and eight touchdowns. He started 11 of 12 games two years ago, when he is believed to be the only freshman to have quarterbacked a Shore Conference team to a state championship in a 27-7 victory over Carteret High School. Pearson threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns that season.

But Matawan coach John Kaye feels both quarterbacks this season are progressing.

“They’re getting better, but it’s mixed results,” Kaye said. “It’s different without Pearson, who was a drop-back passer, and Burlew is a read-pass-run type of player. Derector is a drop-back passer, and he is coming along but making freshman mistakes.”

Kaye said his team is a work in progress on both sides of the ball, especially on the line, he but feels his team will be in the mix as usual in the division race and for a return to the playoffs.

“We always feel we’re competitive. We’ll always be there,” Kaye said.

Only three starters are set on the offensive side, including seniors Mike McHugh at right tackle and Jesse Haber on the left side. Junior Mike Karycinski is practicing at left guard and center, and all three were starters last season. They’ll see action on the defensive line, as well in the 4-3 formation along with juniors John Kemp and Royce Tucker, who are vying for playing time.

The other two starting spots on the offensive line are wide open among four or five different players. Tight end also will have a new starter. Senior Jacob Signorile and junior Antonio Straniero are competing for the start.

Derrick Wiley, a senior, again is the lead ballcarrier in the multiple offense that often operates out of a one-back set.

Sophomore Devin Williams and juniors Devonte Spann and Abdul Simon also will carry the ball. Senior Ray Belony looks like a starting wide receiver, where senior Joe Beukers and junior Jaleel Gopaul also have looked sharp in practice.

“We have young kids playing different positions, and we’ll find out who is playing where [as we go along],” Kaye said. “We have to continue to work hard to get better as a team; that’s the key.”

Williams and Wiley return as starters at linebacker, and junior Ryan Rodriguez is a frontrunner for the other spot. Spann, who started last season, and Burlew are safeties. Belony is starting at cornerback, while the starter at the other cornerback spot remains wide open.

Senior Will Casagrande will handle kicking and punting.

Matawan plays its home opener at 7 p.m. Sept. 16 against Red Bank Regional High School.