Lions hopeful talent can overcome inexperience on football field

Replacing a slew of skilled players from a successful football team at Middletown High School North will not be easy, but the task can be accomplished.

So said the program’s head coach, Stephen Bush.

“Our biggest concern this year is inexperience,” Bush said. “We graduated a lot of three- and four-year starters last year.”

Middletown North fell in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 playoff finals to Sayreville War Memorial High School last season. That setback left the Lions with a record of 9-3 for the season.

Bush, who will begin his fifth season at Middletown North, is confident with his offense despite the inexperience that he must deal with.

“We’re going to have a lot of balance this year,” Bush said. “Our ability to both run and throw the ball will be our biggest strength.”

Middletown North’s season will rely on the play of seniors Connor Welsh at running back and safety, Austin DeWise at defensive end and tight end, Nicko Cofone at defensive tackle, and Daylon Wilkerson at defensive back and wide receiver; and juniors Connor Robbins at running back and defensive end, and Aiden Campbell at wide receiver and free safety.

The Lions are motivated this season after they ended 2016 with a defeat in the sectional title game.

“The state title — that’s all we’re working toward this year,” Cofone said. “We got too close last year. We’re out to prove everyone wrong. Everyone thinks we can’t get back [to the title game] because of our high graduation rate last year, but we’ll prove them wrong.”

Cofone said that even he is a bit surprised at how his teammates have responded during training this summer.

“We’re clicking a lot more that we expected,” Cofone said. “Our chemistry is really good. We should be a force this year because of it.”

Cofone, who also wrestles at Middletown North and is not sure what sport he will pursue in college, is not the only Lion with high expectations.

“I think the best part of our defense is our line,” Wilkerson said. “We have a really good defense. Our quarterback (junior Sean Glenn) has a great arm. We should go all the way this year — no reason why we shouldn’t.”

Wilkerson hopes to attend Sterling College in Kansas so he can play football with his older brother, Dwight Wilkerson, who starred for Middletown North before graduating in June.

The Lions open their season on Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. at home against Neptune High School.