By Brian Deakyne
MIDDLETOWN – The last time the Middletown High School North football program was feared as one of the best in the Shore Conference, most of its current players probably hadn’t touched a football yet.
But newly named Lions head coach Steve Bush remembers.
Bush, who most recently was the wide receiver coach for the Miami Dolphins, recalled his tenure from 1993-1999 as Manalapan High School’s head football coach and said he wants North’s program to return to the prominence it had more than a decade ago.
“Years ago, I coached at Manalapan against this team and I know what type of program it can be,” Bush said. “We want to get back to that – what it was 10 years ago. So, we want to have some toughness in this program and have some respect back.”
Bush has inherited a program that hasn’t displayed a winning season or a playoff win in 13 years. Under former head coach Joe Trezza, the Lions produced playoff appearances in 2008 and 2009 but did not win a postseason game either year.
“I think the expectations are high,” Bush said. “I think these kids are hungry and they want to win and they want to be good. They’ve been coming in, working hard and trying to do the right thing.”
The Lions graduated a two-year starting quarterback in Cody Thompson, who managed the spread offense fairly sufficiently, despite limited success. Senior Ryan McMahon was slated to be the starting quarterback this season, but he has suffered a shoulder injury, according to Bush.
Cody’s younger brother, junior Troy Thompson, will look to be the starter with McMahon injured. Freshman Donald Glenn has impressed coaches and has been getting repetitions in practice.
Although the current senior class has experienced limited success, Bush said it’s prudent for this team to simply believe in themselves. After that, the wins and successes will fall into place.
“We’ve just got to get the kids believing in themselves, believing in each other and believing in the system,” Bush said. “We just need to give them more confidence and I think we have the talent. Once they begin to believe in themselves and understand what we’re doing, we should be able to compete with everybody.”
Middletown North is returning a pair of starting receivers in Brandon Piccini and Jake Betkowski to bolster the Lions offense. Betkowski also will be returning to start at corner back on defense, which should be a team highlight, according to Bush.
“We have some more returners on defense and I think that will be a strength for us,” Bush said. “I think we have some pretty good skill guys on offense – guys that can make plays for us – so we’ll try to spread the ball around and spread the field a little bit for those guys.”
Middletown North is returning three linebackers in senior Dan Napolitano, Thompson – two of the team’s captains – along with sophomore Chad Freshnock.
“We’re trying to grow some of those guys into becoming leaders,” Bush said of the seniors on the team. “Some guys are doing a very good job and some guys are doing a great job leading by example, we just have to get that to spread a little bit more.”
In addition to being an assistant coach with the Dolphins, Bush also spent time coaching at Syracuse University and said it was an adjustment getting back into the high school level.
“It’s different with the different ages and maturity level and learning the speed of the game and things,” Bush said. “But I’ve been at the high school level other times before; this is fourth time as a head high school coach, so I’ve done it at all levels. I’m used to this, too, but I had been away from it for a little while so it has taken me a little bit to get adjusted back to it.”
Middletown North will open the season at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at Brick Memorial High School.