By Brian Deakyne
LITTLE SILVER – After a pair of double overtime losses and a slim 6-point loss kept the Red Bank Regional High School football team from a trip to the playoffs last season, it will be an even taller task for the Bucs to reach the postseason in 2013.
Red Bank, which finished 4-6 in 2012, graduated a host of starters and will be leaning on several inexperienced players to fill those positions this fall.
With a combination of youthful inexperience and a small group of returning players, head coach Nick Giglio said he hopes his team is competitive this year.
“Our expectations are definitely to compete and our schedule is very difficult – both divisional and nondivisional – but our goal is to say we can compete with whoever we’re up against each week,” Giglio said. “We want to be in the playoffs. Every year we want to be in the playoffs and we want to be in the elite eight and see what we can do when we get there.”
Most notably, the Bucs are returning seniors Xavier Chestnut and Mario Williams – two players who started on both sides of the ball last season. Both will look to bolster a running game that helped Red Bank win three straight games late in the season last year.
“We have different types of kids this year,” Giglio said. “We’re probably one of the smallest teams in the division, so we’re built around speed and we’re going to use what we have. We have some pretty good athletes that hopefully can get to the edge and that’s going to be our bread and butter. Some teams like RBC (Red Bank Catholic High School), their power game is their bread and butter. Well, we don’t have that right now so this is our bread and butter. We’ll have to see how that takes us.”
Defensively, Red Bank graduated two impressive names along the defensive line in Garrett Sickels and Isaac Coates. The Bucs are bringing back senior defensive end Dylan DeVita, who played opposite of Sickels and is coming off a big junior season.
Senior Gary Johnson is returning as a starting linebacker and will be joined by senior Adam Lynch, senior Jake Smolokoff and senior Ryan Seely – all players that gained valuable experience last season.
“I think we have a decent core of returning players, but then there’s a huge mix of young, whether it’s young first-time varsity players or young sophomores,” Giglio said. “So, we’re mixed with a whole lot of young talent and enthusiasm. Right now, it’s every day we get a little bit better, every day we work on something a little bit better.”
Last year, Ross Gisondi handled most of the early-season quarterback duties before a number of players took over the role later in the season. With Gisondi’s graduation, the Bucs have two players who will likely see time running the offense. Senior Joe Persico and sophomore Jack Navitsky are still battling for the starting job, according to Giglio, but he feels as if both players have a chance to see time there at some point this season.
Playing in a very talented B-North, Giglio said the goal is still for Red Bank to make the playoffs. The Bucs last made the playoffs in 2011, when they lost to Manasquan High School 34-7 in the first round.
Red Bank had double overtime losses to Wall Township High School and Matawan Regional High School, along with a mistake-filled 9-3 loss to Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School. With a win in any of those games a year ago, the Bucs finish at .500 and likely qualify for the postseason.
“We had two double-overtime losses, (if we) win one, we’re (in the playoffs),” Giglio said. “We had another very close loss and we seemed like we were right there last year against a very good division and everything, but we just didn’t do something.
“Right now, we’re trying to have our motto that everything we do matters, from the offseason on, to maybe help win that double overtime game instead of losing it,” he said.
Red Bank will be competing this season with another very difficult schedule, starting with the Thursday, Sept. 12 season opener against Red Bank Catholic. The Caseys throttled Red Bank, 47-0, in the opening game last season.
Red Bank has been taking baby steps throughout the offseason to become a better team, but as the season inches nearer, Giglio said it’s time to let the team loose and play football.
“Basically, we had training wheels on all summer,” Giglio said. “We just wanted to teach them fundamentals, taking it a little slower each day. When the first scrimmage came, we kicked off the first training wheel; we said we had to get going.
“Now, we’ve had our second scrimmage so we kicked off our other training wheel. We just have to get out there and ride and let them fall a little bit. We’re going to fall, we’re going to get up and we’re going to try to get better.”