POINT BEACH — Slow and steady is the approach Frank Papalia is taking in his first year as head coach of the Point Beach football team.
With the exit of former coach John Wagner after a season where Beach finished 7-5 with a NJSIAA Central Group I Championship appearance, Papalia is looking to get the most out of his 28 players.
“I remember coaching years ago and someone said, ‘It is like an ice cream cone, at the beginning of the year it is vanilla, then as you go on you can add more flavors, sprinkles and stuff like that,’” Papalia said. “That is really what it is, we are just keeping a base defense, keep it simple and with the option, we are trying to stay with one thing and do it well. Once we do that, then we can add things.”
With just three seniors in captains Tristan White, Connor Smith and Matt Van Schoick, the Garnet Gulls are young just about everywhere else but on the offensive line.
Although White is the only returner on the offensive line from last year, that group is the deepest among the team.
Van Schoick did not start last season, but still contributed. He will be playing right guard while White will line up at left guard.
Smith, who will play at right tack tackle, brings a lot of speed to the position and contributed as a fullback last season as well. Junior Noah Ramos and sophomore Josh Ramos are still battling to fill the role of left tackle. Sophomore Jack Shammy will line up in the middle at center for the Gulls.
Papalia has taken responsibility over the line, working closely with the group. White, Smith and Van Schoick are all looking to practice what their coach preaches.
“With them [Smith and Van Schoick] and the others that have stepped up throughout training camp, I feel we have good depth on the offensive line,” White said. “As a captain of the team, I am trying to leave an impact on the underclassmen, so they can base their leadership on recollection of this season when their time comes to step up as leaders of the team.”
Papalia and his coaching staff are bringing a flexbone triple-option offense to the team this year. At the center of it all is junior quarterback and captain Jason Sherlock.
Sherlock has big shoes to fill as he replaces Luke Frauenheim, who threw for 1,432 yard with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, as well as carrying the ball 117 times for 801 yards and five touchdowns.
Sherlock is making a lot of transitions this year after playing wide receiver a year ago. He is getting himself acclimated to leadership role, new coaching staff and a new playbook.
“We all love Jason Sherlock, he is a fiery competitor, a good athlete and a tough kid,” Papalia said. “As a first-time player at that position, I think he is trying to will everything to happen. We just need him to trust himself and trust his teammates.”
Juniors Liam Buday and Matt Vinsko will feature as the A backs for the Gulls. Juniors Aidan Conway, sophomore Michael Grauso, junior Brandon Castronova and Vinsko will all split time as slotbacks.
Conway is the most experience of the backs, seeing some time in 2017. No matter who is running the ball, Papalia is trying to get as much experience as he can in the backfield.
“To keep people healthy but also we need to recognize people’s skill sets,” Papalia said. “We are going to put them in situations to succeed instead of just trying to throw the one kid out there.”
Juniors Kieran Nagle, Lance White and sophomore Matt Van Brunt will all line up at receiver this year.
Defensively, Vinsko and Van Schoick both bring speed to the end positions. White, junior Matthew English, Shammy and Noah will all be interchangeable at tackle. Smith is another option as he will switch from linebacker and defensive linemen.
With Papalia’s 4-3 defense, Buday, White and sophomore Jeff Wall will be at linebacker. Junior George Kaiafas and Castronova will also play at linebacker.
In the defensive back group, Sherlock and Conway will be set at safety. The cornerbacks will be White, Nagle, Grauso and Van Brunt. Jeff Wall, who will split time as the kicker with Kaiafas, could also see time at the cornerback position.
No matter what part of the defense it is, Papalia is looking for depth in numbers and skill.
“They are getting it, but some of their instinct and inexperience, we are trying to break some things,” he said. “In film you saw the other night, ‘This kid is starting to get it, this kid is starting to get it,’ It might be this week against Keyport or it might be for or five weeks down the road, but they are working really hard at it.”
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