For the past 18 years, Southern Regional has been one of the toughest teams at the Shore. Whenever a visiting opponent comes into Ron Emmert Field, they can always count on a war. Head Coach Chuck Donohue Sr has always stressed the fundamentals and mental toughness of a team. Players learn to block, tackle, run the ball, and are required to know all of their assignments to see the field. To be a part of this program, a player must be 100% committed. The offseason program is one of the best in the State. Strength and conditioning has always been the number one priority. Players understand that they will be held to a higher standard. This is the discipline and dedication that helped lead this program to Sectional Finals in 2008 and 2012. Southern simply does not make many mistakes and that has always led to a lot of success.
Southern will go into the season with some players that will hit the Varsity level for the first time. The team has six starters returning on the defensive side of the ball. The offense will have more inexperience with only three starters back, but they have some athletes with a lot of potential to step into key positions. While many of these players have had success as Freshman and Junior Varsity players, that does not always get the job done at this level. The coaching staff made it a point to challenge the newcomers from the start. “It does not matter that you were 9-1 at the JV level, no one in the Shore cares about that. If you think the effort that it takes on the JV level is going to be the same in order for you to have a successful senior season, it just doesn’t work that way.” added Southern Regional Head Coach Chuck Donohue Sr. The young players will look to take the next step this year in a very tough Class A South division. The competition is as serious as it can get. The team will have to bring their A Game each and every week.
SOUTHERN REGIONAL PREVIEW
Head Coach: Chuck Donohue Sr (42nd year, 18th at Southern) 236-161-4
2014 Record: 5-5
Key Returns: Pat Walker (Sr RB/LB) Joe Miele (So LB) Doug VandeVelde (Sr OL/DL) Brandon Barnetti (Sr RB/LB/K) Anthony Gagliardi (Sr WR/DB) Nick Simonelli (Sr WR/DB) Joe Dolphin (Sr OL/LB) Quinn Smith (Sr OL/DL) Dane Walker (Jr RB/LB) Jesse Amirr (Jr TE/DE)
Key Losses: Clay Robinson (OL/DL) Pat Ferraro (OL/DL) Zac Halliday (WR/DB) Jon Bleichner (QB) Ryan Winkler (RB/LB) Dom VanDeBrook (WR/DB)
Key Newcomers: Jackson Donahower (Jr QB) Sam Cammarata (Jr QB) Vin Miele (So RB/LB) Zach Widenhoff (Sr OL/DL) Devin VandeVelde (So OL/DL)
Everyone will have their eye on the Rams offense. This unit has really shown a strong work ethic throughout the first two weeks of practice. Two Juniors will look to step into the leadership role competing for the Quarterback position. Jackson Donahower was one of the backups last season, and saw some limited action. Donahower is 6’3″ and comes with tremendous size and strength. Donahower has good zip on the long ball, and great vision down the field. He can read defenses and find his targets. He is definitely your classic pocket quarterback. Sam Cammarata will also look to win the job Cammarata comes up to the Varsity level after getting extended playing time on JV last year. Cammarata can use his mobility to hit receivers on the run, and take off when needed. Both signal callers may very well get reps this year. They both have different skill sets that can give the Rams an advantage offensively.
Traditionally, Southern has always had a strong running attack. This year will be no different. Senior Captain Pat Walker returns after rushing for 677 yards and 11 touchdowns during his Junior campaign. Walker is a strong downhill runner, who can hit the hole fast and use his power to get the tough yards. Walker was very consistent, averaging 5 yards per carry in 2014. The Senior also chipped in with 200 yards receiving. Walker is a great option in the flat and can contribute to the passing game. He’s got a great overall skill set as a back. Expect another huge year out of Walker. He will help lead this offense again.
The Rams will need someone else to step up as a complimentary back to Walker after graduating Ryan Winkler. Senior Brandon Barnetti is ready for that role. Barnetti has been having an outstanding camp. Brandon brings a lot of speed and athleticism to the table. He will get an opportunity to make an impact in the running game this year. Sophomores Joe and Vin Miele will also be a big part of the rotation. Both players bring a lot of size and power. They will be very big for the Rams offense, especially in the Red Zone. This is a position where the Rams have a lot of depth.
We had a chance to talk to RB Pat Walker about the season.
The wide receiver position will also feature a lot of new players. Southern graduated both Zac Halliday and Dom VanDeBrook. Halliday had been a big part of the receiving game for the past two years. VanDeBrook was the leading pass catcher in 2014. Senior Anthony Gagliardi has moved over from the quarterback position. Gagliardi has a lot of speed and will be a tough matchup for any defensive back. He will have the opportunity to make a lot of plays in this offense. Senior Nick Simonelli, and Junior Matt Bleichner will also be in the mix. Both receivers have showed a lot of toughness in camp. They are not afraid to go over the middle and make the more difficult catches. Senior Kyle McDonnell is also another weapon for the team. McDonnell missed a good bit of 2014 with an injury, but he is ready to be a contributor this year.
The offensive line must be ready to contribute in a huge way. Class A South is a division with a lot of good defensive lines. Toms River North will feature star defensive end Dashon Copes. Brick will also line up. Dan Finelli. Both those defensive ends had double digit sacks in 2014. It will be up to this Southern line to keep the quarterback protected each and every week. The team will have 3 new starters within this group.
The Rams will really count on Senior Doug VandeVelde to motivate and rally his teammates. VandeVelde is going into his third year as a starter. He brings a lot of experience that will help this group down the stretch. Seniors Quinn Smith, and Joe Dolphin will also need to help anchor this line. Zach Widenhoff will also have a big role. Widenhoff is a strong lineman at 6’2″ and 240lbs. He will be counted to do some big things. Coach Chuck Donohue Jr always does a fantastic job with the offensive line. He will put the right combination together to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
The defensive side of the ball will be the biggest strength for this Southern team. The Rams return six starters on this side and have a lot of depth at different positions. Defensive Coordinator Matt Abbato will once again run his 5-2 front. This scheme is very beneficial for the defensive line and linebackers. For the 18 years that Coach Donohue Sr has been at Southern, he has always stressed the importance of being a defensive program. The Rams build their offense around how much the defense can limit the other team Many great Linebackers have come through this system. Glenn Carson, Anthony Stroffolino, Nick Munafo, and Mason Fazekas all thrived within this defense. Carson is now making tackles for the Arizona Cardinals. Historically, Southern has always gotten outstanding results from their linebackers.
This year’s linebacking core will be no different. Joe Miele returns after leading the team with 80 tackles in 2014. The young linebacker came up to the Varsity level as a freshman and really burst on to the scene. Miele is strong, instinctive, and simply a ball hawk. He can shoot through the gap and blow up the play in a flash. Miele also has a positive attitude and a great work ethic. The sophomore just wants to play football and master his craft. He may be the best Linebacker prospect the program has seen since Glenn Carson.
Joe Miele stopped by to discuss his role in the defense.
Senior Pat Walker comes back after making 64 tackles in 2014. Walker is a three year starter on the defensive side of the ball. The Senior Outside Linebacker has good size at 6’0″ and 202lbs. He is very strong against the run, and will be the primary pass rusher in the 5-2 front. It will be up to Walker to blitz and blow up running plays in the backfield. The team will also rely on his Senior leadership to keep everyone focused in every situation. Junior Dane Walker, and Sophomore Vin Miele will also be involved in the rotation. Both Dane and Vin are strong tacklers that know how to get the job done. Senior James Barnett will be the primary backup. He is capable of stepping in and making plays when needed.
Southern will look to get a lot of production out of there defensive line. Doug VandeVelde and Quinn Smith will be tough at the defensive tackle position. Both players can use their size and strength to make things happen. Junior Jesse Amirr will be tough coming off the edge. Amirr will make things very difficult for quarterback’s in Class A South. Look for Quinn Smith, Zach Widenhoff, and Sophomore Devin VandeVelde to also get some reps. There are a lot of defensive lineman in this group that are ready to make an impact. This will be a tough group for any team to run against.
Southern is a little inexperienced in the secondary, but they do have some real up and coming talent. The team will have the athletes on the back end to excel in a big way. Senior Anthony Gagliardi returns at the Safety position. Gagliardi got a lot of experience in his junior season. He is ready to take his game to the next level. Nick Simonelli and Matt Bleicher have also looked really good in camp. They made tremendous strides in seven on seven competition over the Summer. Matt Barnett and Deric Vincent are also competing for a spot. The Rams will really need the secondary to play well throughout the season. There are a lot of great wide receivers throughout this division. The secondary must limit the big plays to stay in every game.
While the Rams are featuring a lot of new starters, the team has been working extremely hard for the entire offseason. The coaching staff could not be happier with the results. However, The Class A South schedule will not be easy. With one of the best divisions in the State, every week is going to be a dogfight. Head Coach Chuck Donohue Sr. talked about what it takes to survive in this conference. “You have to stay as healthy as you can, and be ready to play a physical football game every week. If you come out flat in this league, you’re going to get flattened. It’s really that simple. Top to bottom, there is not a better conference in the state. You have to show up every week to play”. This division is always a huge challenge every year. Coach Donohue feels that overall health and physicality will keep the Rams in every game this season
For the Southern offense to be successful this year, they will need to run the ball consistently. Pat Walker will always do a great job with that. Brandon Barnetti, and the Miele brothers will have to step up and carry some of the load. The new quarterbacks must also have their timing down with the young receivers. They have shown tremendous improvement throughout camp. The offense will get better every week.
Defensively, Southern will have to do what they do best, and that is play a physical game. If the defensive line can consistently hold down opposing players, Pat Walker and Joe Miele will easily make a lot of plays. The younger Dane Walker will also be a big force. The defense will have to play at a high level, especially against teams like Jackson Memorial, Toms River North, and Brick Memorial. Look for the Rams to be a tough opponent for anyone in Class A South. This young team has all the pieces to have a good season, and compete for a playoff spot in South Jersey Group V.
We had a chance to talk with Head Coach Chuck Donohue Sr to get his thoughts on the upcoming season.
SOUTHERN REGIONAL SCHEDULE
9/4 vs Central – 7PM
9/11 vs Toms River East – 7PM
9/18 at Brick – 7PM
9/25 vs Jackson Memorial – 7PM
10/2 at Howell – 630PM
10/17 vs Toms River South – 2PM
10/23 at Toms River North – 7PM
10/31 at Lacey – 1PM
11/6 at Brick Memorial – 7PM
11/13 State Tournament/Consolation – TBD