Unfortunately, you won’t find me at Iona Prep camp the rest of the weekend. Even worse, I couldn’t visit (or report from) North Rockland, where camp started early and was cut short due to the horrible weather.
I did drive over to Iona Prep for the first night of camp. It featured a combination of individual, team and 7-on-7 work between Iona, New Rochelle, Woodlands and Rye. Since I’ve already written about New Ro and Woodlands on here this spring/summer, I wanted to take a closer look at Rye and Iona Prep. First, here are a few quick thoughts before I get to my analysis of those teams:
— Even with Shaquille Evans sidelined with a balky shoulder and with its line relegated to the sideline, New Rochelle’s speed and depth was a sight to behold. I watched the Huguenots against Iona Prep (and briefly against Woodlands) and their defensive backfield was filled with ballhawks.
— As I tweeted Thursday night, Woodlands QB Justin Riccio is the key to that offense. Although the Falcons will remain in the spread under coach Mike Meade and his coaching staff, the terminology is different in every offense. Meade and co. are lucky to return Riccio, who proved last season (albeit in the alternative league) that he was a playmaker. If it wasn’t Tre Spaulding, it was Riccio.
Now, he’ll need to be the leader from a production standpoint, but also from a “leader” standpoint. Judging by what I saw from him against Rye yesterday, he can do it. Woodlands will need to develop other playmakers the next couple months that can work in concert with Riccio come September.
— The weather was brutal all day and it was actually unseasonably cold at Iona. Luckily, the skies held and allowed the teams to complete a full session. This might’ve been the most amazing feat of the day.
I tried to fit a question in here or there with Dino Garr while his team worked out, but it’s Garr who will work to fit in a number of things between now and opening weekend. Rye graduated pretty much all of its starters from a year ago, including those names you know, like Connor Eck, Brian Pickup, Jack O’Callaghan, Anthony Vitiello, etc.
Luckily (now at least) for the Garnets, many of last year’s seniors suffered injuries that forced them to miss time. That opened opportunities for younger players to earn valuable experience, most notably QB Jake Meyerson and RB Joe Simolacaj. Those will be two key players on offense for Rye, and Simolacaj already proved he could perform in a pressure situation after a solid game against Harrison last season.
Garr hoped to pair Simolacaj with RB Jake Concavage, who also earned carries (and, eventually, starts) because of the rash of injuries. But Concavage suffered a serious injury of his own less than a month ago when he tore his ACL at a college lacrosse camp.
The offensive line will be young and/or inexperienced, although I thought it featured some decent size for a Class A school. Returning starter Matt Keough will be an anchor of the line on both sides of the ball. One player who showed good fluidity at his size was Teddy Ice. “Those are the type of players we’re going to need to step in,” Garr said.
Simolacaj will return at LB to help solidify the front 7, but he’ll be joined by scores of new faces. One of them will be Mike Bruno. Sure, he has been on the sideline for several Rye state championships, but Bruno is now Rye’s defensive coordinator. After a year away from the program, Bruno takes over for Tommy Maloney, who coached at Garr’s side for the majority of the last four decades before retiring after last season.
With so many changes in store, Garr admitted that this offseason presents a greater unknown than any in recent memory. Rye will need to progress from now until September if it hopes to win in the postseason again. The Garnets are 1-2 in the playoffs since joining Class A on the heels of six straight Class B titles.
“We’ve been on top for so long, but playing in ‘A’ has taken its toll,” Garr said.
IONA PREP —
Even with Rye and New Ro replacing so much talent and Woodlands transitioning to a new coaching staff, Iona Prep may be the team with the longest road ahead. The difference with the Gaels is, they have plenty of speed to make up ground.
At the skill positions, Iona appears set. Omari Buster, Austin Jones and Dan Fischer return off strong debut seasons a year ago, when they provided the Gaels with more than was expected to them, filling a void left when No. 1 receiver Mike Alfano was lost for the season. They will be joined by an absolute gamebreaker in Chris Cooper, a rising junior who played mostly DB last season. Cooper is an incredible athlete that looks like he’s moving at a faster speed than everyone else on the field.
Cooper and Jones will play various roles, including some h-back. But who will replace Sidney Weston and Tim Perley? At RB, a good candidate looks like Shaquille Townsend, who showed impressive speed and power on Thursday. The QB situation appears more unsettled, and that’s the real root of the uncertainty with Iona at the moment. The QB obviously shares major responsibility for the Gaels, who run a series of option routes where the quarterback and receivers need to be on the same page. That wasn’t always the case at camp.
Head coach Vic Quirolo is currently shuffling snaps, mostly between senior Justin Combs and junior Mario Biaggi. Combs, who has received widespread Division I interest as a DB, will likely earn some snaps regardless, running some option or wildcat with the likes of Cooper and Jones. (Scary speed.) Biaggi also has good feet and has more size than Combs, but he’s still learning to play the position. Biaggi played a key role on the city championship JV baseball team and only joined the workouts recently.
No matter who plays QB, the linemen in front of him should be solid. Two-way star Kameron Tedder is the most notable returnee. He has started to earn interest from Division I, I-AA and II colleges as a defensive end. He recently won the MVP at the regional National Underclassmen Combine. He earned an invite to the company’s national combine.
The other anchor of the front 7 will be senior LB Matt Berni. He started on the outside last year, but will slide in and replace Mike Longo in the middle. Quirolo said Berni ranks right up there with Longo and the other standout LBs at Iona in recent years.
OK, that’s all for now. I’ll be in and out the next two days. If you have any questions, send ’em in. Be patient and I’ll try to respond to them.