Camp Confidential: Don Bosco Prep
MSG Varsity will visit the top teams in the Garden State during preseason camps and provide all the latest news leading up to opening kick-off. In today’s edition of Camp Confidential, we take a look at defending national champion Don Bosco Prep.
LAST SEASON: 11-0; won Non-Public Group 4 championship, named USA Today national champions
HEAD COACH: Greg Toal (13th season)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, DL Razohnn Gross, LB Spencer Scannell, S Michael D’Alessandro, WR Isaiah Hill, RB Kyle Phipps, WR Dan Yankovich, RB/CB Lawrence Stevens, CB Devonn Ellison, QB Eric Meile, QB Frank Nutile
BOTTOM LINE: There were 16,712 people scattered across the lower level of MetLife Stadium who were thinking Don Bosco Prep can’t keep this up, can’t continue to make us shake our heads in amazement with a swarming defense and that tough-guy attitude.
But, sure enough, the Ironmen toppled Bergen Catholic, 42-14, and made it six straight December nights of being the top team with the top defense comprised of the top players who work tirelessly to please the top coach.
But more importantly, Don Bosco Prep etched its name in history again by wrapping a big maroon bow on a perfect season that concluded with the program’s second national championship in three years.
In 2009 the Ironmen cruised by St. Peter’s Prep in the sectional title game to punctuate a dream run that included a rise to the No. 1 ranking in national polls. Two years later, the feeling was back.
If you gazed into the teary eyes of many Don Bosco players, though, you’d think the group had never experienced the joy of dancing at midfield while grasping onto a coveted trophy.
"It's pretty special, two out of three years,” said an emotional coach Greg Toal, sporting a white 2011 state champions cap. “It's great. We love our kids, and to win a national championship, it's special."
Don Bosco extended its winning streak to 46 games on this night, using the same blueprint of victory it has for so long: defense, defense, and more defense.
And that’s where we stand today. With a new season looming, the Ironmen will rely heavily on its stellar defense with hopes of continuing their historic run of titles.
Question marks surround the team, though, simply because it suffered many key losses from graduation and one high-profile transfer. It’s hard to ignore how impressive Bergen Catholic looks on paper, too.
If we’ve learned one thing, however, it’s this: Don’t ever count out Toal and company.
The big question entering the new season is, does Don Bosco Prep have enough firepower to make it seven straight Non-Public Group 4 titles? Notice the question mark after ‘Seventh Heaven’.
Contemplating that question doesn’t happen often. In fact, over the last six seasons there was very little doubt whether the Ironmen would be the last team standing in early December. This time, things are a little different.
Bergen Catholic returns many of the key players that helped the Crusaders put Bosco on the ropes in an early regular-season matchup and eventually march all the way to the title game. Meanwhile, Paramus Catholic beefed up its stock in the wake of All-American cornerback/running back Jabrill Peppers transferring out of Don Bosco.
Despite the rest of the pack improving drastically over the last 12 months, the Ironmen feel they have what it takes to remain the top dog. After all, they understand the defensive unit is still second to none.
Most teams would feel a bit exposed without graduated stars Kyle Sakowski (Lafayette), Mike Strizak (Boston College), Darius Hamilton (Rutgers) and Peppers (transfer), but Toal’s boys have plenty of reinforcements.
The squad’s line is just as fierce as years past, thanks to high Division I recruits Al-Quadin Muhammad and Razohnn Gross.
“We’re going to be known for our defense, but our offense is going to be strong, too,” said Muhammad, a 6-foot-4, 235-pounder who has offers from Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Tennessee, Rutgers and Boston College, among many others. “We have to get (the offense) better. We’re going to motivate each other."
Muhammad and Gross began showing signs of leadership late last fall, proving to Toal and the rest of the state they can transform into a dynamic wrecking crew. Gross, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound wrestling state champion is especially encouraged in the early days of camp, too.
“Our defense is looking good. I’ll think we’ll be really good,” Gross said. “We have players who have been there before, but this will be a learning experience for a lot of guys. We’re building.”
Even with linebacker Spencer Scannell, safety Mike D’Alessandro and corner back Devonn Ellison returning, many prognosticators are wondering if it’ll be enough to hold off Bergen Catholic or even Paramus Catholic. One year after capturing the national championship, the Ironmen were left out the USA Today preseason Top 25. However, that doesn’t bother anyone wearing maroon.
“Not at all,” Muhammad said. “It has nothing to do with us. It’s out of our control.”
Make no mistake, Don Bosco will have plenty of opportunities to creep back into the national spotlight, as it is slated to face three out-of-state powerhouses in Gilman (Md.), St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) and Alta (Utah) before squaring off against the usual in-state juggernauts. In fact, an undefeated season would almost assure the team a spot in the top 10 nationally.
“If everyone pulls together, I think we can do it again,” Gross said. “We’re built to be Ironmen. We won’t be knocked down.”
The Ironmen offense will have a complete overhaul, considering the unit lost Leonte Carroo (Rutgers), Elijah Shumate (Notre Dame), Mike Yankovich (William & Mary), Yuri Wright (Colorado) and Peppers.
Due to those graduations and one transfer, Don Bosco’s ground game took the biggest hit; new players will be forced to make up 1,886 yards and 39 touchdowns from a year ago.
That means the biggest X-factor on offense will be sophomore tailback Kyle Phipps, a Linden High School transfer who is a star in the making. The 5-foot-8, 160-pounder averaged 8.16 yards per carry as a freshman and looked great in practice this week.
At the quarterback position, juniors Frank Nutile and Eric Meile may split time, much like their predecessor, Mike Yankovich, had done with Gary Nova in years past.
Both quarterbacks have been switching repetitions with the first-team offense in camp, so Toal wouldn’t commit to naming one a starter.
“They’re still battling, so we’re still undecided,” Toal said. “But both guys do some things really well and hopefully we’ll get them both on the field. “
Nutile boasts a lanky 6-foot-4 frame and showed promising signs of blossoming into a solid pocket passer. Meile has more bulk and is much better as a running signal-caller, much like Yankovich.
No matter who is under center, Toal will use his quarterback as a game manager to set up plays for Phipps and recievers Isaiah Hill – who suffered a broken collarbone last season -- and Dan Yankovich.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the offense, Toal is counting on his defense to pave the way to another title. Does his team have what it takes?
“It’s hard to tell. It’s very early,” Toal said. “But we have five or six pretty good players on defense. We’ll get a better idea after the scrimmages.”
Sept. 8 at Gilman (Md.)
Sept. 14 at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.)
Sept. 21 at DePaul Catholic
Sept. 29 at Alta (Utah)
Oct. 5 vs. Fair Lawn
Oct. 12 vs. Paramus Catholic
Oct. 27 at Bergen Catholic
Nov. 2 at Hackensack
Nov. 22 vs. St. Joseph Regional
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter