Rising Sayreville named No. 1 in wide-open CJSR preseason rankings

Can Sayreville ride Zaimer Wright to a state sectional title? It would be their first since 2018. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

In Central Jersey Sports Radio’s preseason high school football rankings, 15 teams received votes overall, with Sayreville and North Brunswick each receiving a first-place vote.

But it’s the Bombers who get the top nod overall.

Sayreville will go as Zaimer Wright goes this year; as a sophomore in 2021 he reeled off 1,403 yards, good for Top 30 in the state, and the highest total on the ground of any Big Central returnee in 2022. He also scored 25 touchdowns, tops in Middlesex County last year, and second only to Colin Murray in the league.

READ MORE: Sayreville looking for more of the Wright stuff

North Brunswick has a veteran quarterback returning in Frankie Garbolino – a championship caliber player who won a GMC Tournament baseball title in the Spring – as well as Honorable Mention CJSR Defensive Player of the Year Jared Tynes.

READ MORE: Tynes looks to defend North Brunswick’s Defensive POY honor

Following are the preseason rankings, with including last year’s records, previous rankings, and notes:

Somerville has a new head coach this year outside the sphere of Jeff Vanderbeek, who helped resurrect the program in the mid-2010s. After falling on hard times, the Pioneers went 10-1 in 2016, then 11-1 in 2017 with a state title. Dallas Whitaker had continued success, but left the program after last season. Ian Pace, brand-new to New Jersey, takes over an established program with talent.

READ MORE: From the Midwest to The ‘Ville: Ian Pace doesn’t need to change much to keep the Pioneers’ engine humming

Hillsborough lost all the key players from last year’s historic run to the South 5 Regional Championship, which saw the school’s first ever perfect record (13-0) and first state title since 2000. Wide receiver/cornerback Tommy Amankwaa, quarterback Jay Mazuera, runningback Tyler Michinard and tight end/defensive end Will Dixon all graduated, but head coach Kevin Carty Jr. has a solid program in place as well.

Bridgewater-Raritan checks in fifth, bringing former Hillsborough coach Rick Mantz on board to lead the program. That will give the program a shot of adrenaline, as he hopes to rejuvenate a program that had its best stretch from 2015 to 2017, going 31-4 with a pair of 11-1 seasons in ’25 and ’16, making three straight state finals. They lost all three years to Westfield, which went 36-0 over that same period.

READ MORE: Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Ed. approves Rick Mantz as Panthers’ new football coach

Phillipsburg was 7-5 last year, and graduates some key players, including both quarterbacks that played last year, Tristen Canzano and Jakhye McLean; there’s still talent out on the state line, including top returning runningback Xavier Moore (439 yards, 6 TD).

READ MORE: Phillipsburg looking for best of both worlds in ’22: State title, and win over Easton

Hillside also returns some key players, and is one of the better Group 2 schools in the Big Central. Barris Grant’s ballclub will return two thousand-yard rushers this season: seniors Muwaffaq Parkman (1,303 yards, 14 TD) and Kyon Simonson (1,257 yard, 13 TD).

Ridge is always well-coached, whether it’s Brian Tracy – now at St. Joseph-Metuchen – or Andy West, but he’ll have to find a replacement for the now-graduated Mike Olivo, who not only was the team’s quarterback (947 passing yards, 9 TD) but also the Red Devils’ leading rusher (961 yards, 16 TD).

Like Hillsborough, Cranford also won a state title last year, but also like the Raiders, they lose a lot. Quarterback Shane VanDam threw for 1,562 yards and 18 TD, while Colin Murray led the state in rushing (2,125 yards) and touchdowns (33). And Senior defensive back Will Gallagher (6 INTs) also has graduated.

East Brunswick returns dual-threat quarterback Ben Solimini, who rushed for more yards last year (841 on the ground, 10 TD) than he passed (495 yards, 6 TD). A number of skill players have graduated, so he’ll have to find some new targets.

In the also receiving votes category, St. Thomas Aquinas is coming off a 9-1 year in which they shutout their first seven opponents, tying a modern-day Middlesex County record. With Tarig Holman now the head coach – coming over from nearby JFK after the tragic, untimely passing of Brian Meeney – the Trojans will take a step up in competition this year moving to a tougher division.

Westfield was just 4-6 last year, but only had one loss by more than two touchdowns, and held several high-powered offenses in check. The Blue Devils’ limited Union to just 14 points in a 14-3 road loss; the Famers’ next lowest total was 28. They held Hillsborough to 28 points, its second-lowest scoring total all year (only three out of 13 games did they score under 30 in 2021). And they held Elizabeth to its second lowest scoring total of the year.

Bernards is a perennial contender – if they could only get by a South Jersey team in the playoffs – which is why head coach Jon Simoneau has an early test for his team this Friday when Overbrook comes up to Olcott Field. QB Connor Laverty returns healthy (805 yards, 10 TD), but the Mountaineers will need to fill the void left by graduated Mike Leanza’s 1,058 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

South Brunswick is another team that could be rejuvenated by a legendary head coach. That’s Joe Goerge, who returns to the Vikings, the team he coached to three state titles and an unprecedented 63-17 record from 2012-2018. They have a young, but talented quarterback in Vin Jairdullo, who threw for 928 yards and 11 TDs last season as a sophomore. Junior Damarion Potts could have a breakout year at wide receiver if things go well; he had a team-leading 19 catches and 268 receiving yards last season.

READ MORE: Legendary football coach Joe Goerge returns to South Brunswick, where he led Vikings to unprecedented success, and three state titles

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