WEST LONG BRANCH – The 2018 high school football season is already upon us with fall camps having opened August 6 and the first pre-season scrimmages already in the books. However, the Shore Conference will have a decidedly different look as opening night nears. 

During the offseason, the Shore Conference Executive Committee – in an attempt to level the playing field and make each division more competitive – approved division realignment.

The old Class A North, A Central, A South, B North, B Central and B South have been replaced with seven divisions with six teams in each, except for one division with seven teams.

The divisions are no longer determined by geography and school size alone as the committee was seeking a more competitive balance that will give the most teams possible a chance to qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs.

Those new divisions include: American (Manalapan, Freehold Township, Toms River North, Central Regional, Howell and Middletown South), Colonial (Brick, Brick Memorial, Freehold, Middletown North, Saint John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven), Constitution (Jackson Memorial, Southern, Lakewood, Marlboro, Lacey and Wall), Freedom (Red Bank Catholic, Red Bank, Long Branch, Ocean, Toms River South and Toms River East), Liberty (Point Boro, Manasquan, Monmouth Regional, Raritan, Neptune and Colts Neck), Patriot (Jackson Liberty, Barnegat, Matawan, Pinelands, Shore Regional and Mater Dei Prep), National (Holmdel, Donovan Catholic, Asbury Park, Point Beach, Manchester, Keyport and Keansburg).

The divisions will be evaluated on a yearly basis and will be subject to change from year-to-year.

Along those same lines, the NJSIAA Executive Committee approved a wide-ranging proposal to drastically change the way playoffs are seeded and structured and added a round of super sectional bowl games.

No longer will teams end the season with sectional championships. For the first time, public schools will continue to play “bowl games,” which appears to be a step towards ultimately awarding state championships in the near future. New Jersey is currently one of the few states in the country that does not crown state champions in football.

As part of the change, public schools will be split into two super sections – North and South, eliminating North 1, North 2, Central and South. The 16-team sections will then be split geographically back into their original eight-team fields once playoff teams are decided. The winner of those four sectional championships will then be paired for their bowl games – North 1 vs. North 2, South vs. Central.

This change also helps to ensure that the most deserving teams in the state make the playoffs, which wasn’t always the case in the old system.

Non-Public teams will remain in three sections and the top 12 teams in each group will make the playoffs.

The Shore Conference coaching carousel produced five new coaches this season with a couple of big names stepping down in the process.

2017 Coach of the Year, Matt Cilento, resigned as Point Boro’s head coach after just two seasons to commit more time to his family. Cilento went 19-3 in two years and led the Panthers to back-to-back Shore Conference Class B South division titles. This past season, Point Boro went 11-1 and reached the NJSIAA CJG II final for the first time since 2007.

Brian Staub takes over for Cilento following two years as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Staub played quarterback at Brick Memorial where he ran the triple-option offense and led the Mustangs to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship.

Point Boro has run the flexbone triple-option offense since 2002 when current Brick Memorial head coach Walt Currie was the Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Staub played under Curry at Brick Memorial and was an assistant for the Mustangs before coming to Point Boro.

Saint John Vianney and head coach Derek Sininsky mutually agreed to part ways due to conflicts relating to his employment as a teacher at Marlboro High School. Sininsky led the Lancers to a 10-1 record and finished No. 1 in the Shore Conference this past season. He leaves with a 31-3 record at Saint John Vianney and helped the Lancers extend their 38-game winning streak against Shore Conference opposition. He won three straight Class A Central championships and guided the Lancers to the Non-Public Group III semifinals a year ago.

A familiar name around the Shore Conference replaces Sininsky – former Matawan head coach and Hall of Famer, Joe Martucci. Martucci retired from Matawan in 2011 and for the last six years served as the running backs coach at Kean University. 

Martucci was Matawan’s head coach for 28 years from 1984-2011, and led the Huskies to five sectional titles compiling a 197-91-1 record.   

Former Saint John Vianney and Holmdel head coach Andy Carlstrom replaces Jay Graham after two years at Keyport. Graham took over in 2016 and took the Red Raiders to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 1 final, but Keyport slipped to 1-9 last season.

Carlstrom owns a 31-30 record in seven seasons at SJV and Holmdel. In 2007 under Carlstrom, Holmdel set the single-season record for wins by going 10-1 while also capturing the program’s first division title since 1999.

Former Holmdel head coach and Rumson-Fair Haven assistant Frank Papalia will take over for John Wagner, who stepped down at Point Pleasant Beach.

After going 150-92-2 in 25 seasons at Roselle Park, including sectional titles in 1992 and 1993, Wagner took over a struggling Point Beach program and transformed it into a perennial winner after years as a doormat.  The Gulls were 29-71 in the 10 seasons prior to Wagner’s arrival and went 28-6 in his first three seasons. In 2013 Wagner led Point Beach to its first sectional title in program history and was selected as the Shore Conference Coach of the Year.

Papalia has been an assistant coach at Rumson-Fair Haven for the past four seasons helping to guide the Bulldogs to three sectional title and four trips to the championship game.

At Holmdel, he was the defensive coordinator under Andy Carlstrom for three seasons, including 2007 when the Hornet went 10-1 to set a program record for wins. Papalia succeeded Carlstrom in 2009 and was Holmdel’s head coach for five seasons before leaving for Rumson.

Longtime Red Bank Catholic assistant Matt Ahearn was named Colts Neck head coach replacing Darian Barnes, who resigned after three seasons.

The Cougars went 2-8 last season and since going 10-2 and reaching the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV final in 2013, they’ve gone a disappointing 9-31.

Ahearn was hired as the freshmen coach at Red Bank Catholic in 2001 and has been a member of the Caseys staff since, most recently as the Caseys’ defensive coordinator. He’s coached under Frank Edgerly and Jim Portela helping the Caseys evolve into one of the elite programs in the Shore Conference.

In 2014, Ahearn helped Red Bank Catholic win its first state title since 1976 when they won the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III championship defeating Delbarton, 45-20, in the final and finished ranked No. 3 in the state.