Morales Plans On Taking High-Powered Howell To New Heights By Mike Ready


HOWELL – Two years after installing a Multiple-I running scheme, Howell head coach Luke Sinkhorn reintroduced the spread offense passing attack last season and it paid immediate dividends.

The Rebels doubled their win total from the previous year while going from sixth to second place in the Class A North standings. They also made their first state playoff appearance since 2010 and got their first playoff win since 2009. And with eight starters on both sides of the ball back from last season’s team the anticipation of an even better year is running high in Rebel country.

Senior quarterback Eddie Morales figured mightily in last season’s turnaround with a breakout junior campaign. Morales, who just received a non-binding scholarship offer from Bryant University, threw for 2,259 yards – second in the Shore Conference – and 26 touchdowns completing 167-of-273 passes on the way to being named All-Division quarterback.

“We’re looking really good,” Morales said of his offense. “We only lost one slot receiver and everybody else is pretty much the same so we’re looking forward to a successful year. Our number one goal is winning the A North. Last year we came up short to Manalapan but this year we plan on taking the whole thing and after that it’s the states, which we plan on winning after losing in the semifinals last season.”

Morales took the horse by the reins and ran with it last season showing the kind of leadership qualities only found in winners.

“Eddie is a good kid and a great leader for us,” fourth-year head coach Luke Sinkhorn said of his quarterback. “He’ll be a two-year captain for us. He’s a coach on the field, knows how to make adjustments and keeps everyone in line. He’s very accountable and just a phenomenal leader.”

Morales should put up even better numbers this season with three of his top four targets from a year ago back at wide receiver including second-team All-Shore pick Naseim Brantley, who recorded 46 receptions for 773 yards and 11 touchdowns while drawing double coverage for much of the season.

“We’ve been playing with each other since we were young,” Morales said of his connection with Brantley. So being able to play through high school and having a successful season last year we’re pretty excited about this season.”

Morales and Brantley are rarely seen apart on and off the field and have a bond that goes way past football.

“Eddie is like my brother,” Brantley said of his quarterback. “I live with him, we play video games together, we workout together, we do everything together. I feel like we can take it all this year and it’s truly a blessing to be able to do it with my brothers.”

Seniors Ryan Mazik (30-448-5) and Pat Handy (12-157-2) also return, giving Morales three targets from a year ago that are only going to get better and that he’s very comfortable with.

In his first season as a starting running back, senior Nick Chambers churned out 780 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns on a 156 carries averaging five yards per carry and had 24 receptions for 227 yards and one touchdown en route to an All-Division selection.  Seniors Braedon Baldwin (5-11, 195) and Chris DeMarco (5-10, 186) and junior Gerald Urso will form a running back by committee backing up Chambers, who plays both ways.

“Nick’s looked good,” Sinkhorn said of his rising star at running back. “He’s catching the ball out of the backfield well and running hard like he did last year. We’re looking to do more with him on defense too, so we’re going need some backups at the running back position.”

The offensive line brings back three starters and three with starting experience. All-Division OT/DT Scott Prendergast (6-2, 240) will anchor group that knows how to mix it up in the trenches. Prendergast will start at right tackle with seniors Mark Welch (6-1, 265) at center and Steve Cannon (5-10, 200) at left guard. Seniors Matt Mazauskas (6-1, 215), Mike Klein (6-4, 260) and Wendall Wright (6-0, 210) are battling it out for the two remaining starting positions with the odd man out providing valuable depth.

On the defensive side of the ball the D-line rotation will consist of Prendergast, Mazauskas  (5 SKS), Welch, Klein and Wright. All five have starting experience and after earning post-season honors a year ago, Pendergast  looks to put fear in the eyes of opposing quarterbacks.

At the linebacker positions, Baldwin (5-11, 200) returns in the middle as a starter after posting 34 tackles and three sacks a year ago. Chambers (12 T, 2 FF) will move from the secondary – where he was a starter last season – to linebacker and Cannon will slide over to linebacker when the Rebels go on defense seeing double duty.

“Baldwin will be our ‘Mike’ linebacker and is the quarterback of our defense,” Sinkhorn said. “I expect him to have a good year and hopefully he’ll be able to get the D-backs and D-line on the same page and move us in the right direction.”

Morales and Brantley, who led the team with three interceptions, give the Rebels two lock-down cornerbacks in the secondary. However, Sinkhorn would like to limit Morales’s time on defense for obvious reasons and hopes he can find someone to step in at cornerback with juniors Brandon VanBeregen and Jake Hutnick in the mix. Handy is at strong safety and Mazik (17 T, FF, FR) is back at free safety giving the Rebels experience, strength and speed in the secondary.

Handy will once again handle the kicking chores after converting on 37 extra points and two field goals.

The Rebels offense is poised to be one of the most explosive units in the Shore Conference again this season after putting up just over 30 points per game. However, for them to realize all their goals as a team the defense must step up dramatically after allowing 32 points per game last season which placed them 38th out of 43 Shore Conference teams.

“We expect to show up a lot stronger as a defensive unit this season,” Chambers said. “We have to get more stops and turnovers for us to do anything. We just let up to many points last season. Our offense is high powered and can easily put up 40 points but we were also letting up about 35 points – we have to improve on that.”

Sinkhorn expects his defense to rebound with the players he has returning and the effort he’s seen so far in preseason camp.

“It’s really a buy-in factor for them,” Sinkhorn said. “We’ve got to be more physical with our front seven, work on technique and embrace the run. It’s kind of a mind set and I think they all have it and have shown it at points. It’s about pursuit, flying to the ball and being physical – so as a group we have to embrace that mentality. It’s not any one guy, it’s more the whole group, and that’s what defense is all about.”

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