From the Ground Up: 2022 Southern Regional High School Football Preview
With a change to its offensive scheme and almost a completely new cast of starters, Southern Regional's football team will have a much different look entering the 2022 season.
The Rams' 2021 squad had a huge senior presence, and with star players like running back/linebacker Jaiden Brown and defensive end/fullback Nate Committee exiting via graduation, Southern has just a handful of experienced players back under longtime head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. It's certainly possible that Southern's new lineup has the goods to compete in the Colonial Division, but uncertainty is high for the Rams coming off a 4-5 season and graduating nearly their entire first-string unit.
For the 2022 season, the Rams will jettison their multiple, I-formation offensive playbook in favor of the flexbone triple-option offense. It is a drastic change, but also one that reflects the stark nature of its roster turnover. Running the show from the quarterback position will be senior Andy Falletta, who is one of the few holders from last season with varsity experience. Falletta was a wide receiver last season and also a starter in the secondary.
Joining Falletta in the backfield will be junior Mike Zecena and seniors Xander Murray, Kyle Caufield, and Dom Crisalli. The shadow of Jaiden Brown looms large over Southern's entire running game as the Rams' will look to collectively replace the program's all-time leading rusher who was a two-time First Team All-Shore selection and is now at Georgetown University. When Southern does take to the air, senior wide receivers Devin Tetti and Ryan Cubeiro will be the main targets on the outside.
The base set in the flexbone usually doesn't feature a tight end, but the Rams have a good one in 6-foot-6 senior Max DiPietro, who is a returning starter, to bookend their offensive line and be an option over the middle in the passing game. The offensive line has senior Alex Skipper at right guard, senior Riley Harris at right tackle, junior Nick Roesch at center, junior Armando Sanchez at left guard, and junior Matt Nolan at left tackle.
Southern's defense was 16th in the Shore in scoring last season but will face similar challenges as the offense. The Rams' 4-3 base does return a handful of starters or players who played meaningful snaps last season. Murray and DiPietro return as starters at outside linebacker and will be joined by Zecena as the middle linebacker. Harris is a returning starter at defensive end while Sanchez is the other defensive end, and Skipper is a defensive tackle.
The secondary has two returning starters with Falletta at strong safety and Caufield at cornerback. Senior Brandon Cubeiro will man the other cornerback spot and Crisalli will slide into the free safety position.
Even the special teams unit wasn't spared by graduation. Zecena will take over as both the kicker and the punter.
Southern remained in the Colonial Division through realignment but will square off with several different opponents this season. Last year's Colonial Division featured Southern, Middletown South, Manalapan, Holmdel, and Jackson Memorial. This year's division is Southern, Central Regional, Lacey, Toms River North, Middletown North, and Long Branch. The Rams also have nondivisional games against Rumson-Fair Haven and Howell along with a Week 0 game at West Windsor-Plainsboro.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Returning starters: 1
QB: Andy Falletta, Sr.; Collin Lang, Sr.; Caden Oravets, Jr.
RB: Mike Zecena, Jr.; Xander Murray, Sr.; Kyle Caufield, Sr.; Dom Crisalli, Sr.
WR: Devin Tetti, Sr.; Ryan Cubeiro, Sr.
TE: Max DiPietro, Sr., RS
LT: Matt Nolan, Jr.
LG: Armando Sanchez, Jr.
C: Nick Roesch, Jr.
RG: Alex Skipper, Sr.
RT: Riley Harris, Sr.
Returning starters: 5
DE: Riley Harris, Sr., RS
DT: Alex Skipper, Sr.
DT: Riley Harris, Sr./TBD
DE: Armando Sanchez, Jr.
OLB: Xander Murray, Sr., RS
MLB: Mike Zecena, Jr.
OLB: Max DiPietro, Sr., RS
CB: Kyle Caufield, Sr., RS
CB: Brandon Cubeiro, Sr.
SS: Andy Falletta, Sr., RS
FS: Dom Crisalli, Sr.
K: Mike Zecena, Jr.
P: Mike Zecena, Jr.
Head coach: Chuck Donohue Sr., 25th season (49th overall)
Career record: 129-113 (268-196-4 overall)
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Matt Abbato (Defensive Coordinator); Eric Sharkey (WR/DB); CJ Tomelden (RB/OLB/DB); Dylan Larson (OL/DL); Eric Fierro (QB/Freshmen); Andrew Beckett (Freshmen Head Coach); Sean Sweeney (Freshmen asst.); Evan Osborne (Director of Football Operations); Dan Abbato (Middle School Head Coach); Nick Jinks (Middle School asst.); Rob Barrett (Middle School asst.); Nick Scaramazza (Athletic Trainer).
Player to Watch: Andy Falletta, Sr., QB/SS
Falletta is one of the few returning players with varsity experience after starting in the secondary and playing wide receiver last season. He has been tabbed to pilot Southern's new triple-option offense and give the Rams' a chance to be competitive despite the team's collective inexperience.
Player Under the Radar: Max DiPietro, Sr., TE/LB
DiPietro is a two-way returning starter at tight and linebacker who offers much-needed experience and leadership to a green Southern roster.
Big Shoes to Fill: Mike Zecena, Jr., RB/LB
Jaiden Brown graduated as Southern's all-time leading rusher and all-time leading scorer and was also a standout linebacker for the Rams during his career. No one expects Zecena to replace what Brown brought to the table, but the junior steps into starting roles at two important positions and has a chance to make a significant impact.
Rivalry Game: Oct. 7 vs. Central Regional
The Boyd-Emmert Trophy will be on the line when the Rams and Golden Eagles meet in Week 6. The Rams won last season's meeting, 17-14, and have won three in a row in the rivalry series following Central winning five in a row from 2014 through 2018.
Aug. 26 - @West Windsor-Plainsboro, 6 p.m.
Sept. 9 - @Toms River North, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 - vs. Long Branch, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 - @Middletown North, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 - @Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 - vs. Central Regional, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 - @Howell, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 - vs. Lacey, 7 p.m.