Nov 20, 2018 | Mater Dei Prep

MIDDLETOWN – One of the most talked about football programs in the state of New Jersey over the past week has to be Mater Dei Prep.

After the Seraphs stunned the gridiron landscape with their 28-23 triumph over defending champion DePaul in the Non-Public Group 3 semifinal, they are just one victory away from a state title.

One of the top players on the Seraphs is senior OL/DL Izaiah Henderson, who is committed to play collegiately at Boston College, but is hoping to cap off his high school career with a championship.

Henderson arrived at the Middletown parochial school after his freshman year at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, NY, along with head coach Dino Mangiero.

“I’ve known Izaiah and his family for a long time,” Mangiero said. “It has been a pleasure getting to coach him and watch him grow as a player and a person.”

Henderson was a tight end at Poly Prep. But now standing at 6-4, 285, Henderson simply outgrew the position and focused on playing both offensive and defensive line once he arrived at Mater Dei as a sophomore.

“He just got so big that keeping him at tight end became difficult, keeping up with defenders that are quicker than he is,” Mangiero said. “He does play the line on offense, but I think his future is going to be more on the defensive line.”

That future is going to be playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) at Boston College, where he is going to focus on playing defensive. But Mangiero believes if there is a need on the offensive line at some point, Henderson could fill that role, too.

“He is going to play defensive line at Boston College. I think (Boston College head coach) Steve Addazio does a great job in bringing in guys that can play both ways, so there are options there,” Mangiero said. “I think if you ask most kids who play both ways (on the line), they would tell you they prefer to play defense because you can sack the quarterback, make plays and have a greater impact on the game. Playing on the offensive line, there is a lot of work that goes into that and it may be a tougher transition in going from offensive line to defensive line in college, because of the body type. I think he will play defensive line at Boston College, and they can always move him to the offensive line if they need to.”

Another reason for Henderson choosing Boston College is the reputation the Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts institution has for academics.

“He’s a great kid in the classroom, and that is very important to him,” Mangiero said. “He got some interest in some Ivy League schools, but I think Boston College is the perfect fit for him. He gets to play football in one of the top conferences in the country in the ACC, and Boston College still has great academics. I think there are only a handful of schools where you can truly experience both, and Boston College is one of them. He’s excited to get up there.”

Mater Dei, now 10-1 on the season and a perfect 5-0 in the Shore Conference Patriot Division, awaits Red Bank Catholic for the Non-Public Group 3 state title on Saturday. (See story on page  The defense has stepped up this year as three of their 10 victories were shutouts, and they held their opponents to eight points or less in four other contests. While excited about his team’s success, Mangiero deflected all the credit to his players.

“It’s been a great year for our program, but the players are the ones who play,” Mangiero said. “They deserve all the credit. The coaches just coach the team.”

Henderson is a big part of that, both on and off the field, and Mangiero wants it to be known that Mater Dei prides itself on preparing its students in the classroom, and are prepared for life after high school.

“We want it to be known that Mater Dei is about education first,” Mangiero said. “We want our kids to do well in the classroom and get a great education, so they can go wherever they want when they graduate. We are about education, then character, and then athletics. Izaiah is a great example of that.”