RED BANK – Red Bank Catholic is 8-0 and rolling.
“We’re playing well,” said Red Bank Catholic head coach Mike Lang. “I think the work the guys put in has paid off and the majority of the season we’ve been able to stay healthy. We’re trending in the right way which is obviously a good thing at this point.”
The last two Red Bank Catholic teams to win their first eight games of the season were the 2014 and 2018 squads, which incidentally, won state sectional championships, with the 2018 team going undefeated.
So it’s hard not to get excited about this year when it seems as though they just might be following in the footsteps of the those historic Red Bank Catholic teams.
They’re ranked first in the Shore Conference and No.5 in the state and look unstoppable.
It’s only natural then for them to make the comparisons, but to do that might lead them down a slippery slope. It could spell trouble if they start getting ahead of themselves and begin listening to all the external noise and championship chatter. That only leads to a loss of focus on the task at hand and adds unnecessary pressure, when the stakes are already high enough.
“Our message to the guys is just kind of avoid the noise of it,” said Lang. “Obviously it gets harder to do that as we get closer, but right now we have a big task at hand. We have a good senior group with great captains that keep the team focused and we’ve been talking about this for a while that we can only control what we can control and everything else will take care of itself.”
So don’t expect the Caseys, even though they just may be the best team out of the three, to fall into that trap. As Lang insinuated, they’re a veteran team that’s blessed with quality leadership up-and-down the roster and one that’s keen enough to spot and avoid the pitfalls of swaying from their primary purpose.
“I’m not going to lie, we have talked about it a little bit,” said Red Bank Catholic All-State defensive end Alex Bauman. “But we know we have a task at hand and we just take every week by itself as if it’s a business trip that we have to attend to.”
Mater Dei transfer quarterback Alex Brown has heard the comparisons too but pays no attention to it.
“I’ve heard people make the comparisons,” added Brown. But it really hasn’t come to mind just because I’m really focused on what we have this year and who we’re playing next. I’ve heard rumors and stuff like that but all we talk about is just being our best selves and focusing on winning our next game and that’s all you can really ask for.”
The Caseys know they’re good – really good – but they don’t flaunt it. They’re respectful of the Red Bank Catholic tradition and they let their play on the field do all the talking.
When Rumson-Fair Haven’s defense was getting all the hype leading up to their much ballyhooed game with the Bulldogs two weeks ago, the Caseys defense took it personally and used it as bulletin board material. They then went out and shut down the Rumson offense limiting them to 147 yards of total offense, including just 25 yards rushing against a team that lives and dies on its running game.
“You always look for any kind of edge during the week,” said Lang. “They had a little bit of a chip on their shoulders, which is good, and went out and made a statement.”
Bauman agrees with his coach that the Caseys defense had chip on their shoulders and had something to prove after a week of hearing how great the Rumson defense was, and has been, throughout the years.
“During our preparation for the game all we heard was that Rumson was the “gold standard” for defense in the Shore,” said Bauman. “Coming into that game, a lot of people forgot about us and what we’ve done the past couple of years and we wanted to prove just how good we are against Rumson and I think we did that.”
It’s like the stars became aligned for this team as it began to take shape during last summer’s preseason camp and true to form it has morphed into something special – with some unexpected help.
Prior to the season, Mater Dei suspended varsity football operations after head coach Dino Mangiero resigned and there was a mass defection of players. Following the announcement that the football season was cancelled players were free to transfer to the school of their choice.
The Caseys gladly welcomed three of them to the team with open arms and each of them, linebacker/running back RaJahn Cooper, right tackle Ashton Mejias and Brown - have had a significant and immediate impact on the field as well as in the locker room.
“It was a challenge for them coming over just to get acclimated and things like that,” said Lang of his three Mater Dei transfers. “The thing is, the way our culture is and the way our kids are in general they found some really good friendships along the way that kind of got them going here. So I think that part of the blending in process was easy and they’re one of us now.”
There were questions about how the Mater Dei players would fit in, but it didn’t take long to get the answers.
“A lot of people thought that the Mater Dei players wouldn’t fit into our culture,” said Bauman. “But they fit in perfectly and we’ve had them as our family ever since and it’s been a great fit.”
The transition has been easier for Brown than he anticipated.
“I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it was,” said Brown. “Obviously, there’s been a lot of changes for me, but it’s probably been my favorite year of high school so far with some of my favorite guys and teammates; it’s been an awesome experience. The team, the atmosphere, just everything is a great feeling and I can’t wait to keep it moving forward.
“You would think it would be a big change coming into a new school with a new system, learning new plays with new coaches, but I think it was the best thing that could’ve happened. I love my teammates, I love my coaches and I love our schemes. So, saying it was hard, it honestly wasn’t as hard as most people thought it would be.”
Including the three Mater Dei transfers, the Caseys returned 18 starters with all but one position on offense, right tackle, filled with a returning starter.
Prior to Brown transferring, the battle for the starting quarterback job was wide open and was really the only position on offense that was unsettled.
Enter Brown – a two-time All-Shore selection and Bucknell University commit.
“He’s a great player and right from day one he came in and became a leader on this team,” said Bauman. “He’s really outspoken and really knows how to bring energy to the team.”
All Brown has done is pass for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions completing 70-of-118 passes while rushing for an additional 262 yards on 35 carries and four touchdowns averaging 7.5 yards per attempt.
“Alex is a great kid. He’s smart, polite and a good person,” said Lang. “Culturally he fits in to what we look for in our kids and he’s done a nice job and he’s put a lot of work in to catch up on what we do schematically. The fruits of his labor on and off the field are paying off. He’s done a lot of good things and you’re seeing a really good duel-threat quarterback that he’s rolled into this year.
Brown’s first game in a Red Bank Catholic uniform was in the Battle of the Beach against Timber Creek in the Caseys first game of the season. He completed 16-of-23 passes for 173 yards and touchdown while also running for 43 yards and a score.
He was named MVP of the game and hasn’t looked back since.
“He’s deceptively fast too. At some camps over the summer he was timed at 4.6 seconds,” added Lang. “He’s also big kid at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, so that gives us another element of not only throwing the ball down the field but having him run the ball.”
Bringing Brown into the fold was the “Perfect Storm” for the Caseys. It was the one missing link to an otherwise finished product.
He’s everything the Caseys could’ve asked for and more at quarterback and has been blessed with an experienced and reliable stable of receivers to throw to and of course Bauman, who is one, if not the, top tight ends in the state.
Bauman and Brown have developed a close on-and-off the field connection that’s paying huge dividends. “We’ve really built our chemistry up to where he has total trust in me and I have total trust in him,” said Bauman. “And I know that he’s going to put the ball in a spot where I can go up and get it.”
Brown is on board with Bauman, “Alex has become one of my best friends. If I had to trust one person in my high school career I would say Alex Bauman is that guy. He’s ‘the man’ for me, I couldn’t say enough about the guy. Great character, great work ethic and just an animal of a player. He’s a great route runner with a big body and is tough to miss. They call us the ‘AB to AB square' connection. It’s really nice to have a big tight end to throw to.”
Bauman, a three-year starter on both side of the ball, is a 6-foot-4, 245 pound specimen that does it all.
He is second on the team in receptions (21) and yards (385) with a team-leading six touchdowns. He’s a fierce in-line blocking tight end that could be considered a sixth offensive lineman the way he manhandles opponents at the point of attack.
“The offense is firing on all cylinders and we have a really good chemistry going,” said Bauman.
Considered a hybrid at the position, Bauman lines up all over the field. He runs precise routes and has a knack for finding openings down the seam. With soft hands and good length it allows him to go up and get the 50-50 balls - he’s a nightmare matchup for any defensive back.
“Alex is a tight end but we flex him out wide, he plays fullback and he’s a really good solid blocker that gives us a lot of versatility and makes our offense that much better,” said Lang. “His potential as we go here has hit just the tip of the iceberg. He’s one of the top two-way players you’ll see around here for a while.”
Wide receiver Najih Rahman is Brown’s primary target and is coming off a second-team All-Shore season as a sophomore a year ago and is as smooth and athletic as ever. The 5-foot-11, 190 pound Rahman has the size and strength to go after the tough catch over the middle and the speed and quickness to go deep. He leads the team with 29 receptions for 470 yards along with three touchdowns and has the inherent flair for breaking a game wide open at any point with his explosiveness.
Two-year starters senior Jaiden Haynes (7-78-1) and junior Robert Stolfa (6-87-1) and sophomore Emmanuel Ross (9-127-2) are all versatile and reliable wide receivers that have Brown’s total confidence in the passing game.
Including the 6-foot-2, 265 pound Mejias at left guard, the Caseys have four veteran offensive linemen across the board that rival any in the state. At left tackle is 6-foot-6, 300 pounds Vince Carpenter and he’s committed to Purdue University. Two-year starting sophomore Lorenzo Portella (6-foot-1, 275 pounds) is at right guard and is still growing, while senior Michael Conneely is back at center where he provides leadership in his role calling out signals. Sophomore Tyler Burnham stepped in at right tackle and is another load on the line weighing in at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds and has been impressive in his first year starting.
“I love my line and I tell that all the time,” said Brown. “We have a running joke that if everything goes as planned the first thing we’re doing is going out for a big steak dinner and I’m paying for the whole thing. They deserve everything they get; they work really hard. It’s their work ethic and toughness that sets them apart – they’ve better than advertised.”
The Caseys boast two exceptional running backs in junior Sabino Portella – a state runner-up in wrestling – and Cooper. Both are hard-nosed, two-way players that rarely come off the field. Portella leads the team in rushing with 648 yards on 92 attempts and touchdowns with nine, while Cooper has 365 yards rushing on 45 carries and four touchdowns.
Junior Torin Harmon (26-316-2) and sophomore Ray Jackson (24-116-1) rotate into the backfield giving the Caseys quality depth there. In the Caseys rout of Manalapan last week, Harmon got to show off his running skills rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries as the Caseys racked up 335 yards on the ground while averaging 11.1 yards per carry.
As good as Bauman is as a tight end, he’s just as good on the other side of the ball at the defensive end spot. He leads the team in sacks with six – a career high – and is tied for second on the team in tackles with 46, including a team-high 13 TFL.
The Caseys returned seven starters on defense with four newcomers, including the teams leading tackler, sophomore middle linebacker Davon Brewton. Brewton, who has 63 tackles (41 solo), two sacks and nine TFL, has exceeded all expectations and plays the game with the intensity of a veteran.
"The defensive line is really tough, stout and as a whole the defense has really come together,” said Bauman. “We’re a really complete team right now.”
In eight games, the defense has allowed just 57 points for an average of 7.1 points per game.
“I love my guys on defense, said Brown. I tell them all the time how proud of them I am and how much they trust me and I trust them. They cause a lot of turnovers and I get pumped because once they get a stop I know I’m going to put up some points for them. They give me a sense of security and I’m really glad they’re on my side.”
Opposite Bauman on the line is veteran defensive end and captain, Ryan McPherson. The 6-foot-2, 215 pound senior has recorded 29 tackles (19 solo) and is tied for second on the team with three sacks and nine TFL.
A couple of newcomers have manned the starting tackle spots for the Casey and have asserted themselves well having some big shoes to fill with the graduation of two-time All-Shore tackle Jake Louro. Junior Aiden Donohue has really stepped up with 28 tackles (14 solo), two sacks and nine TFL – tied for second on the team, while senior Chris Holt has chipped in with 23 tackles (12 solo), one sack and five TFL. Seniors Liam Kehoe, Colin McGrath and Connor Wanagiel have added quality depth along the line.
Flanking Brewton on the next level is Cooper and Michael Palmieri at the outside linebacker spots. Cooper has been done everything expected of him and more on defense since coming over from Mater Dei. He has recorded 38 tackles (22 solo), one sack, two TFL, two FF and one FR. A rising junior, Palmieri has taken his game to the next level while recording 39 tackles (23 solo), one sack and two TFL. Rising sophomore Luke Wassef has worked himself into the rotation and has shown a huge upside. He’s posted 20 tackles (15 solo), one sack, three TFL and forced fumble.
Portella shifted from linebacker to strong safety this season and has excelled there recording 46 tackles – tied with Bauman, 32 solo tackles – second to Brewton, two TFL and one interception. Senior Corbett Cimini is the perfect complement to Portella in the back end at free safety adding 20 tackles, including 11 solo tackles.
“Sabino is a tone setter,” said Lang. “He physical runner and defensively makes plays all over the field. He’s a solid program kid.”
The cornerbacks are 6-foot-4, 190 pound senior Joe Diorio and senior Jaden Haynes with Devin Dujue-Henry and junior Christian Ungemath in the rotation.The lanky Diorio leads the team with two interceptions along with 21 tackles, including 12 solo tackles and two TFL while Haynes has added 13 tackles (6 solo).
Senior Jake Jacobsen has handled the punting and place kicking duties and is 14-of-17 on extra points.
Red Bank Catholic Set For Showdown With Donovan Catholic
With all the hubbub surrounding the team's chances moving forward the Caseys have a huge game Friday that they better not overlook when they host No.3 Donovan Catholic. The Griffins boast an explosive offense and one of the top defenses in the Shore. In their last four games -all wins – they’ve outscored their opponents 154 to 35. That includes a 36-19 win over Wall and a 42-7 pasting of Southern – both top 10 teams in the Shore.
“We have a lot of respect for Donovan Catholic as a team,” said Bauman. “We know they’re going to be a tough team to play. They’re going to try to run the ball and try to take their shots downfield and it will be up to us to match them.”
A big part of the Caseys success this season has been the camaraderie that exists on the team.
“It’s a close knit group and a lot of the guys hang out with each other,” said Lang. “We have a group that buys into the family idea and team side of it and I think you’re seeing it pay off in the long run on the field.”