Freehold High School enjoyed a solid football season in 2018.
Freehold finished with a 5-4 record and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional playoffs, where it lost in the first round to Brick Memorial High School, 21-13.
Since the Colonials return a lot of their best players from last year, they are expected to be strong again in the fall of 2019.
Offensive weapon Sha’Kim Shuler, who played quarterback, running back and receiver last year, accounted for 11 touchdowns and more than 1,000 total yards. He is back to spark the Colonials’ attack.
Starting center Jake Larsen, a smart, athletic player, is also back to open holes for Shuler and his fellow weapons. Then on defense, Freehold returns its starting linebacker trio of Larsen, Jaylin Canada and Matt Grady and its top cornerback in Mar-zhon Brinson.
Unlike a lot of teams, Freehold has a strong returning foundation on both sides of the ball. The Colonials will open the 2019 regular season on Sept. 6 at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver. Despite his strong talent base, Freehold coach Dave Ellis is tempering expectations.
“We have some talent but so many question marks,” Ellis said. “You never know what’s going to happen until you get into the game.”
Ellis is right. Yes, the Colonials have a lot of their best players back for this coming fall. But they also lost a lot of talent, like the team’s leading passer, rusher and receiver in Matt Krauss, ace kicker Jake Hurler and most of their depth. Shuler, Larsen, Canada, Grady, Brinson and safety Jason Lee are the only returning starters from last season.
The coach is confident in his defense, which returns about half of its lineup and will stick to its 3-3-5 alignment.
“I think we can be a good defense,” he said.
But the ninth year boss is less bullish about his offense.
“We’ll coach them up,” Ellis said. “But this year is my biggest question mark since I’ve been the head coach.”
Last year, he used Krauss and Shuler at every skill position. He basically approached it like a basketball offense: just get your best players the ball and let them create.
Freehold will take the same approach in 2019, and it will start with Shuler, a 5-5 athletic dynamo.
“He could be a game breaker,” Ellis said. “We got to move him around and find favorable matchups for him.”
The rest of the offense will be a work in progress, but Ellis at least has an idea for a Krauss replacement: Lee, the starting safety, who is also a 6-1, 165 pound quarterback prototype. The junior is taking first team quarterback reps in offseason workouts. He throws a tight spiral and can run when Ellis feels like getting wacky.
“He just seems to be picking up the offense really well,” the coach said.
If Freehold is going to be better than good, Ellis will need the rest of his young varsity players to do the same.
“We have some good talent and speed. That’s for sure,” he said. “It’s just going to be a matter of how quickly they adjust to playing varsity.”