If football eras are defined by leaders on the field, then this is the Mark Whitford era for Sayreville War Memorial High School.
In 2017, Whitford earned the starting quarterback job as a sophomore. Then he proved to be a capable point guard for Sayreville’s new spread offense, leading the Bombers to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 sectional playoff semifinals, where they lost to North Hunterdon High School, 29-7.
In 2018, Whitford point guarded an electric offense with a bunch of dynamic skill players like Zuriel Wright, Jacari Carter, Savon Kirksey and Connor Holmes. Sayreville scored 30 or more points in six victories and finished 11-1. The Bombers also won two championships: the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional playoff championship with a 6-0 victory over North Brunswick Township High School and the NJSIAA Central-South Jersey, Group 5 Bowl Championship with a 14-7 triumph over Williamstown High School.
But even after that incredible season, the Whitford era is not yet over on 820 Washington Rd. The quarterback is returning for his final campaign in 2019.
He doesn’t have any of those skill position players back. But with his own experience and ability, Whitford should be able to carry the Bombers’ offense and lead the team to another strong year.
Sayreville will open the season on Sept. 6 at home against Hunterdon Central Regional High School.
“The best way to explain it is Mark owns our offense,” Beagan said. “He gets us out of bad plays a lot and he delivers the ball where it needs to be.”
Whitford is not a high school Carson Wentz or Patrick Mahomes. He is not going to wow fans with ridiculous plays. The senior is just going to make the right point guard play, over and over again.
“He’ll fall into the shadows in terms of playmaking,” Beagan said. “But there’s not a throw on the field he can’t make.”
Beagan’s and Whitford’s challenge in 2019 will be to find playmakers to replace Wright, Carter, Kirksey and Holmes, and it’s impossible to know who those new guys will be before the Bombers open padded practices on Aug. 12.
But one playmaker from last year is back: senior Anthony Jackson, though he made his plays on defense and special teams. In the state sectional championship game at Sayreville, Jackson blanketed a receiver in the end zone and forced an incompletion, helping to preserve the Bombers’ shutout. In Sayreville’s regular season finale at home, Jackson returned a kickoff 81 yards to the house, helping the Bombers beat South Brunswick High School, 34-28.
Beagan and Whitford will count on Jackson more as a skill position player in 2019.
“We’ll do a little bit of everything with him, like we did with Jacari,” Beagan said.
Like Whitford on offense, Sayreville has two leaders back on defense, too.
Defensive end Glenn Wright started last year and became a Division 1 prospect, recording 74 tackles, six tackles for a loss, 11 hurries and eight sacks. Middle linebacker Jayvis Rayside also started and developed into a Division 1-AA prospect, posting 104 tackles, three hurries, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Like Sayreville’s offense, Beagan’s defense lost a lot of key players around Wright and Rayside. But Wright, Rayside and a group of talented young players, who went 7-2 on Sayreville’s junior varsity team last fall, should maintain the program’s high standard.
The Bombers could even compete for titles again in 2019.
“Last year was stressful,” Beagan said. “We knew we had talent, and we just needed to find positions and get them to perform at their best.”
“This year is a different challenge, so I’m excited in a different way,” he added.