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Sussex County's best recruits go through Pope John

By Joe Hofmann, 09/12/23, 11:00AM EDT


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Down through the ages, all the way back to the legendary Vic Paternostro, Pope John has been mostly a running team. For the most part, the quarterback’s job was to take the snap, hand the ball to a running back, and get out of the way (or maybe even throw a block).

The Lions still love to run the ball, but they do have a quarterback in Chris Dietrich who can sling it.

He is the best passer the school has had since Sonny Abramson took his talents to Virginia in the mid-2010’s.

Dietrich is Sussex County’s No. 1 college prospect, in the eyes of Dave McCarthy, author of the widely-acclaimed McCarthy Report, which analyzes college football prospects for colleges across the nation.

The service’s founder was Dennis McCarthy, Dave’s father. McCarthy scouts many games and observes film throughout the state each week.

Morris County’s top prospects appeared in last week’s Morris Sussex sports weekly football notes column.

Delbarton had the most Morris college prospects by far, and this year’s list is dominated by Pope John.

“Like with Delbarton I hate to have to put so many PJ kids on the list but they have the most talent by far,” McCarthy said.

In addition, McCarthy also is in charge of a Prospect Advisor service to help players with the recruiting process.

His contact info is at the end of the rankings.

Next week, he will break down the best underclass recruits.

Here are the best college prospects out of Sussex County.

1. Chris Dietrich, Pope John, QB

The 6-4, 200-pound Temple-bound Dietrich is a “big, rocket-armed pocket passer who has a lot of starting experience and has the ability to fit passes into tight windows,” McCarthy said. “He has one of the strongest arms in the state and can make any throw in an offense with ease. He is also a heady QB who sees the whole field and can hit receivers in stride downfield.”

2. Justin Platt, Pope John, OL

Platt is a 6-5, 260-pounder who is “an athletic LT with the room to pack on muscle after he gets to a college weight room. He plays with good technique and will use his hands,” McCarthy said. “He plays with balance, stays under control and can mirror pass rushers. He will get after you and plays to the whistle. He is also a two-way starter who is also is a very good DE.”

3. Joey Smart, Pope John, OLB

Smart (6-3, 210) played mostly on the Nose as a junior but projects outside to Edge for college, according to McCarthy. “He is as quick as a hiccup off the snap and consistently applies pressure to the pocket. He runs well and covers a lot of ground in space. He held his ground well in the middle at the point of attack despite being somewhat undersized for NT.”

4. Demarius Posey, Newton, DB

Posey is “probably the best senior man cover corner we've seen in the Sussex-Morris region this season,” McCarthy said. “He has quick reactions and can stick to receivers like glue. He shows good instincts and gets a good break when the ball is in the air. He also plays on the Wing in Newton's Wing T offense and should be one of the focal points on that side of the ball this season. He also has potential as a return man.”

5. Joey Walton, Pope John, OLB-DE

The 6-2, 220-pound Walton is “a rugged, physical DE in Pope John's 3-3 defense and routinely sets the edge,” McCarthy said. “He had a very productive 2022 season. He plays hard for all 48 minutes and is one of the team leaders. He may be moved around the defense like a chess piece for 2023. He carries a phenomenal 4.1 GPA in the classroom!”

6. Jack Morgese, Pope John, PK-P

The 5-11, 180-pound Morgese already has a 52-yard field goal to his credit this year. The lefty booted three field goals (with a long of 43 yards) last year and averaged 37 yards per punt.

7. Zac Kusick, Pope John, DB-WR

Kusick (6-0, 195) is a “fine all-around athlete with 4.5 speed who can play either side of the ball in college,” according to McCarthy.

8. Charlie Mulligan, Pope John, WR-DB

The 5-11, 180-pound Mulligan is “a quick productive receiver with speed in the 4.6 range,” McCarthy said. “He can play outside or in the slot. He runs clean routes and shows top hand-eye coordination. He Chris Dietrich's top target last year.”

9. Dan Fahey, Kittatinny, LB  

10. Sir Paris Jones, Pope John LB

11. Danny Platt, Pope John, DB 

12. Franco Luna, Vernon, LB-RB

13. Josh Brancy, Sparta, SB-DB

14. Andrew Baker, Sussex Tech, RB

15. Logan Pych, Vernon, OLB-RB

Anyone who wishes to send film to McCarthy can do so to this address:

The McCarthy Report

David McCarthy/Dennis McCarthy (In Memoriam 1942-2017)

P.O. Box 782

Lyndhurst, N.J. 07071


Social Media links:

Strong in the line again

Delbarton left tackle Jake Macce (6-4, 275) committed to Duke and was being recruited by Ivy (Dartmouth) and Patriot (Holy Cross) schools.

Macce is another in a long line of Green Wave linemen who have gone on to play college ball.

Coach Brian Bowers raved about his linemen in the preseason.

The two leaders are Macce and Villanova-bound Ryan Cregan (6-6, 295).

“Jake Macce is a tremendous athlete and tremendous blocker,” Bowers said. “He is a leader for the team, the heart and soul, a great player, and a great kid. He is the kind of kid who’ll impose his will in our conference.

“Ryan Cregan will be a premier tackle. He is a three-year starter. He is a great kid and a technician. We have a lot of confidence in both of them.”

The rest of the line is loaded with talent.

Middlebury-bound left guard Frank Fehrenbach (6-4, 270) is a second-year starter primed for another big year.

“Last year was his first year starting and he did a great job,” Bowers said. “Over the offseason, he put on a lot of size and strength. He’ll come back with a lot more confidence.”

Center Alex Estey (5-11, 230) is a thinking man’s center.

“He looks great,” Bowers said. “He’s a real athletic kid, a competitor, he’s smart and he understands defenses. He has that leadership ability at center that you like. He’ll give us a lot. He is not the biggest guy but really athletic.”

The right guard position will be a platoon with Andy Covello (6-0, 260) and Lorenzo Petrucci (6-0, 265).

“Andy has really good feet, great technique, is a tough kid, and very dependable,” Bowers said. “Lorenzo is a very similar player, tough, athletic and he has improved himself.”

A wild card is junior Peter Donini (6-8, 245).

“He will be in the rotation,” Bowers said. “He is really athletic. We are super excited about him. He is getting better every day. You see his length and you’re like, WOW!’”

Another year, another great Delbarton O-Line.

“We love the athletic linemen,” Bowers said. “It gives us a brand of football, very recognizable. We can be hard to stop when we get it going. We have had great kids and great coaches for that position.”

D-End Connor Martin, meanwhile, anchors the D-Line. He verballed to UPenn.

“He’s a really good player, physical, and athletic,” Bowers said. “He was highly sought after.”

Here and there

1. reported on all of the transfers around New Jersey late in the summer. The wild, wild west mentality used to just be limited to the Bergen-Passaic Catholic schools but has now spread all over to not just the Parochials but the Public schools all around New Jersey. An athlete moving to a certain town because his family moved there is one thing. But what is going on now – kids bouncing around all over the place – is what high school sports is not supposed to be all about. Sad. …

2. Last week, we gave credit where credit is due to Gannett for coming up with a separate New Jersey Top 20 for public schools and a Top 10 for Non-Public. But there is one glaring deficiency: There is no representative from Morris-Sussex County on the panel of voters. So if folks at Mount Olive were wondering why their Marauders were not in the Public Top 20 after dominant wins over Chatham and Randolph, that is the reason.

And since South Jersey does have representation (not one, but TWO South Jersey voters, none from Morris!), that is why a school such as Winslow remains in the Top 20 despite a loss to a Jersey school. And that is why the poll is loaded with South Jersey representatives such as Shawnee, Cherokee, Atlantic City, one-loss Camden, and one-loss Winslow.

And the Bridgewater Courier News brought in both Hillsborough and Ridge to the Top 20 (Nos. 18 and 19). Not that there is anything wrong with those two programs (or those from South Jersey), but if there was fair representation from Morris County, one of those schools would have been in, not both.

More anti-Morris County bias: Delbarton checked in at No. 7 in the state, but on what basis were they ranked behind TWO Shore Conference schools (Red Bank Catholic and Donovan Catholic). Well, there is a Shore writer, but no Morris writer.

3. Mountain Lakes came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat stubborn Lenape Valley, 26-18.

One of the difference makers for the Herd was outside linebacker Marco Dzamba, who made several ringing hits that not only leveled Patriot runners but inspired his teammates at the same time.

Ironically enough, Dzamba’s physicality will be used more on the college level in lacrosse. He will play lax at Dartmouth.

During the preseason, he was rehabbing a hamstring that bothered him during lacrosse season.

“He is our best overall player,” coach Darrell Fusco said. “He is a difference maker and the ultimate workhorse.”

4. One of my students has a brother who plays for Sparta and that got me thinking: Why, oh why, do the Spartans no longer play against Pope John? I know that publics and privates do not play one another much anymore, but that was a terrific rivalry. The town of Sparta would shut down whenever those two would play. Man, what an event! Good luck finding a parking spot!

In future years, these two should try and meet on the football field.

The super conference has brought about annual rivalry games such as West Morris vs. Mendham and Morris Knolls-Morris Hills.

But there are other games missing from the schedule that we’d like to see:

  1. Mo-Beard vs. Whippany Park (the schools are literally one mile apart on Whippany Road). What on earth is taking these two schools so long to play?
  2. Whippany Park-Hanover Park (sister schools would be a natural).
  3. Hopatcong-Lenape Valley (located 1-2 miles apart).
  4. Dover-Morris Hills (perfect local rivalry from the old IHC-Hills days).
  5. Par Hills-Hanover Park (I know Par Hills-River Dell has a nice early-season rivalry going, but an old-school Hills game between schools located a few minutes apart would be better).
  6. Par Hills-Parsippany (I know the two schools are ions apart in a football sense, but when sister schools oppose one another, there is a buzz in the schools and in the entire town for an entire week).

Runner’s delight

Bronco Nagurski would have loved the Kinnelon-Boonton game. Kinnelon’s Shane Norvis booted a 26-yard field goal to lift the Colts to a 31-28 victory in what was an old-school, smashmouth, leather-helmet brand of football.

Kinnelon’s Power T rushed 42 times for 307 yards, with Alex Regan running 12 times for 176 yards and two TDs. How many times has a football team ever won a game without ever completing a pass? Well, that is exactly what Kinnelon and QB Zach Grande (0 for 2 passing) did. That is a true testament to what the Colts are all about: You know they are running the ball but they are successful at it.

The Bombers, who run the Spread Option, were 39 for 231 running, with Sylas White (18 for 144, 3 TDs) leading the way. Boonton aired it out as Adem Qose was 4 for 6 passing.

Bizarre behavior

Coach Bill Regan has seen a lot in his 49 years of coaching Morris Knolls football – but nothing like his Golden Eagles 41-28 victory over Par Hills.

 “It was,” Regan said, “bizarre.”

Over the years, Knolls has won because of its running game. The Golden Eagles won by running once again – by the defensive backs as much as the offensive backs.

Knolls returned not one, but two interceptions for touchdowns – on back-to-back plays, no less – and saw a third INT return help set up another score.

Yup, very bizarre.

With the Golden Eagles clinging to a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter, Chris Kaiser brought back an interception 55 yards for a TD. On the very next Par Hills pass play, Bobby Brickner brought an interception back 20 yards for another score to give Knolls a 38-21 lead.

In the first quarter, Brent Berchin intercepted a Par Hills pass and returned it 70 yards to help set up Tyler Brooks’ 25-yard touchdown to give Knolls a 24-7 first-quarter lead.

Regan said that Knolls practices blocking on interception returns, but not many blocks were needed on any of the INTs against Par Hills.

“It wasn’t so much blocking,” Regan said. “They have wide receiver sets … four receivers wide. So if there is a short pattern, and we get the ball, there is no one in front of us. It was more of their formations than anything else. They were hitch passes. We were getting heat on the quarterback, too. Maybe it effected (Par Hills QB Jake Simoni’s) throwing.”

Knolls brought the heat with a defensive front that included Brooks and Josh Hobough at defensive end, nose man Sam Fredo, and Brickner at linebacker.

Pych reaching his peak

Vernon thought it would be rebuilding with the graduation of quarterback Derek Lazier (almost 3,000 yards passing in his career) and All-Morris-Sussex running back Gage Moskowitz 2,717 career yards, 36 career TDs). Those were two of the best players in school history.

But here comes Logan Pych, who rushed for 288 yards in a 21-7 victory over Sparta. It was the Vikings first win over the Spartans since 2007.