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Booth Review: Biggest Vineland Football Preseason Observations

By Kyle Bennett

As the end of August approaches, another season on the gridiron is quickly approaching for Vineland High School Football. With that comes lots of turnover from graduating seniors, to newly elevated players from the Junior Varsity roster, to yours truly heading to the broadcast booth full-time this season, there are a lot of things to be excited about with the 2021 Fighting Clan football program. I got the opportunity to take in the team’s practice scrimmage against Egg Harbor Township on Friday night and walked away with lots of optimism. Let’s dive into the tape and some of my biggest takeaways from Friday night.

Linebacker Duo

Watching Vineland Football over the last few years, their linebacker play has always been something that Coach Russo and company have put emphasis on. From Anthony Reyes to Ryan Shelton to Conrad Jackson III, the linebacker pipeline has been fruitful in Vineland. The Fighting Clan had two players standout to me in two very different ways on Friday night and they both just so happened to be linebackers. Senior Nazhi Tatem displayed a physical element at the MIKE LB and displayed a sense of vocal leadership on defense and special teams that will pay dividends throughout the season.

Senior Jahmer Bryson also showed big play potential, a swagger that is always needed on a defense, and someone who can change the outcome of a game. He will have to not let his emotions overflow, but this dynamic duo at linebacker has me excited to watch Vineland’s defense this season

Young Russo Has Lots Of Potential

It’s tough to call upon a freshman to step in and lead a Varsity team with playoff and title aspirations. But when you’ve come up through the Vineland feeder programs and your dad just so happens to be the Head Coach of the high school team, the adjustment is a bit easier. Daniel Russo is a much different style of quarterback than what we’ve seen from the Fighting Clan over the last few seasons. While he can run, and even ran for a touchdown (that was called back on a penalty) on Friday night, he showed off a big arm that can move the ball down the field. The lack of downfield passing has limited Vineland’s offensive playbook over the last few years, so I am thrilled and intrigued to see how Coach Russo utilizes his son’s passing ability into the game plans this season.

Offensive Line Strengths And Weaknesses

At any level of football, you win games in the trenches on both sides of the ball. And while Vineland’ defensive line has been consistent over the years, the offensive line has been shuffled quite a bit heading into seasons and during the season. The 2021 OL group are BIG boys, and when I say big, I mean some of these guys tower over me. The starting unit was pretty solid for most of the night when they were pass blocking, but run blocking was something that I thought could use a little work. With a talent like Anthony Arthur running out of the backfield, you have to be able to create holes for him to burst through and allow his game-changing talent take an opposing defense by surprise. It’s all about chemistry, and if this OL unit can mesh and gel together this season, Vineland’s offense will be very fun to watch.

Braylon Blakely Is A Gamer

Having been around the VHS football team for a few seasons now, I’ve gotten to know the Blakely family quite well. The latest Blakely star, Braylon, is an absolute student of the game. Blakely suffered a minor injury on Friday night, and instead of hanging his head and checking out of the night, he was motivated as ever and wanted nothing more than to just get back out on the field and play. He told me, “I hate not being out there with my guys… it makes me feel like a loser not being out there.”

First things first, you are the furthest thing from a loser Braylon Blakely. Blakely continued to stay in tune with the calls on both offense and defense while getting tended to on the medical table by trainers. He’d look at his play call wristband, watch the plays unfold, and continue to take in as much of the night as he could. Having a gamer and presence like that on this roster is MASSIVE for the Fighting Clan and I am certainly looking forward to getting to know Braylon even more this season.

For The Brand

Being a former soccer player and having dreamt about kicking footballs at the highest level for most of my childhood, I always have a soft spot for kickers and punters at any level of the game. Getting a chance to watch freshman Alessio Ashmen send balls into orbit during pre-scrimmage warmups was an absolute joy. Vineland also has a freshman punter, Mark Mutcherson, who was launching kicks downfield that had me giddy to the core. To win in football, you have to dominate in all three phases; offense, defense, and special teams. Vineland is heading into 2021 with a tandem of legs that are only going to get better as the season goes on and as they get older.

Ashmen is listed at 5’10” and the simple fact that he’s a freshman should have Vineland fans excited for the kicking game from kickoffs to extra points to field goals. This kid has serious juice in his kicking leg and the more comfortable he gets with his follow through, the more of a weapon he’s going to be for Coach Russo. It would not shock me one bit if Ashmen has a few clutch field goal kicks for the Fighting Clan this season that end up swinging the result of games in favor of the men in Red and Gray.

Mutcherson was hitting punts deep into enemy territory all night long when the punt team was on the field. If he can stay consistent and launch kicks downfield and pin opponents back deep, Vineland’s defense is going to have to take Mutcherson out for dinner every Friday night. I am looking forward to seeing Mutcherson go to work this year and launching punts like he’s Pat McAfee doing it For The Brand.

This season is going to be a lot of fun for the Fighting Clan football team. I’m looking forward to seeing how this team comes together week by week, sitting down with Coach Russo for another year of podcasting, and being around a fun high school football program for another season. Buckle your chin straps, get your popcorn ready, and I’ll see you all in the booth every Friday night this season. Go Vineland.

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