2022 New Jersey Football Preview: Defense

With the 2022 football season rapidly approaching, it’s time we take a look at some standout defensive players, as well as defensive units. While notable schools like Maryland and Texas are poaching players around the state including a pair of teammates to be named later, other Division 1 schools like Monmouth and Penn State are taking interest in the products being grown around the Garden State. A few teams have key players returning to their suffocating defensive units like Bergen Catholic who allowed a little under 8 points a game as a team and returns two key Power 5 football players. Check out a few notable defensive squads to watch out for this year:

Defensive Units

Bergen Catholic

As mentioned before, Bergen Catholic allowed just under 8 points a game last year. Also mentioned before was their Texas commit, Sydir Mitchell, and recent Maryland commit and 2021 NJ Athletics Defensive Player of the Year, DJ Samuels. The Crusaders also return linebacker Malachi Mercer who holds multiple Division 1 offers of his own. Mercer led the team in tackles with 103 with 6.5 of them being a tackle for loss. DJ Samuels led the team in sacks with 9 as well as forced fumbles with 3. A hidden gem of Bergen Catholic is Junior defensive back, Kaj Sanders. Sanders holds multiple Power 5 offers before entering his Junior year. Kaj had 2 picks last year along with 17 total tackles. It’s going to be another big year for the Crusaders in Oradell. 



The North Group 2 regional champion Chiefs were a stifling defense allowing an average of just about a touchdown per game. Caldwell returns their top 3 leaders in tackles from last season. Leading the way for the Chiefs defense is Junior safety Joey Marinello. Marinello led the team in tackles last year with 105 as a Sophomore. The player second in line to Marinello is Junior defensive lineman Julian Casale. Casale had 99 tackles in his Sophomore campaign. The third in the top 3 is Senior DB Harry Boland. Boland had 90 tackles to go along with his team high 5 picks last year. Casale led the team in sacks as well with 7.5 and tackles for loss with 30. Caldwell will look to recreate their success in 2021 by turning to their returning starters and producers to lead the way. 


Red Bank Catholic 

The Red Bank Catholic Caseys are coming off of a very successful season that ended with a Non-Public B title over DePaul Catholic. The Caseys allowed around 11 points per game last season. RBC returns their leader in tackles from last season, Junior linebacker Davin Brewton. Brewton led the Caseys with 119 tackles with 10 of them being for a loss. Another part of their linebacker core is returning as Mike Palmieri looks to light up the tackles column again. The Senior had 70 tackles last year while 4 of them were a TFL. Sabino Portella, a UNC wrestling commit and Senior defensive back, is another key returning part of the RBC defense as he had 75 tackles and 2 interceptions last year. Red Bank Catholic had quite a bit of seniors on both sides of the ball but there are sprinkles of experience throughout the returning roster. 



The Raiders had a defense that gave up about 10 points per game last year. Hillsborough got into a few shootouts to begin the season but as soon as October came around, the defense buckled down. From the start of October until their regional championship win over Kingsway, the Raiders gave up an average of just 7 points per game. The Group 5 South/Central regional champs do return a few key players. Junior linebacker Jonathan Lobelo led last year’s team with 88 tackles while 12 were for a loss. Senior defensive back Kevin Shelton returns to help man the defense against the air attack. Shelton had 2 picks last year along with 48 tackles. Hillsborough had a pretty good size senior class last season, but luckily there are a few players who have registered enough production on the stat sheet to fill in some missing pieces. 



Salem football is one of the more historic programs in New Jersey. Just last season they etched themselves into New Jersey history yet again. Their regional championship largely was impacted by their quite literal lockdown defense. The defense gave up about 10 points per game but they stepped up when needed in a big way. The Rams will return huge contributors like Sophomore edge rusher Cameron Smith, Senior outside linebacker Amare Smith who was one the state leaders in sacks. On the back end, the Rams have Senior defensive back Zaheim Jones returning who was tied for first on the team with 5 interceptions. Junior defensive back Ramaji Bundy returns as well looking to continue the “No Fly Zone” as he had 3 interceptions in the 2021 season. With lots of other players returning and Montrey Wright still at the helm, you can expect Salem to make another run, but this time for a true state title. 



The Crusaders are also one of the more storied programs in the state but more specifically in South Jersey. They were on track to make history this year as they were 11-0 heading into the Group 3 sectional title game. They ran into the offensive juggernaut that was Cedar Creek but limited the damage throughout the game. Their defense was surely one of the better ones in the region allowing just under 12 points per game. Delsea looks to have another successful year in 2022 with the likes of Senior linebacker Danny DiGiovacchino who led the team in tackles with 82. Senior defensive lineman Ashton Blose is back to terrorize offensive lines as he had 62 tackles with 23 being for a loss. Junior defensive back Dom Teti looks to rack up even more interceptions after tying the team high with 4 last year. The Crusaders will be playing with a chip on their shoulder this year since Group 3 is up for grabs as the NJSIAA shuffles teams around in different groups. 


Players To Watch

Defensive Linemen (DT, EDGE):

  • Sydir Mitchell- Bergen Catholic (Sr.)
  • DJ Samuels- Bergen Catholic (Sr.)
  • Cameron Smith- Salem (So.)
  • Julian Casale- Caldwell (Jr.)
  • Zachary Bevis- Woodstown (Jr.)
  • Logan Barnes- St. Peter’s Prep (Sr.)
  • Chris Clax- Haddonfield (Sr.)
  • David Harvey- Woodstown (Sr.)
  • Chris Wright- Pleasantville (Sr.)
  • James Heard- Camden (Sr.)
  • Jasire Peterson- Union City (Sr.)
  • Kye Pressley- Hammonton (Sr.)
  • Ted Gregoire- Hudson Catholic (Sr.)
  • Jordan Thomas- Don Bosco (Jr.)
  • Richard James Jr.- Camden (Jr.)


  • Zach Chostaka- Northern Highlands (Sr.)
  • Johnny Mink- Haddonfield (Sr.)
  • Stefano Montella- West Morris Central (Sr.)
  • Dante Vernieri- Donovan Catholic (Sr.)
  • Davin Brewton- Red Bank Catholic (Jr.)
  • Matt Rattay- Roxbury (Jr.)
  • Jonathan Lobelo- Hillsborough (Jr.)
  • Amare Smith- Salem (Sr.)
  • Malachi Mercer- Bergen Catholic (Sr.)
  • Shane Kenner- Pennsauken (Sr.)
  • Nyreek Clyburn- Eastside (Jr.)
  • Brahim Wynn- Timber Creek (Jr.)
  • Emanuel Ross- Red Bank Catholic (Jr.)

Defensive Backs:

  • Kaj Sanders- Bergen Catholic (Jr.)
  • Harry Boland- Caldwell (Sr.)
  • Chris Casale- Kittatinny (Sr.)
  • Dante Sellari- West Essex (Sr.)
  • Michael Lemay- Lenape (Jr.)
  • Matt Cassidy- Marlboro (Jr.)
  • Joe Marinello- Caldwell (Jr.)
  • Dom Hahn- Haddonfield (Jr.)
  • Joey Bodin- Matawan (Sr.)
  • Eric Jackson- Passaic County Tech (Sr.)
  • Micah Ford- Toms River North (Jr.)
  • Adon Shuler- Irvington (Sr.)
  • Jayden Bonsu- St. Peter’s Prep (Sr.)
  • Moussa Kane- Blair Academy (Sr.)
  • Famah Toure- Irvington (Sr.)
  • George Inge- Pemberton (Sr.)
  • Vaboue Toure- Irvington (Jr.)
  • Will Love- Eastside (Jr.)
  • Jaylen McClain- Seton Hall Prep (Jr.)


Photo by Royce Paris (@royceparis_)