Matt Fuller Picked as New Football Coach at Pinelands Regional High School

District Also Promotes Frosh and Middle School Coaches to Varsity
Jun 21, 2017

The Pinelands Regional High School varsity football team has a new head coach. Matt Fuller was appointed to that position at the meeting of the Pinelands Regional School District Board of Education last Wednesday evening.

He’s best known to SandPaper readers as the head coach of the high school’s girls track team. But Fuller also served as an assistant to Brian Wilkinson, the football team’s head coach for the past four years. Wilkinson was laid off this spring, along with several other teachers, as part of a cost-cutting campaign.

Fuller, said PRSD Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks at the meeting, was one of 11 candidates for the position. Several, though, were from outside the district and needed, as Wilkinson had, a teaching job to accompany the coaching opportunity. Pinelands is cutting staff, not adding to it, because of a years-long drop in student enrollment. So several of the prospects dropped out. Fuller emerged as the pick of a search committee.

Wilkinson had slowly but surely returned the Wildcat program to respectability. When he took over in 2013 the team hadn’t won a game in more than two seasons. Pinelands broke its losing streak in 2013 with a single victory. It recorded two wins in 2014, although one came via the route of a forfeit. In 2015 the team clawed out two on-the-field wins, despite having just three returning starters on offense and only one on defense. Last season Wilkinson’s system finally paid dividends when the team went 4-6. And that record was somewhat deceiving in that the ’Cats lost one game in overtime and another, their Thanksgiving Eve season finale versus Barnegat, by one point when a 42-yard field goal attempt fell short as time expired.

Wilkinson and 2015 offensive coordinator Charlie Diskin may be gone but their system, said Fuller, will remain intact to a large degree. Part of the reason for that is the team’s new offensive coordinator, Anthony Allocca. He had been one of the laid-off teachers and was not expected back. But Fuller said Allocca had been reassigned to the district’s behavioral disorder room so remained at the district. Allocca had been Wilkinson’s offensive line coach, a very important position in the run-oriented double wing offense the team has been running the past four years.

Being unable to attract out-of-district coaches meant the district had to look at in-house talent to fill coaching vacancies. Albert Rowland, who headed the freshman team’s coaching staff last year, will move up to the varsity. Mike Keller, who split his time in 2016 as an assistant at both the freshmen and varsity level, will concentrate on the varsity this year. Todd Kaiser, an assistant with the 7/8 team last season, will also become a varsity assistant.

So the Pinelands varsity players will see a number of familiar faces when they show up at summer practices. They’ll also be familiar with the offensive playbook.

“Our offense will be based on double wing principles,” Fuller said on Monday. “We’re going to run. But we kind of feel we can put a couple of guys out wide (as receivers).”

During the first three years of the Wilkinson regime, a Pinelands pass play was as rare as an animal on the endangered species list.

“Our kids had to learn the basics,” said Fuller.

Diskin started to open up the offense a little bit last year. The Wildcats remained, first and foremost, a running team, but a pass play was mixed in here and there. An air game was no longer an endangered species at Pinelands; it had moved up to being more like a threatened species.

The key to Pinelands’ success in 2017 will be its lines, and Fuller likes what he sees there.

“We have three or four big lineman returning again,” said the new coach.

If they can repeat their success in allowing returning running backs Evan Burton and Brennan Richardson to break free and can also master pass protection, the Wildcats may continue their progress.

Fuller was also encouraged on Monday morning when he saw 25 players show up in the weight room. There had been some worry that the players may have become discouraged seeing the drastic coaching changes necessitated by the teacher/coaching layoffs. It was a good sign seeing so many show up to lift on their first day of summer vacation.

— Rick Mellerup

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