NEC News of the Day: Monmouth’s Early-season Success All about the Shore

Three years earlier Dan Sullivan and Neal Sterling were juniors at Manasquan High School, playing for a storied program in New Jersey’s Shore Conference.

The two NCAA Division I prospects helped ‘Squan go on to eventually win the Central Jersey Group II state title that season.

Three years later, the two found themselves on the Northeast Conference’s weekly football honor roll together.  Both having selected Monmouth as the place to further their football careers, Sullivan and Sterling are once again starting players for a storied program.

The Hawks have won at least a share of five Northeast Conference crowns since the league began sponsoring football in 1996.  It’s been a while since Monmouth last achieved NEC supremacy.  All five of the Hawks’ championships came in the league’s first 11 seasons of football, meaning Monmouth last tasted a title in 2006 when Miles Austin was still playing in West Long Branch.

Early-season signs, however, point to the idea that the title drought is in serious jeopardy in 2011.

The NEC coaches tabbed the Hawks sixth in their preseason poll, but Monmouth has looked like anything but a sixth-place team thus far.

Two key reasons being none other than Sullivan and Sterling.

The two former Manasquan Warriors were at the forefront in arguably the biggest victory in Monmouth’s non-conference history.

Coming off a Week 2 bye, the Hawks won, by double digits, at Villanova, a program that made it through to the 2010 FCS playoff semifinal after winning it all in 2009.

Sullivan’s 4.0 tackles for loss and Sterling’s five catches for 69 yards helped make Monmouth’s first-ever win over a CAA member possible.

Two days after the win, the NEC appropriately rewarded the two men, naming Sullivan its Defensive Player of the Week and Sterling its Rookie of the Week.

Fast forwarding to Week 4 with Monmouth looking to make it two in a row and facing another tough road test at NEC preseason favorite Central Connecticut.

The Blue Devils had won 15 straights home games, accounting for the longest active streak in Divison I FCS, but before the Arute Field faithful could get comfortable in their seats, Sterling was in the end zone.

The 6-foot-3 receiver made a 32-yard touchdown catch 2:46 into the game’s opening possession and Monmouth never looked back.  (Read more about Sterling’s score in Big plays fueling Hawks’ successAsbury Park Press)

The Hawks built a 17-0 lead, which proved plenty for the defense, which turned in its second straight impressive effort.

Sullivan made eight tackles, including 2.0 TFL, but the NEC accolades went to fellow sophomore linebacker Steven Barroso.

Barroso, the NEC Defensive Player of the Week, made a game-high 12 stops.

In the end, Monmouth won 24-12 and the streak was over.

“I think it was a great win for us,” said head coach Kevin Callahan.  “It certainly was a first step for us, getting our initial win in NEC play. This conference always comes down to the wire because there is so much parity.”

As for Barroso, he’s not from Manasquan High School, but close enough.

Like his fellow second-year Hawks Sterling and Sullivan, Barroso is a Shore Conference product. The 6-foot-2 linebacker played at Toms River High School North.

These three rising stars, along with the development of quarterback Kyle Frazier, have the Hawks on the up, looking nothing like the team that went an uncharacteristic 3-8 in 2010.

There’s still a long way to go, including a big bout this weekend against Robert Morris, but the tide appears to be turning at the Jersey Shore.

Tweets of the Day
@MUHawksWBB – “Success is focusing the full power of all you are on what you have a burning desire to achieve.” -wilfred Peterson
@NECralph – missed watching @MilesAustinIII on MNF last night, looks like Cowboys offense missed him too
@RMUAthleticsThe bye week is in the books…get ready for #RMU #Football! The Colonials travel to Monmouth to open #NEC play on Saturday at noon. #NCAA
@BryantAthletics – Hey Bulldog fans, looking for in-game updates? Check out @BryantGameday your new OFFICIAL home for updates and live tweeting on gamedays.

Articles of Interest
NEC-specific News
The Unstoppable Eddie DelaneyUAlbany Magazine
Clark’s heroics help Hawks heading into NEC playAsbury Park Press (Steve Edelson)
Soccer and Football ObservationsAsbury Park Press (The Hawks Nest)

General News
NCAA President Says Conference Reshuffling ‘Embarrassed’ Many in College SportsThe Chronicle of Higher Education (Libby Sanders)
Atlantic 10 Moving Tournament to Brooklyn in 2013Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (AP)
MAC commissioner: No way to take away Syracuse winYahoo! (AP)

Related Video

Monmouth vs. CCSU – Week 4 FB Highlights…

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