WEST LONG BRANCH – Mike Basile, seated on the dais with three of his teammates and Monmouth University head football coach Kevin Callahan, broke into a grin Monday.
Basile has plenty to smile about.
The former Brick Memorial High School player has won numerous honors at defensive back for the Hawks. And his name is on the lips of National Football League teams – scouts from the New York Giants and the Oakland Raiders watched Basile practice Monday.
“It’s definitely on my mind,” the senior safety said. “It’s a dream, a goal. My goal right now is this season. My goal is to help us win the Big South Conference, go 1-0 and take it from there. If I go out there and play my game, then everything will fall into place.”
Several former Hawks have made it to the NFL under the tutelage of Callahan, the team’s lone mentor in history as it begins its 25th season. They include wide receiver Chris Hogan, who achieved fame last year with the New England Patriots, and Miles Austin. The latter starred at wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.
“Several teams will come through to look at Mike,” Callahan said. “Probably every NFL team will be here to look at him before the season is over. It’s a big deal, but then it is not. The scouts are discreet. They stay out of the way, but they will want to size him up. They will watch two, three and four years of video of Mike as a college player. Scouts coming here is a regular occurrence.”
Basile has been named to the 2017 STATS Buch Buchanan Award Watch List. The former Mustang was a finalist for the award as a junior, finishing in 24th place. He’s one of eight returning finalists to make the preseason watch list. He’s one of seven defensive backs on the 21-player list.
Honored as an Associated Press second-team All-American as a junior, Basile was recently named to a pair of 2017 first-team preseason All-America teams and was selected as a preseason All-Big South Conference defensive back. The three-year starter won Big South Rookie of the Year honors and has earned first-team all-conference honors every year.
Last season, the former Mustang registered 110 tackles and led the Big South in blocked kicks and forced fumbles. He made double digit stops in five games and enters this season third in the NCAA for active career tackles with 307 and second in solo tackles per game with 6.03. Basile is third all-time at Monmouth in tackles, needing just 47 to move past former Jackson Memorial player Aaron Edwards for first all-time.
“They are all great accolades and they all mean that my hard work is paying off,” Basile said. “It’s about doing my job and helping the team win. The honors give me a great feeling as they show my hard work is paying off.
Basile is one of the Hawks’ two captains.
“First of all, I go out there and do all I can to help the team,” he said. “I have to help everyone on the field and make sure everyone is doing the right thing. If everyone communicates, we have the chance to make the right play.”
Basile said his work ethic has resulted in success.
“First off, I work real hard,” the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder said. “I want to do my best. I know that nothing will be handed to me. If you work hard, things will fall into place and they will happen the way I want them to.”
Basile said he enjoys playing strong safety.
“I love it,” he said. “I have been there since my freshman year. It’s the best position on the field as you are in charge. You control the outcome. You get interceptions and tackle people. You are all over the ball. That is where you have the most impact. I try to go out there and give the younger guys the advice that helped me play when I was younger. Guys like Joe Johnson (a former Manchester player) helped me.”
Callahan said Basile’s presence has meant plenty of good things to the Hawks.
“It was very obvious after three days of practice as a freshman that Basile had it,” Callahan said. “It takes some guys two days, a month, a full season. His value and contributions have been significant on the field and they have been much deeper far beyond the field. He is a true leader and a tireless worker. He represents us as well as anyone could hope. He is very competitive and a guy other people want to be like and emulate.
“He plays with such tremendous effort. He puts himself in the position to make plays on a regular basis. He understands how and why things happen and he gets himself into position to make those plays and tackles.”
Toms River’s Berry Returns
Back in the Hawks’ lineup is junior cornerback Tymere Berry, a former Toms River South football and basketball standout.
Berry said he was academically ineligible last season.
“I was young and dumb to be honest,” the criminal justice major said. “I am the first person from my family to go to college and I lacked experience and guidance. Coach Callahan and the academic staff pushed me to where I am now. It’s great to be back. I am relishing the grind. I worked real hard to get back. I am taking it step by step and day by day. I am just trying to get better.”
Berry said it was tough to sit out last season.
“It was real hard as I played since I was eight years old,” he said. “I never missed a game. It put me at a low point and made me work even harder.”
Berry played in nine games and started two as a true freshman, finishing the season with 31 total tackles, including 22 solo stops. He added three pass breakups and made his first career interception against Presbyterian. He’s a 6-foot-1,175-pounder.
“I want to put Monmouth University football on the map,” he said. “I feel I am in a good position to help the team win games. Mike Basile has been here four years and he has helped me each day. I am out here to work and get better.”
Berry said he missed out on playing by several credits.
“I was short maybe three credits,” he said.
“He did not take care of what he had to do academically and he found himself short credits,” Callahan said. “If you want to play, you have to take care of business. He appreciates the chance and opportunity to play college football. He has learned that he has to hold up his end of the bargain. The bottom line of it is that he is smart and is doing very well academically. Perhaps the point of the importance of academics was not driven home in the past.”
“Tymere is awesome,” Basile said. “He is one of the most athletic guys I have ever seen. He will be a big, big important factor for us this season. He has matured a lot. He just goes out there and plays ball and there is nothing stopping him. He has all of the athletic gifts. He runs and jumps and is quick. I played against him in high school and he is one of the best athletes on our team.”
Jackson’s Castronuova Prominent
Former Jackson Memorial player Matt Castronuova, a junior, plans to play a large role this season at wide receiver.
“Right now, I am starting at wide receiver,” the 5-foot-9,175-pounder said. “Everything feels good. It’s my job to lose and it’s real nice to be in that position. I have a good work ethic and I work hard each day. I am competitive with my teammates and I let my ability speak for itself.”
He played in all 11 of the Hawks’ games at wide receiver and on special teams last season, making nine tackles.
“I have some speed,” he said. “I make guys miss when they try to tackle me. I am not the tallest guy, but I can make the plays.”
More Local Stars
Other local players hoping to make names for themselves for the Hawks this season are senior wide receiver Vinny Grasso (Donovan Catholic), senior linebacker Jimmy Cleveland (Donovan), sophomore defensive lineman Adam Kakar (Toms River North, Milford Academy) and freshman offensive lineman Justin Szuba (Brick Memorial).
Grasso, a 5-foot-7,175-pounder, competed in each of Monmouth’s 11 games as a sophomore, making one catch and adding one tackle on special teams. Cleveland is a 6-foot-2,239-pounder.
The 6-foot-3,320-pound Kakar played in 11 games for the Hawks as a freshman, making one solo tackle and four assisted stops. Szuba is a 6-foot-7,260-pounder.
The Hawks will open their regular season Saturday, September 2 at 3 p.m. (ESPN3) when they host Lafayette College at the brand new $16 million Henni Kantor Kessler & John H. Kessler Stadium in West Long Branch.
It will house more than half of the Hawks’ athletes, including lacrosse and track and field. The Kesslers were members of the original Touchdown Club, which helped bring football to the school in 1992. Henni and John, former Monmouth students, pledged the first gift to get the original Kessler Field built and saw more than 350,000 fans support 109 football games over the past 24 years. Henni captained the cheerleading team while John played baseball for the Hawks.
Henn is a former trustee and a member of the school’s Society of Trustees while John is a trustee emeritus.
The couple has been giving back to the school since the tenure of president emeritus Samuel Megill, including the Henni Kessler Endowed Cheerleading Scholarship and a significant gift to construct the OceanFirst Bank Center, home of the Henni Kantor Kessler Varsity Club.
Construction began on Kessler Stadium prior to the start of last season with the old structure being removed days after the Hawks’ final home game of the season October 29. The new stadium features more than 4,200 seats, including 800 chair-back seats, and stretches from end zone to end zone.
“A new videoboard at the cost of nearly $1 million will be built,” Callahan said. “It will be funded by our alumni group. Several hundred alumni will be there for the opener. It will be a great feeling to see the stadium filled. I am happy that these guys will get the chance to play in that type of venue and in the same type of environment they play in on the road.”
The facility includes a full concourse with concession stands and bathrooms, a state of the art press box, multimedia booths, coaches’ booths and a ticket office.
Fans are invited to a free ribbon cutting ceremony at 12:30 p.m. on September 2. For more information about the day or to R.S.V.P to the BBQ (from 1-3 p.m.), please contact Monmouth’s Ken Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming off a 4-7 record and an 0-5 finish in the Big South in which they placed sixth, the Hawks return eight starters on offense and six starters on defense. They return all five starters on the offensive line. Their secondary returns every starter and is comprised of seven players entering their final season of eligibility.
A total of 53 of the team’s 101 players are from New Jersey, including 12 from Ocean and Monmouth counties.
Three former Hawks are in NFL camps. They are tight end Hakeem Valles (Arizona Cardinals) and wide receiver Neal Sterling (Jacksonville Jaguars). Sterling played for Manasquan.
Tickets for home games are on sale. They begin at $75 for reserved seating and $100 for premium seating (plus a required Blue/White gift). Single game tickets start at $15 per person. Tickets for groups of either 15 persons or more are $10 per ticket. Birthday party packages, featuring an unmatched personal experience for the birthday child and fellow guests, are available for $20. Each promotional date will have a ticket discount. In order to receive the discount, all group tickets must be purchased at least one week in advance.
The regular-season schedule: Saturday, Sept. 2, vs. Lafayette, 3 p.m., promotion: 25 Years of Football Celebration/stadium Grand Opening; Saturday, Sept. 9, vs. Lehigh, promotion: Military and First Responders Appreciation Day/Scouts Day 1 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 16, at Albany, 2 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 23, at Hampton, 2 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 30, at Bucknell, 6 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 7, at Holy Cross, time to be determined; Saturday, Oct. 21, vs. Liberty*, 1 p.m. promotion: annual Homecoming Game; Saturday, Oct. 28, 6 p.m., at Charleston Southern*, Saturday, Nov. 4, 1 p.m., vs. Presbyterian*, 1 p.m., promotion: Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Out/Youth Football & Spirit Day; Saturday, Nov. 11, 12 p.m., vs. Gardner-Webb* promotion: Hawks Senior Day/Veterans Day; Saturday, Nov. 18, at Kennesaw State*, time to be announced. Note: Promotions are subject to change.
*denotes Big South Conference game.
NOTE: Monmouth’s Athletics Communications Department contributed to this report.