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HOLMDEL, NJ. - Winning has been part of the Holmdel High School football team’s DNA the past two seasons.

Back-to-back trips to the state playoffs and a record setting 2018 season where the Hornets went 8-2 and advanced to the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament. 

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Head Coach Jeff Rainess has brought a whole new culture to the Holmdel football program as he enters his fourth year at the helm and the players have bought in big time.

It’s a course of actions that has motivated a new-look Hornets group to continue the program’s recent winning ways in 2019 and leave their own mark in the program’s history.

“We’re excited about this group of kids,” Rainess said. “It’s a different group of kids. Different group of seniors. This team has a different type of team chemistry than in years past. They care about each other. They love the game of football. It’s really fun to coach this group of kids.”

Holmdel has two big roles to fill this season with three-year starting quarterback Jeff DeCicco and running back Dean Gallo both gone due to graduation.

Taking over as the signal caller for the Hornets this season will be senior John Tomasulo. 

Knowing that he does have some big shoes to fill in replacing DeCicco, Tomasulo isn’t phased by the pressure and feels he has the abilities to have a great season for Holmdel under center.

“I feel like I can get the job done,” Tomasulo said. “My offensive line has done a great job helping me out in camp. Everybody in the offseason did a great job giving 100 percent effort in the weight room. I feel like we’ll be good this year.”

Familiarity with Rainess’ offense is a big factor for Tomasulo to succeed, having run his coach’s triple option scheme since he was a kid.

Tomasulo’s athleticism is another big weapon for the senior to run the Holmdel offense effectively this season in the eyes of Rainess. 

Being the point guard on the school’s basketball team, Rainess believes Tomasulo’s great vision on the court is a skill that will help him see the field well and recognize different defensive schemes at quarterback.

Tomasulo will also be a factor in the Holmdel secondary on defense at the free safety position.

Senior Thomas Ammirati will take on the role of replacing Gallo at right halfback in the Holmdel offense.

Gallo finished as the program’s all-time leading rusher with a stellar senior campaign, rushing for 1,197 yards and having 18 total touchdowns. 

Getting his turn now to show what he’s got as a running back, Rainess believes Ammirati can have a big year for the Hornets this fall.

Lining up next to Ammirati in the Holmdel backfield is senior running back Cameron LaMountain, who returns after a successful junior campaign for the Hornets.

LaMountain rushed for 708 yards and six touchdowns last season, including rushing for 137 yards on 11 carries in Holmdel’s 42-0 win over Nottingham in the first round of the sectional tournament.

Rainess is excited about how both running backs have looked in training camp and feels each back is on the right path to having a good season in 2019.

On the offensive line, the Hornets return one hog molly with playing time from last season in  right guard Matt Reddington.

Playing alongside Reddington at right tackle is junior Joe Mancino who is expected to be a strong anchor on the Holmdel offensive line. Junior center Joe Hammer, junior left guard Nick Iulo and junior left tackle Gary Alaimo make up the rest of a very cohesive Hornets offensive line says Rainess.

“They’re good friends on and off the field,” Rainess said about the Holmdel’s offensive line. “They work hard. Excellent weight room kids. They’re bigger than the line from last year. That doesn’t always mean much, but they have been doing a good job getting off the ball in practice. They’ve been learning their techniques and learning their jobs. I’m excited to see what they can do.”

Seniors Quinn Pavlinetz and Robert Eknoian will flank the offensive line at each tight end spot to help pave the way in the running game.

Junior Christian Donnelly will be a factor for the Hornets on the outside at wide receiver.

Defense was a big strength for the Hornets in 2018 and it will continue to be a unit Holmdel will lean on this fall.

The Hornets were the No. 1 ranked defense in Shore Conference last season, pitching five shutouts and only giving up an average of just over six points a game.

Senior linebacker Joe D’Acunto returns to help lead the Holmdel defense. D’Acunto had a big fumble recovery in Holmdel’s sectional playoff win over Nottingham last season.

Fellow classmate Nick Bauman returns as well, giving the Hornets great experience at outside linebacker to flank a physical defensive line led by Pavlinetz and Eknoian.

Pavlinetz has really impressed the Holmdel coaching staff this preseason after working hard all offseason by building his body up in the weight room.

A player that can cause big problems in the opponent’s backfield this year for the Hornets says Rainess, Pavlinetz is looking to use his physicality to his advantage to help Holmdel control the line of scrimmage.

“Our job on the D-Line is to set a charge and knock the offensive line back,” Pavlinetz said. “Be physical. Don’t let them bully us around. It’s a team effort on defense. Hopefully we can all have some fun and do well this season.

Iulo along with junior Karim Tehlikian will line up inside at the defensive tackle spots for Holmdel. Another great weight room kid, Tehlikian is expected to make an impact in his first year as a starter for Holmdel.

There is a lot of experience in the secondary for Holmdel. Both (cornerback) Ryan and (safety) Evan Jennings return with starting experience from last season.

Donnelly brings a lot of physicality to the strong safety spot and is expected to make a huge impact in the secondary for Holmdel.

Junior Myles Day will start at corner this year for the Hornets. Tomasulo will be another impact player in the Holmdel secondary this fall.

In the middle of the Holmdel defense, sophomore Tom Sardo is expected to be a breakout player in his first year on varsity at inside linebacker.

Holmdel will start the season on the road Friday night against Shore Regional before holding its home opener the following week in a big Liberty Division showdown with Donovan Catholic.

With all the talk about last year’s team and an expected drop off this year because of players lost to graduation, Rainess says this year’s Hornets bunch is playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders.

It’s a good thing in Rainess’ eyes as the team has been working hard all offseason to prove their doubters wrong and leave their own mark on the program.

“We’re just trying to be our own team,” Eknoian said. “We’re a physical team with a lot of big bodies. I think everybody on this team is going to do an amazing job this season. We’re going to try to win as many games as we can and give 100 percent max effort in every game.”

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports