HOLMDEL, NJ: It may not just be a bit of an understatement, but rather a huge, gigantic understatement to say that the Holmdel High School football program, from the coaches, to the student athletes on the roster and their family and friends are very much looking to the regular season getting started during the first weekend in October.
“We are thankful to have the opportunity to play,’’ Holmdel head coach Jeff Rainess said. “Our kids, our staff and our community are excited. We have to do things the right way in accordance with the guidelines (due to the Covid-19 pandemic) just to have the possibility to play a season. This is where the culture needed to take over and I am very proud of the fact it has.
“We built the culture to be about the relationships you have and caring and working hard for your brothers on the team. Collectively, I think the kids have handled all of this adversity well. We are dedicated to our process, our team and our community. I think that is exactly what has given us the ability to handle the current situation in our lives.’’
The Hornets are fortunate in that they feature solid depth and talent at quarterback-as well as several other positions.
“We have Christian Donnelly (senior) and Jared Battaglia (junior) in a great battle at QB after both saw action last year,’’ Rainess said. “Myles and Dylan Day (both seniors) are twins who can be impact players on both sides at corner back and wide receiver. Donnelly is a tough kid that jumped in at QB last year due to injuries and just led by example and grit.
“Defensively, Tommy Sardo (junior) will be returning to his middle linebacker spot after leading the team in tackles during his sophomore season. Jaden Gallo (junior) saw significant time at running back and defensive back and will return a year stronger, bigger and faster.’’
Another very important strength in favor of Holmdel is the fact that they have experienced players on the line.
“We are fortunate enough to have some big returning lineman up front,’’ Rainess said. “Joe Mancino (senior, 6-feet 2-inches, 300 pounds), Gary Alaimo (senior, 6’2, 310), Nick Iulo (senior, 5’9, 245) and Joe Hammer (senior, 5’9, 220) are all returning starters,’’ Rainess said. “Jake Leroux and Mike Umbrino are also seniors and battling it out for the last remaining offensive line spot. Karim Tehlikian (senior) is a two way lineman that is moving to tight end this year, so the whole offensive line is seniors and they’re a sizeable bunch.
“Our offensive line are the leaders of this group. They are a very tight-knit group on and off the field and they are not afraid to lace it up and get after it in practice. That directly translates to Friday nights.’’
Numerous players not mentioned above fully intend to make their presence felt on the varsity roster this fall.
“Gavin Raheb is a kid that could start on both the offensive and defensive line as a junior-big framed kid (6’5, 220) with a great motor and a chip on his shoulder,’’ Rainess said. “AJ DeCicco and Tighe Steineke are kids that have done an impressive job in the weight room and will be carrying a bigger load this year in the back field and the secondary. Luke Dupont (junior) and Thomas Ilvento (senior) are competing for the last available spot in the secondary as well.’’
The Hornets are scheduled to begin the regular season with a home game versus Raritan on October 2.
“First and foremost, the No. 1 goal is get us through the season safely,’’ Rainess said. “We have worked really hard to maintain all of the guidelines and I talk to the kids constantly about the choices they make off the field. These are trying times and I want the kids to be there for their communities, their families, their churches, their teammates [etc.].
“If the importance of football means something to them in their everyday life and it carries over into those other areas, then we are doing a good job. What we are trying to build here is so much bigger than just football, my goal is always to try and build young men that will go out into the world with empathy and passion to make the people around them better. That's our mission statement and that's the goal.’’
Holmdel tallied a solid overall record of 6-4 and advanced to the semifinal round of the NJSIAA South Jersey State Group 3 Sectional Tournament before falling to eventual State Champion Woodrow Wilson in 2019.
They compete in the Shore Conference.
“I love the Division,’’ Rainess said. “I think it's really well balanced and competitive. Every team on the schedule (Raritan, Ocean Township, Red Bank Regional, Matawan, Saint John Vianney and Marlboro) is a playoff caliber team that will be well coached and physical. We are looking forward to the challenge-I think our kids are excited.’’
It took a collective, determined effort for the Hornets to make steady progress during the off season.
“I am so proud of the effort of the kids over the spring and summer,’’ Rainess said. “They found a way to work and get better. We have a staff that is committed to our brand of football and have done a tremendous job of holding the kids accountable. Our weight room needed to be moved into the parking lot every day at 5:30 am and then moved back in after practice every day-and the coaches jumped right in and did it. No questions, they just did it because it needed to get done.
“The kids over the pandemic lifted and ran and worked out and that was very noticeable when we got back together. We used Google classroom and Google meet to install and work on schemes-the kids showed up every day and took notes and found a way to get better in an impossible situation. I am so extraordinarily proud of what has transpired here in Holmdel over the past few months. We have to give thanks to our administration and our BOE for standing behind us throughout the journey. I am a Holmdel resident and I have raised my family here and I am really proud of how everyone has come together for the common good of the kids.’’