2015 Holmdel Football Preview: A Fresh Start
Every year when September rolls around, football coaches try to come up with themes that can have some meaning to their players as they get ready for the season.
In Holmdel the new theme could not fit any better. Over the years, the Hornets’ program has continually lost talented players to other schools. While they have had some success on the youth level in town, it has often not added up to wins at the varsity high school level at a program that has won two division titles in the last 26 years and has never won a state title.
Enter Greg LaCava, Holmdel’s third head coach in three years.
After recharging his batteries with a year off from coaching football after a successful stint at Colts Neck, he is back, and he did not come alone. He has brought most of his highly-qualified staff with him.
“I enjoyed the time off but I missed the competition and the relationships that I was able to forge over the years with my coaches and players,’’ LaCava said. “Some of my relationships go back to me playing high school for some of these same coaches.”
During his research on the Holmdel job, he continually was told of a great deal of splintering going on when it came to retaining the talent in town. He knows that in today’s day and age when programs are not successful people are not going to be happy and will be very fast to jump ship and go somewhere else. He knew if he accepted the job in order for him to succeed he would have to keep Holmdel players home.
LaCava wants to instill in them the desire to play at the youth levels in Holmdel and then move to the high school to continue the Hornets’ tradition.
“I know this won’t happen overnight, but I want the kids to want to be part of the change and not against the change,’’ he said. “We have to treat the kids right and do things the right way, and hopefully this will show up down the road in wins and losses.”
The players are excited and are anxious to be part of it.
“We want to be remembered as the class that started the change,” senior Will Van Name said. “The coaches are taking us down a different path, and we are looking to change the program.”
LaCava feels that Holmdel is not much different from the Colts Neck program he took over six years ago. His team struggled at first with a 2-8 record, but five years later, the Cougars won a school-record 10 games and played in their program’s only state final.
He is installing his multiple pro offense and has a solid building block in junior quarterback Aneesh Agrawal, whose 1,611 yards passing last year is the third-highest total of any returning signal-caller in the Shore Conference. Agrawal is ready to accept all challenges the new staff will throw at him.
“We are trying to build a program not just a team,’’ he said.
Pushing Agrawal for snaps at quarterback is talented sophomore Johnny O’Beirne, who is pushing to get on the field at several positions. Senior fullback Matt Nuzzi also returns to the Hornet backfield and will share some carries with senior Adnan Bashir. The tailback position is being contested between senior Dante Bergamotto and junior Tristan Wong.
The spread offense will give two returning seniors a chance to shine with Walier and Van Name leading the wide receivers. Also hoping to get on the field are O’Beirne and junior David Noor. The competition at the ‘Y’ receiver position is between juniors Nick Harris, Matt Brady and Giacomo Currieri.
Senior Christian Tascione will lead the revamped offensive line from his left tackle position and has Division I potential, according to LaCava. Junior John Slotwinski is hoping to spell Tascione at the tackle spot. Playing alongside Tascione will be senior Ryan Zheng or sophomore Ryan Mackey, and junior Seamus Wood or Mackey will be at center. The right side will feature juniors James Hyde or Matt Brady at guard and senior Dan Graw and Slotwinski at the tackle spot.
The Hornets’ multiple base defense under Tom Letson, who was also LaCava’s defensive coordinator at Colts Neck, will highlight Nuzzi at middle linebacker, who LaCava believes is poised for a strong season. He will be joined by Bergamotto, Bashir and Wong. Working hard in front of them in the middle of the defensive line will be Brady, Wood and senior Steve Nelson. Tascione and Graw will hold down the defensive end spots.
The secondary has five players to fill four spots – Walier, Van Name, O’Beirne, Noor and sophomore Mike Devino, with Wailer looking to play either safety or cornerback after moving over from linebacker. The kicking game will be handled by Jack Cook and Van Name.
For a team that has not had a winning season since 2007, this senior class is hoping to be the ones that turns things around and finally creates the foundation of a consistently competitive program.
Head coach: Greg LaCava, first season (11th overall)
Career record: 44-60.
Assistant coaches: Tom Letson (def. coord.); Jack Nascimento (RB/LB); Matt Walsh (WR/DB/spec. teams); John Power (OL); John Andl (QB); Joe Murphy (OL/spec. teams); Abby Letson (kickers); Colin Hart, Brendan Quinn (freshman); Shannon Davis (athletic trainer).
Big Shoes to Fill: Matt Nuzzi, Sr., LB
Nuzzi will take over as the leader of the linebacking corps for graduated star Frank Condito, who was a four-year starter and the team’s top defensive player.
X-factor: Adjustment to the new coaches
This is the third head coach in three years for Holmdel and a whole new staff with new offensive and defensive schemes, so how quickly they adjust to all the change will determine how much they can improve.
Impact Player: Johnny O’Beirne, So., QB/WR/DB
O’Beirne will see time as a sophomore, most likely at multiple positions, and should be an immediate factor.
Glue Guy: Chris Tascione, Sr., OL/DL
Tascione is Holmdel’s proverbial “coach on the field” and has helped set the up-tempo tone in practice on both sides of the ball.
Pivotal game: Sept. 11 at home vs. Monmouth
The new-look Hornets make their debut against a team they had on the ropes last year before a late comeback by the Falcons. A season-opening win here would be a huge confidence-booster.