2015 Rumson Football Preview: Staying On Top
Rumson-Fair Haven made history by winning back-to-back state titles for the first time when it beat Delaware Valley 21-0 to capture its second straight Central Jersey Group II championship last fall.
Third-year head coach Bryan Batchler knows how to deal with the expectations of following up a championship season considering he already went through it last year and made sure there was no letdown. No Bulldogs team has ever gone 12-0, so there is still plenty of history for this year’s group to chase in addition to defending their crown.
“We’re always trying to get better,” Batchler said. “We have two goals right now, to go 1-0 and beat Matawan, and to go 1-0 in December.”
Replacing the school’s all-time leading rusher, Princeton recruit Charlie Volker, will be no easy task after Volker rushed for 1,441 yards and 18 touchdowns on 191 attempts last year on the heels of a 2,000-yard season as a junior. However, the new running back tandem has the chance to keep the production at a peak level.
“People think I’m crazy to say we could be better than last year, but I think we could be as good as we were in 2013,” Batchler said. “Matt Vecchiarelli ran last year in Charlie’s absence (due to injury) vs. St. John Vianney. Bryan Hess is a lacrosse commit to Lafayette and a really good athlete. Lachlan Hull, who started last year at receiver for us, is going to get carries, so by committee we think we can be really good.”
The Bulldogs have the talent to once again compete with a tough schedule, which Batchler acknowledges is the reason to focus on getting better.
“There’s a great mix of juniors that are going to play,” said Batchler. “When they were freshmen I sent them to (state power) Paramus Catholic to play a game and they beat them 21-8. They scrimmaged DePaul Catholic and won by 30 and beat RBC’s freshmen 43-0. These juniors are very, very talented. I’d put them up against anybody in the state, they’re that good.”
One of those juniors is quarterback Mike O’Connor, who rushed for 912 yards and 11 touchdowns on 138 attempts and went 28-57 (49 percent) passing with 485 yards and 7 touchdowns last season. O’Connor looks to improve on those numbers after helping the Bulldogs win a championship in his first year as the starter. He also has a potentially game-breaking target in 6-foot-6 sophomore receiver Elijah McAllister, who already has an offer from Temple.
“Were just trying to get back to another state championship,” said O’Connor. “We are really strong this year and have a nice balance through the pass game and the run game.”
The Bulldogs averaged 27.9 points per game last season, while allowing an average of 13.6 points per game. They have five starters returning on offense and eight on the defensive side this season.
One big piece of the defensive unit is senior captain Max Pfrang, a linebacker whom Batchler says is the glue that keeps the team together.
“When he was healthy at the end of last year he was just killer, “ Batchler said. “He had 75 tackles as a sophomore, another 75 as a junior, and he’s a leader for us.”
The Bulldogs showed resilience during their second-place finish in Class A Central last season, fighting back from consecutive losses to division champion St. John Vianney and state semifinalist Long Branch without Volker in the lineup to repeat as state champs.
“We go on the attack, and we’re pretty aggressive as a team,” Pfrang said. “We don’t wait for stuff to happen, we attack at everything we do.”
The defense is a weapon the Bulldogs aim to use to their advantage despite the graduation of standouts Tucker Briggs and Sam Eisenstadt. Leading the way this year is Pfrang and junior linebacker Mike Ruane, who had 100 tackles last year as a sophomore, along with James Melia as the other linebacker to form the backbone of the defense in Rumson’s 4-3 scheme.
Butchy Clarke, Matt Waters, and Liam Adams will look to play significant roles on the defensive line, with Ian Clarke and Jack Woods in the rotation at defensive end. Senior cornerbacks Mike Caruso and Griffin Schultz and junior safety Mike Murdock anchor the secondary, where juniors Pat Russo and Emmett Jennings are battling for the other safety spot.
“Our goal defensively is to shut everyone out, play smart defense, and play team defense,” Pfrang said.
“We have a really talented team,” said senior A.J. Kelly, who will get reps at center. “I’m just looking forward to it all coming together.”
Vecchiarelli will see most of the carries out of the backfield in Rumson’s multiple pro offense after showing flashes of explosiveness in filling in for Volker last year.
“Matt Vecchiarelli is a kid I think could make an impact,” Batchler said. “All you need to know about Matt is he’s a confident kid that I would expect to do big things.”
Up front, senior Brian Lawless and sophomore Justin Johnson are competing for the left guard spot, and sophomore Nate Raphan will start at right tackle. Thomas Chapin will handle the punting duties but may also see time at kicker with Jack Talhami.
The Bulldogs would also like to get some revenge on new Thanksgiving rival Shore Regional after losing the inaugural “Devil-Dawg Bowl” to the Blue Devils last season.
“We did not like going there and losing last year,” Batchler said. “We will be geared up and ready to go for that game. “
Head coach: Bryan Batchler, 3rd season
Career record: 20-4.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Matt Vecchiarelli, Jr., RB
Vecchiarelli has one of the more daunting tasks of any player in the Shore in replacing Rumson’s all-time leading rusher, Princeton recruit Charlie Volker, who ran for more than 3,000 yards combined the last two seasons. Vecchiarelli is a player who is hungry and ready for the challenge to prove he is a standout running back.
X-FACTOR: Running Backs
Vecchiarelli, Bryan Hess, and Lachlan Hull will be getting most of the carries at running back and if they play up to their potential, it could make Rumson a formidable offense with Mike O’Connor also a running threat and an improved passer.
GLUE GUY: Max Pfrang, Sr., LB
A team captain and important part of the linebacking corps, Pfrang is a 3-year starter who has played a key role on two state championship teams.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Elijah McAllister, So., WR/DE
McAllister is 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds and could make big things happen by going after the quarterback on defense and as a big target for Mike O’Connor downfield. He was the center as a freshman on the Bulldogs’ basketball team that won the Shore Conference Tournament last season and has impressed the football coaches with his leadership, skill, and ability. He already boasts a scholarship offer from Temple for football.
PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 2 at St. John Vianney.
After losing 35-28 to the Lancers in Week Three last season in a game that ultimately decided the Class A Central titles, the Bulldogs avenge that loss against another loaded St. John Vianney squad to make a run at the division crown.