Championship Mentality: Rumson-Fair Haven 2018 Football Preview
When you’re used to walking off the field as a winner in the final game of the year, it’s pretty easy to get motivated when the feeling of euphoria is replaced by disappointment.
Rumson-Fair Haven was attempting to join Manasquan as the only Shore Conference programs to win five consecutive NJSIAA sectional championships last season, but their quest for history was derailed by Somerville in the Central Jersey Group 3 final. It was a different feeling for the Bulldogs and one they would rather not experience again.
“That was a tough loss last year and I definitely haven’t forgotten about it,” said senior fullback Alex Maldjian. “It’s definitely motivated me. It’s my senior season and talking to the guys who left last year, you don’t want to go out on a loss.”
A 10-2 record and a trip to a state final would qualify as an excellent season for many schools. For the Bulldogs, it’s championship or bust, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s always on our mind,” Maldjian said. “I know I come into work every day thinking I’m here for a state championship. We don’t want to be just good or great. We want to be the best.”
“Our expectation level here is just so high, and there’s a lot of pride in it,” said head coach Jerry Schulte.
Spearheading the Bulldogs in 2018 will be a defense that once again looks to be among the best in the Shore. Last season, Rumson was fifth in the Shore in scoring defense at 13.8 points per game and returns six starters in its 4-2-5 look.
The defensive line is stacked with senior Henry Sullivan, a Second Team All-Shore selection last season, at defensive tackle along with senior Joe Afflitto, another returning starter. Sophomore Von Factor could also see playing time at tackle. Sullivan recorded 95 tackles and seven sacks and Afflitto made 58 tackles with four sacks. Junior Gordon Forsyth returns as a starting defensive end and senior Isaac Vernon takes over as a starter after seeing significant playing time last season. Senior Kenny Rainey will also rotate in at defensive end. Forsyth had 78 tackles last season and Vernon posted three sacks.
“Those guys are beasts,” said senior linebacker Keegan Woods. They just eat up O-linemen.”
“They take on double teams and it frees us up,” added senior linebacker Christian Lanzalotto.
Woods and Lanzalotto are both entering their third year as starting linebackers, and together with a fearsome front make up a formidable unit. Woods was a First Team All-Shore selection last season with a conference-best 155 tackles plus four sacks. Lanzalotto added 95 tackles.
Senior Michael Lizotte is a returning starter at strong safety/outside linebacker and will be joined by senior Ryan Dupree. The cornerbacks are senior Brooks Brennan and junior Drew Frankel and the safety is promising sophomore Ryan Ruane.
“The motivation is there for the defense because giving up that game-winning drive in the last minute of the game in the state championship, we feel like that was on us, the returning starters,” Lanzalotto said. “There’s a lot of motivation to improve.”
Rumson is senior-laden but less experienced on offense where it returns four starters in its multiple pro set. Peter Lucas had a monster senior year last season, rushing for a school-record 2,196 yards and 31 touchdowns, so replacing his production is a herculean task. Junior Pete Crowley saw time last year and will step into a bigger role along with senior Tommy Solano.
Maldjian is the team’s leading rusher after running for 605 yards and 10 touchdowns on an average of 8.3 yards per carry. He’s a three-year starter at fullback and does a little bit of everything.
“We’re one of the few teams that use fullbacks and tight ends, and Alex isn’t there just to be a blocker,” Schulte said. “He’s not a glorified guard. He’s faster than people think, he can catch and he likes to run people over.”
“I take pride in it,” Maldjian said. “I have a feel for different positions, too. I feel I understand my O-line more when I’m blocking for them. I also lost 20 pounds this offseason so I definitely got my speed up. I think I’ll be more effective blocking and running the ball.”
Junior Collin Coles is set to take over as the starting quarterback with sophomore Josh Harmon also working in. Coles takes over for Dan Harby, who was efficient in throwing for 1,148 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Seniors Andrew Lawless and Matt Caldwell will start at wide receiver, and they’ll be joined by 6-foot-5d basketball standout Jackson McCarthy, who decided to come out for the football team as a senior. The main weapon in the passing game is 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior tight end Ian O’Connor, a returning Third Team All-Shore selection, who caught 34 passes for 484 yards and four touchdowns last season.
“If it’s in the air, Ian will catch it somehow,” Schulte said. “He makes some amazing catches and we have the ability to move him around.”
The offensive line is comprised of five seniors, including returning starter Ryan McCann at left tackle and returning starter Evan Davis at left guard. The center will be senior Tim Kelly, the right guard is Ethan Ardolino and the right tackle is Spencer Short.
Davis is also a standout long snapper who is committed to Buffalo and leads the special teams unit. Senior Quinn Doherty will be the kicker and the punter will be either senior Jimmy Hempstead or sophomore Nick Ferrara. Hempstead was the kicker and punter last year so the Bulldogs do have depth in the kicking game.
Rumson will play in what now looks to be the most difficult of the Shore Conference’s new divisions. The Colonial Division features Rumson, St. John Vianney, Brick, Brick Memorial, Middletown North and Freehold. The Bulldogs also have nondivisional games with Red Bank Catholic, Middletown South and Lakewood, giving them a schedule with seven playoff teams from a year ago.
While Rumson’s ultimate goal is to bring home another state championship, they understand the road to get there won’t be easy.
“We always say we want to be 1-0 in September and 1-0 in December, and there’s obviously things that go with that,” Maldjian said. “You have to get everything done in between.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Jerry Schulte, third season (18th overall)
Career record: 78-83-1
2017 record: 10-2 (5-1 in A Central)
Coaching staff: John Corneliusen (off. coordinator/QB); Jeremy Schulte (def. coordinator); Joe Murphy (OL); Chris Quinn (WR); Bill Logrotteria (DL); John Wagner, Jason Lippart, John Belivance, Jerry Gagliano, John Andl, Matt Walsh, Andrew Lamcel; Alex Stein (athletic trainer).
Offense: Multiple pro
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Pete Crowley, Jr., RB and Tommy Solano, Sr., RB
Crowley and Solano will work in concert to take over as the starting running back following the graduation of Peter Lucas, who set a school record with 2,196 yards and 31 touchdowns last season.
X-FACTOR: The offense
Rumson’s offense returns just four starters and will be breaking in new starters at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The defense should be strong again, but the offense needs to be at a high level if Rumson is to remain in championship contention.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Ryan Ruane, So., DB
Ruane is the younger brother of former SSN Defensive Player of the Year and current UMass linebacker Mike Ruane, and steps into a starting role at safety as a sophomore.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 7 vs. St. John Vianney
The two teams played a classic at Rutgers last season with SJV coming out on top to extend its Shore Conference winning streak. The Lancers play RBC in Week 0, so they’ll either be coming in with a 39-game winning streak or eager to rebound after a defeat.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.