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Jeff Rainess was the 2018 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year following an 8-2 season which pretty much shocked the Shore. Holmdel followed that up with a 6-4 season and a second straight trip to the NJSIAA sectional semifinals, which gave Rainess and the Hornets a third straight winning season. That’s pretty significant when you consider prior to that the school had gone nine consecutive years without a winning season. So what has happened at Holmdel?

“The success has come from the kids,” said Rainess, who begins his fifth year as head coach. “We knew the culture was the toughest part about this job and we were very honest with the kids (and the parents) at the beginning. There would be no shortcuts, you have to outwork the old culture and create a lunch pail culture, which not many thought was possible. Now kids know what is expected of them, there is continuity in the staff and system and that’s how we’ve been able to turn the tide.”

Photo by Steve Meyer.
Photo by Steve Meyer.

So should we expect winning seasons year after year at Crawfords Corner Road?  That would be unfair because what Rainess and his staff have done is fairly remarkable. Holmdel has not been blessed with superior athletes and loads of depth. It has built success with those lunch pail guys who fit into the program and style of play. The upside is that once kids get a taste of winning they don’t want to go back into the losing mentality, and after a few years of success that tends to motivate the next generation of players.

Holmdel survived a tremendous rash of injuries to their skill players last season thanks in large part to a solid offensive line which returns three starters and will likely be the largest in school history. Jaden Gallo and AJ DeCicco should get the bulk of the carries in the Hornets' triple-option attack but the big question remains who will be handing off to them. Christian Donnelly and Jared Battaglia both saw action last year out of necessity when Holmdel lost three quarterbacks to injury. While neither will likely throw a lot they do have experienced receivers in Tighe Steineke and Dylan Day.

Stout defense has keyed much of the Hornets' success, and in their six wins last season they gave up just over 10 points a game. That kind of consistent defense makes life easier for their ball-control, time-consuming offense. Anchoring that defense is junior inside linebacker Thomas Sardo, an All-Division choice as a sophomore. While the other starting linebackers are new, there is plenty of experience in the secondary with Steineke, Myles Day, Dylan Day, and Donnelly. The line is in solid shape with the return of starters Nick Iulo and Karim Tehlikian.


At a Glance

Projected starters (RS=returning starter)

Offense: Triple option

QB: Christian Donnelly, Sr. RS or Jared Battaglia, Jr.

RB: Jaden Gallo, Jr.; AJ DeCicco, Sr.; Tighe Steineke, Sr.

WR: Mac Rainess, Sr.; Dylan Day, Sr RS.; Anthony Jaroszewski, Sr.

TE: Karim Tehlikian, Sr.; Matt Perez, Sr.; Gavin Raheb, Jr.

LT: Gary Alaimo, Sr. RS

LG: Nick Iulo, Sr. RS

C: Jake Leroux, Sr. or Mike Umbrino, Sr.

RG: Joe Hammer, Sr. RS

RT: Joe Mancino, Sr. RS

Defense: Multiple  

DL: Karim Tehlikian, Sr. RS

DT: Nick Iulo, Sr. RS

DT: Gavin Raheb, Sr.

OLB: John Fanzini, Jr. or Mac Rainess, Sr.

ILB: Thomas Sardo, Jr. RS

ILB: Joe Hammer, Sr.

Nickel: Luke Dupont, Jr. or Thomas Ilvento, Sr.

CB: Dylan Day, Sr.

CB: Myles Day, Sr. RS

SS: Tighe Steineke, Sr. RS

FS: Christian Donnelly, Sr. RS

Special teams

K: Tim Haggerty, So.

P: Anthony Jaroszewski, Sr.


Head Coach: Jeff Rainess, fifth year

Career Record: 22-18

Team record last five years:

2019:  6-4

2018:  8-2

2017:  6-4

2016:  2-8

2015: 1-8

Assistant coaches:  John Principe (Defensive Coordinator/LB); John Kaye (QB/RB); Drew Piscatelli (WR); Mike Dorsi (DL); Charlie Marsh (DB); Jeff Mahalik (OL/DB); Steve Leo (P/K); Matt Cooney (strength); Colin Hart & Scott Cannon (freshmen); Jeff Scenna (athletic trainer).


Player to Watch: Tommy Sardo, Jr., ILB 

Sardo led the team in tackles as a sophomore with 84, including 10 tackles for loss, and also forced a pair of fumbles. With two new starters at linebacker he will be counted on to once again be a tackling machine and also provide leadership.


Players Under the Radar: Tighe Steineke, Sr., WR/SS and Nick Iulo, Sr., OL/DL 

Both Steineke and Iulo were two-way starters last year and return to the same roles. Rainess believes the pair will gain more and more recognition as the season goes on. They are not necessarily big names outside of Holmdel but are impact performers.


Impact Newcomer: Gavin Raheb, Jr., DL/TE

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Raheb will help fill the void left by the graduated Quinn Pavlinetz, an All-Division selection last year. Raheb will start on defense and also see action as a blocking tight end.


Top position group: Offensive line

Three starters return in bookend tackles Gary Alaimo (6-foot-2, 300) and Joe Mancino (6-foot-3, 300) plus guard Nick Iulo (5-foot-10, 245) which will give the Hornets their biggest offensive line ever once the other positions are defined. Mancino & Alaimo are both getting serious looks from FCS schools.


Big Shoes to Fill: Jaden Gallo, Jr., RB and AJ DeCicco, Sr., RB 

The top three running backs from 2019 have all graduated, including All-Division selection Tommy Ammirati. Gallo and DeCicco both saw action last year and Rainess expects both to make a major impact this season, which will be needed and expected.


X-Factor: Quarterback play 

Christian Donnelly took over at the end of last season when three others got hurt and was the starter in two NJSIAA olayoff games. However, Jared Battaglia also saw action down the stretch and had a couple of big runs in the win over Red Bank after Donnelly was injured.  The two are battling it out to see who will be the starter but both will likely see action in running the Hornets' triple-option attack.


Season Schedule

Friday, Oct. 2 – vs. Raritan, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 9 – at Ocean, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 16 – vs. Red Bank, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 23 – at St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30 – at Matawan, 7 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 6 – vs. Marlboro, 7 p.m. 



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Kevin Williams is the Director of the Shore Sports Network and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @shoresportsman. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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