Rebels Return to Their Roots: 2021 Howell High School Football Preview
Bill Hill has been a lot of things in his near-half-century in Shore Conference athletics and this season, he gets to add a line to his decorated resume: head coach at this alma mater.
Hill starred for Howell in the 1970’s and played both football and baseball professionally before going into coaching. His two head coaching stops were three seasons at Toms River South and one at Asbury Park, but now, following a season as the Howell defensive coordinator, Hill is running the program where it all started for him.
“To have played at Howell and then to come back 45 years later as the head coach, it’s pretty great,” Hill said. “I came on as the defensive coordinator last year and there was an expectation that in a few years, I might have an opportunity to be the head coach and I think being around the program and the administration every day gave them a chance to see what I’m about. It’s an exciting opportunity, we have a great coaching staff and we’re looking forward to the season.”
The Rebels were 2-4 a season ago under Frank Edgerly and although the head coach is new, there is continuity in the staff to help this year’s group continue to progress. Bob Generelli returns as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach and as a coach who has won state titles at both Middletown South and Raritan, he is a major asset for Hill in his first season as Howell head coach.
“We talk a lot about game-planning and whenever Bobby says something, you pay attention,” Hill said. “He has an incredible amount of coaching knowledge and experience and it’s great to see the kids responding to him and really the entire staff.”
On the field, the Rebels will have some talent to replace, but there will be some experience sprinkled throughout the field and the offensive line remains almost entirely intact relative to 2020. All that leads to an air of optimism among the Rebels, who have gone 4-22 since their 9-2 2017 season.
Howell at a Glance
Offense: Multiple I/Spread
QB: Stephen Jardim, Sr.; Jack Gartenstein, Jr.; Egan Nelms, So.
RB: Conner Gordon, Sr.; Luke Donton, Sr.; Brandon Wright, So.
WR: Jack Gartenstein, Jr.
WR: Nick Vecchiarelli, Sr., RS; Christian Fontes, Sr.
WR: John Vecchiarelli, Jr.; Kevin Maloney, So.
TE: Vince Hartman; Damian Padilla, Jr.; DeClan Flaherty
LT: Mike Mitchell, Sr., RS
LG: Matt Ionnides, Sr., RS
C: Riley Johnston, Jr.
RG: Jackson Floyd, Sr., RS
RT: Stanley Federovitch, Sr., RS
Defense: 30/40 Front
DE: Matt Ionnides, Sr., RS; Brian Larson, Sr.
DT: Thomas Richards, Jr.; Rich Diab, Jr.; Xavier Hendriques, Sr.
DE: Seven Miller, Jr.; Mike Mitchell, Sr.
OLB: Vince Hoffman, Sr.; Robert Owen, Jr.
ILB: Sam Mele, Jr.
ILB: Ray DeFrancesco, So.
OLB: Jackson Floyd, Jr.; Jason DiMichele
CB: Luke Dalton, Sr.
CB: Jack Mascali, Sr.; John Vecchiarelli, Jr.
SS: Conner Gordon, Jr.; Jack Gartenstein, Jr.
FS: Nick Vecchiarelli, Sr.
K: Christian Fontes, Sr., RS
P: Christian Fontes, Sr.
Head Coach: Bill Hill, first season
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Bob Generelli (Sr. Off. Assistant/OL), Bill Hill Jr. (Def. Coord./OLB/WR), Adam Sacco (DL/OL), Ed Morales (RB/ILB), Dave Jimerson (DB), Larry Paslak (Freshman), Nick Ferrar (Freshman Assistant), Amy Ghione (Athletic Trainer)
Offense: Multiple I/Spread
Defense: 30/40 Front
Player to Watch: Nick Vecchiarelli, Sr., WR/FS
Vecchiarelli and classmate Matt Ionnides are the two returning seniors who started for the bulk of the 2020 season and the two will be instrumental in leading day-to-day. Vecchiarelli has delivered early on, according to Hill, and the senior is giving off the impression that he will be a major player in the secondary and at wide receiver both within the team and among other standouts at the Shore.
“He is a good athlete who was a starter last year and there really isn’t much he can’t do,” Hill said. “He catches the ball well, he is a good athlete, he can play anywhere in the secondary and even handle all the linebacker spots.”
Players Under the Radar: Jack Gartenstein, Jr., WR/DB
Howell will hope to unleash the passing game this year with Steven Jardim running the show at quarterback and both Nick and John Vecchiarelli among the wide receivers, but the key to the attack could be Gartenstein. The junior is a versatile player who can operate out wide or inside and will also be in the mix to play in the secondary. He is also the backup quarterback and a name to watch at the position looking ahead to 2022.
Impact Newcomer: Ray DeFrancesco, So., ILB
Along with wide receiver Kevin Maloney, DeFrancesco is one of two projected sophomore starters for Howell and it will be an inside linebacker spot where DeFrancesco makes his impact. Howell graduated one of the Shore’s better linebacker tandems in Nick Cerulli and Hunter Lino, so the Rebels will be counting on DeFrancesco to slide into one of those spots and produce right away.
Top Position Group: Offensive Line
While the Rebels figure out how to situate themselves at the skill positions and with their new linebackers, they can take solace in the fact that the offensive line is loaded with experience. All five players got a chance to play in 2020, with seniors Mike Mitchell, Stanley Federovitch (tackles), Matt Ionnides and Jackson Floyd (guards) returning as starters and junior Riley Johnston seeing time at center.
“In my opinion, the line of scrimmage has always been the biggest thing when you talk about winning games,” Hill said. “You have to be able to at least maintain it and the more you can control it, the better chance you have. The fact that we have some experience and some ability on the line should give us a good chance to compete with every team on our schedule.”
Big Shoes to Fill: Conner Gordon (Sr., RB) and Sam Mele (Jr., ILB)
Cerulli was the top player for Howell last season with his 79 tackles and 5 ½ sacks on defense and bruising running style on offense. It will be a two-pronged effort to replace that production, with Gordon emerging as the leading candidate for the starting running back job.
“Gordon is a really good running back,” Hill said. “He can have a breakout season.”
On the other side, Mele joins DeFrancesco at inside linebacker and has the more experienced player, the majority of the responsibility in replacing Cerulli’s leadership and production will go to him – at least at the outset of the season.
“The sophomores are making plays so far, so we feel good about putting them out there,” Hill said.
Stephen Jardim started the final game of Howell’s 2020 season and threw for more than 300 yards in a 49-0 win over Immaculata. While he does not have a whole lot of experience, Jardim has shown in both his small sample last year and as the starter during camp this year that he is ready to lead the offense and author some big plays in the passing game.
“He has really stood out so far,” Hill said. “He understands the game, he understands his job and he understands what everybody else is doing.”
Thursday, Sept. 2 vs. Brick Memorial, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 at Brick, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24 vs. Middletown North, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 at Lacey, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 9 at Marlboro, Noon
Friday, Oct. 15 vs. Freehold Twp., 6:30 p.m.