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With his team boasting eight new offensive starters and seven more on the defensive side of the ball, Raritan coach Anthony Petruzzi would like the up-and-coming starters to take their cues from returning Rockets senior Luke O’Hea.

Last year, O’Hea was a well-rounded slot back who approached 500 yards both rushing and receiving and jumped into a starting cornerback role late in the year and picked off a pass in his team’s 27-26 loss to Timber Creek in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III first round.

Petruzzi is optimistic he has a team of players like O’Hea, ready to step in and contribute.

“We’ll have a lot of first-time starters but a good amount of them have some in-game experience and familiarity with what we’re asking them to do,” Petruzzi said. “The good thing about having to meet with them remotely and being limited in what we can do on the field is we have had a lot of time to go over our assignments and concepts. We still have to see who can execute it in practice and against another team, but I think the circumstances have led to guys being a little further ahead mentally than we would usually have.

Despite an overhaul to the depth chart at the skill positions and in the secondary, the Rockets are shooting for a winning record for the fifth time in six seasons, or at least a .500 mark for the sixth time in seven years.

Photo by Richard O'Donnell

Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter; 3RS=Third-Year Starter)

Offense: Flex Bone

QB: Ben Hutchins, Jr.; Billy Tigar, So.

RB: Kieran Falzon, So.; Keith Walling, Jr.

Slot: Luke O’Hea, Sr. RS

Slot: Joe Campanella, Jr.; Dan Calicari, So.

WR: Chris Gonzalez, Sr.; Jack Coleman, So.

WR: Robbie Scarola, Jr.; Matt Agar So.

LT: A.J. Fitzsimmons, Sr. RS; Anthony Engels, Jr.

LG: Paul DeFalco, Sr. 3RS

C: Mani Abas, Jr.; Dennis Brown, Sr.

RG: Patrick Gull, Sr.; Jack D’Antonio, So.

RT: Jason Trotta, So.

 

Defense: Multiple

DE: Mani Abas, Jr. RS

DT: Paul DeFalco, Sr. 3RS

DT: Mike Alaimo, Sr.

DE: Jack Yenella, Sr.; Jack Shea, Jr.

OLB: Alex Dekis, Jr.; Jack Coleman, So.

MLB: Angel Marquez, Sr. RS; Matt Agar, So.

OLB: Anthony Bavaro, Jr.; Max Garboski, Jr.

CB: Chris Gonzalez, Sr.; Joe Campanella, Jr.

CB: Robbie Scarola, Jr.; Kieran Falzon, So.

SS: Tyler Ruzzano, Sr.; Dan Maiers, Jr.

FS: Luke O’Hea, Sr.; Dan Calicari, So.

 

Special Teams

K: Ben Hutchins, Jr.

P: Ben Hutchins

 

At a Glance

Head Coach: Anthony Petruzzi, 11th season

Career Record: 45-55

Record Last Five Years:

2019: 5-4

2018: 5-4

2017: 4-6

2016: 6-4

2015: 7-5

Assistant Coaches: Chris Damian (Off. Coordinator), Jeff Struble (QB), Dave Ernst (RB/WR), Matt Dempsey (OL), Jerome Dean (LB), Keith Rescorl (DL), Joe Schroeck (DB), Mike Nunes (Freshman), Nick Buzzo (Strength Conditioning), Nick Sparacello (Freshman), Mike Desocio (Athletic Trainer)

Player to Watch: Angel Marquez, Sr., MLB

Marquez returns as the top returning tackler from last year’s Rockets team and playing alongside now-graduated Dan McCormack, he took advantage of his opportunities to make stops in the middle of the field. This year, he will be the captain in the middle and with his ability to cover the field from sideline to sideline and Raritan’s strong defensive line occupying the opposing offensive line, Marquez should be in for another productive fall.

“We’re expecting to be pretty strong up front and Angel is going to fill the middle,” Petruzzi said. “Last year, he played alongside McCormack and did a nice job making plays. He’s a downhill kid, a smart kid, he can run with tight ends and he’s got the speed to go sideline to sideline.”

Player Under the Radar: Paul DeFalco, Sr. (LG/DT)

The lone three-year starter on the team, DeFalco clears the way as a left guard on the offensive line and clogs the road as a defensive tackle. Raritan has been a 3-4 front in recent years but is more likely to feature 4-3 looks this season, with DeFalco lined up for a more conventional defensive tackle role.

“We’re keeping Paul as a three-technique this year,” Petruzzi said. “He was the nose guard in our 3-4 structure last year and while we’re probably going to have some different looks this year, we’re going to try to give him a chance to do what he does best.”

Impact Newcomer: Kieran Falzon, So. (RB/CB)

With the loss to graduation of some key skill players on offense, Raritan is going to give looks to several players and one of the more exciting prospects is Falzon. O’Hea is the veteran likely to absorb the bulk of the load, but Falzon will get a chance as well and while he is a potential back of the future, he could ascend to feature-back status by the end of 2020.

“He’s a second-year high-school player but he is very physical and has a ton of talent,” Petruzzi said. “He has the speed, he knows where to go and once he gets settled in, we think he’ll be a productive guy for us out of the backfield.”

Top Position Group: Defensive Line

On a team without a lot of returning starters, the Raritan defensive line has some experience back as well as some senior replacements. In addition to DeFalco, junior defensive end Mani Abas is back after starting on the end as a sophomore. Seniors Mike Alaimo and Jack Yenella make up the other side of the line, with Alaimo at tackle and Yenella the other defensive end. Junior Jack Shea will also be part of the rotation and the outside linebackers – juniors Alex Dekis, Anthony Bavarro, Max Garboski and sophomore Jack Coleman – can also double as edge rushers if Raritan shows a three-man front.

Big Shoes to Fill: Luke O’Hea, Sr. (SB/FS)

The reason O’Hea is filling so many big shoes is because Petruzzi already has the trust in him to do so. He’ll jump in as a primary ball-carrier and receiver for a team that is replacing its top rusher (Mike Fiore), receiver (Jaylen Smith) and passer (Steven Caponi) while also moving into a starting cornerback spot as the leader of the secondary after the Rockets graduated Dan Fiore, Kevin Haug, Chris Carton and Smith from last year.

“O’Hea is going to have a much bigger role this year,” Petruzzi said. “We’re going to have a first-year quarterback, regardless of who wins out competition and we’re likely going to be pretty young at the traditional tailback position, so Luke is going to be a leader in the huddle to help those guys out.”

X-Factor: Inexperience

Without a lot of returning starters, Raritan appears to be a year away from being threat to win in the postseason but Petruzzi sees this group as more of a wild card than a project. The new starting group has some age and maturity - senior Chris Gonzalez, for instance, came back out to play football and will make an impact on both sides of the ball - to make up for lack of game experience and the Rockets head coach won’t put it past them to win some tough games this season.

“If we can have a good season (this year), with the juniors and sophomores we’re going to have at the varsity level, I think that could set us up for a really good year next year. We have to figure out some roles before we get going this year but this group has a chance to be pretty competitive against some very good teams on our schedule.”

 

Schedule

Friday, Oct. 2 at Holmdel, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 9 at St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 16 vs. Ocean, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 23 vs. Matawan, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30 vs. Red Bank, 7 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 6 at Red Bank Catholic, 7 p.m.