Rise to the Challenge: 2023 Raritan Football Preview
Raritan has been one of the Shore Conference’s most consistent football programs of the last 20 years, routinely putting itself in position to contend for division and state sectional championships with a team built in the mold of the blue-collar community it represents.
Just like the rest of the Shore, there have been seasons where the Rockets have had to move on from some of the top players in program history and they still found a way to remain competitive the following season. That is the case this fall for Raritan and 14th-year head coach Anthony Petruzzi.
The Rockets enter the 2023 season off back-to-back sectional finals appearances but without some of the main characters who helped get them there, including All-Shore selections Kieran Falzon, Dan Calicari, and Matt Agar. How the production of those players is collectively replaced and how quickly the new starters assimilate with the veterans will go a long way in determining the Rockets’ success in a new and challenging division.
Raritan runs a Flexbone triple-option offense that operates both under center and out of the shotgun and returns five starters from a unit that was ninth in the Shore averaging 27.5 points per game. Falzon was a massive component the last three years, especially last season when he led the conference with 255 carries and was third with 1,667 yards rushing plus 21 touchdowns. Replacing his production with one player isn’t realistic and certainly isn’t a task that will fall on one specific player.
Senior Logan Goldsberry returns at quarterback after throwing for 720 yards and nine touchdowns last season. He’ll be joined in the backfield by junior running back Matthew Jones and two slot backs, senior returning starter Jayden Craft and junior Xavier Nunez. Craft was an All-Independence Division selection last season. Senior Stephen Moser (6-4, 190) will enter his third year as a starter and will be at receiver along with junior Michael Juarez. Junior Cole Tishler is the tight end.
Two starters return on the offensive line with senior three-year starter Tommy Jeleniewski (6-3, 305) anchoring the unit as the team’s center. Jeleniewski has a scholarship offer from Long Island University and interest from several FCS schools. Joining Jeleniewski as a returning starter is senior right tackle Jaxon Tsap (6-6, 290). The other three spots will also be manned by seniors with Ryder Ruzzano (6-1, 205) at left tackle, Hudson Williams (6-0, 230) at left guard, and Antonio Cardona (5-9, 225) at right guard.
Reserves who could also see time on offense include sophomore running back John Jeleniewski, junior receiver Thomas Koncewicz and senior receiver Shaun Brown, senior slot back Jayden Roberts and junior slot back James Nicholas, junior tight end Jobby Dekis, junior linemen Manny Dalmau and Junior Aponte, and sophomore linemen Matthew Zweidinger, John Linane, and Christian Torino.
Raritan’s multiple-formation defense returns four starters after allowing 22.8 points per game last season. Tommy Jeleniewski is a three-year starter at nose tackle while senior Kyle Walling is also a three-year starter and will be at inside linebacker. Walling recorded 63 tackles last season and is the team’s leading returning tackler.
Along the defensive line with Tommy Jeleniewski are Aponte and senior Ekene Nwafor at defensive end. John Jeleniewski will be next to Walling at inside linebacker while Dekis and junior Jack McGreevy are the outside linebackers. Two starters return in the secondary with Craft at cornerback and senior Logan Acevedo (54 tackles) at safety. Brown is also at cornerback with junior Xavier Nunez at the other safety position.
Providing depth on defense are Williams, senior Ian Calnan, and junior Nathanael Pereira along the defensive line, seniors Stephen Moser and Vincent Campanella at outside linebacker, Tishler and Jones at inside linebacker, and Nichols, Roberts, and Koncewicz in the secondary.
McGreevy will be the team’s kicker and punter and Jeleniewski will handle the long snapping.
Raritan’s season will be challenging with the losses via graduation and because of the increased difficulty of its schedule. After competing with Point Boro, St. John Vianney, Manasquan, Monmouth, and Holmdel last season in the Independence Division, the Rockets will now be in the Colonial Division with Point Boro and Group 4 schools Manalapan, Colts Neck, Long Branch, and Red Bank Regional. The Battle of the Border rivalry game with Holmdel remains on the schedule in addition to nondivisional games with Ocean and powerhouse Middletown South.
At a Glance
Head coach: Anthony Petruzzi, 14th season
Career record: 65-64
2022 record: 8-3
Coaching staff: Chris Damian, Tyler Murphy, Matt Dempsey, Joe Schroeck, Nicholas Mahoney, Michael Nunes (Head Freshmen Coach); Christopher Vurchio, Jonathan Rodriguez, Nicholas Sparacello; Mike Desocio (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 7 – Friday, Oct. 13 vs. Holmdel
The annual meeting between the Rockets and Hornets in the Battle of the Border won’t be a division game but could still be an important contest that decides a playoff spot and/or positioning along with the usual bragging rights.
Player to Watch: Logan Goldsberry, Sr., QB
Goldsberry is one of the team’s veterans and will be asked to provide both production and leadership. He threw for 720 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Impact newcomer: Matthew Jones, Jr., RB
Jones is in line to be Raritan’s starting running back, which is a position that has featured some of the Shore’s most productive rushers over the past 10 years. He could also see time on defense at linebacker.
Big Shoes to Fill: The skill players
Kieran Falzon was a 1,600-yard running back last season and Dan Calicari was a versatile weapon that could be used in multiple positions. The offense will collectively try to balance the workload and attempt to replace that production as a unit.