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The Shore Conference did Holmdel High School no favors when it announced the realignment for the 2021 season. The Group 3 Hornets were placed in the Colonial Division with two Group 5 schools (Southern and Manalapan) and a pair of Group 4 programs (Jackson Memorial and Middletown South). Is being in the second of the Shore’s eight divisions based on factors including recent success and school size a penalty or a reward? In the case of the Hornets, it might be a little of both.

Holmdel was a perennial doormat for years going 18-61 from 2008-2015. Enter Jeff Rainess, who took over beginning in 2016, a season in which they went 2-8. However, since then the Hornets have put together four consecutive winning seasons (26-11) including a 6-1 record during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign which culminated with a win over Manasquan in the season finale and a No. 9 finish in the Shore Sports Network/Jeep Store Final Top 10. The move up among Shore Conference elite is overall a compliment for the program but presents a host of challenges this fall, especially with the graduation of many of their top players. That group included Shore Sports Network All-Shore first-team offensive lineman Joey Mancino and third-team selection Christian Donnelly, who did an outstanding job running the Hornets’ triple-option attack from under center.

Jaden Gallo (11), Luke Dupont (20), Jared Battaglia (12), Thomas Sardo (27), Gavin Raheb (7) and John Fanzini (2). Photo by Richard O'Donnell.

However, despite returning just seven starters (three on offense and four on defense) there is talent starting with senior running back Jaden Gallo, who ran for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and was a second-team All-Shore selection. Taking over at quarterback will be Jared Battaglia, who saw action as both a sophomore and junior. The 5-foot-8, 150-pound senior ran for 79 yards last season and also completed 4 of 6 passes for 53 yards for a team that threw the ball just 24 times all season. The biggest question mark will likely be an offensive line that lost all their starters to graduation. Back is tight end Gavin Raheb and at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds will be counted on to provide strong blocking for Gallo and the other running backs.

There is little question as to the leader on defense and that is returning first-team All-Shore inside linebacker Thomas Sardo, who had 73 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble for a group that allowed just over 11 points per game. Raheb returns as a starter at defensive end and other returning defensive veterans include safety Luke DuPont and Battaglia, who like Gallo will see time at cornerback.

Connor Mendini made 18 of 21 extra points last season and his only field goal try (22 yards) as a freshman and will handle both kicking and punting chores.

 

At a Glance

Projected starters (RS=returning starter)

Offense: Triple Option

QB: Jared Battaglia, Sr. (RS part time)

RB: Jaden Gallo, Sr. RS; Luke DuPont, Sr.; Tim Haggerty, Jr.

WR: Nick DiBlasi, Sr.; Trey Tulenko, Jr.; Matt Tempone, So.; Anthony Setteducate, So.

TE: Gavin Raheb, Sr RS.; Louis Ambrosio, Sr.; Simon Fidalgo, Jr.

LT: Marc Dietz, Jr.; Dante Calcaterra, So.

LG: Jack Podesta, Jr.

C:  Liam Hansen, Jr./Ryan Hammer, Jr./Scott Gilbert, Jr.

RG: Casey Brew, So.

RT: Jon Kim, Sr.

Defense: Multiple

DE: Gavin Raheb, Sr. RS

DT: Marc Dietz, Jr.

DE: Jack Podesta, Sr.

OLB: John Steele, Jr.

OLB: John Fanzini, Sr.

OLB: Tim Haggerty, Jr.

ILB: Thomas Sardo, Sr. RS

CB: Jaden Gallo, Sr./Jared Battaglia, Sr., RS

CB: Malik Tasker, So.

SS: Luke DuPont, Sr. RS; Brayden Savage, So.

FS: Louis Ambrosio, Sr.

Special teams

K/P: Connor Mendini, So.

 

STAFF

Head Coach: Jeff Rainess, 6th year

Career Record: 28-19

Team record last five years:

2020: 6-1

2019: 6-4

2018: 8-2

2017: 6-4

2016: 2-8

Assistant coaches: John T. Principe (Asst. Head Coach, Defensive Coordinator/LB); John Kaye (QB/RB); Drew Piscatelli (WR); Mike Dorsi (DL); Charlie Marsh (DB); Steve Leo (P/K); David Sherman (Quality Control); Thomas Manning (Strength & Conditioning); Colin Hart & Scott Cannon (Freshman); Jeff Scenna (Athletic Trainer).

 

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Offensive Line

Replacing five seniors from a group that helped the run-heavy Hornets pile up nearly 2,500 yards on the ground in just seven games will be a huge challenge. How quickly players like Podesta, Calcaterra, Brew, Kim and Raheb come together will be the key to Holmdel’s success against bigger and stronger opponents than they have faced in the past.

 

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jaden Gallo, Sr., RB/DB

Gallo will be one of the top returning running backs in the Shore but he won’t have the experienced hogs up front like he did last year to lead the way. Opposing defenses will focus on stopping him so how he handles being a marked man is something to watch.

 

X-FACTOR #1: Jared Battaglia, Sr., QB/DB

After being a part-time starter as both a sophomore and junior it’s Battaglia’s time to run the show and spearhead the triple-option attack.

 

X-FACTOR #2: A Daunting Schedule

When you realign 42 teams there are some that will not be happy and if any team has a legit complaint it’s Holmdel. Yes, they have had four straight winning seasons but they are a small Group 3 school taking a huge leap being in a division with the likes of Southern, Manalapan, Middletown South and Jackson Memorial. Just three years ago their schedule included the likes of Keansburg, Keyport, Asbury Park and Point Beach when they were part of the small-school National Division. I guess it’s the price you pay for success but it’s tough to see the Hornets repeating their recent winning ways.

 

Season Schedule

Thursday, Sept. 2 – St. Joseph by the Sea (NY), 6 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 10 – at Middletown South, 7pm

Friday, Sept. 17 – at Manalapan, 7pm

Friday, Sept. 24 – at Southern, 7pm

Friday, Oct. 1 – Jackson Memorial, 7pm

Friday, Oct. 15 – at Raritan, 7pm

 

 

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