The schedule is daunting, a move up in class predicated on the accomplishments of a year ago thrusts Holmdel into the Liberty Division alongside the likes of Manasquan, Red Bank and Donovan Catholic. Inexperience is prevalent, the fall out of 20 seniors graduating in June.

Sound like built-in excuses for the Hornets? To the contrary, these are merely the hurdles that must be cleared by a group that’s already heard the overtures cast by outsiders suggesting a potential fall from grace. As for the doubters, continue to lob the skepticism their way. A close-knit group considers them insults, collecting the jabs like firewood used to fan an intense flame of incentive.

Before making the mistake of writing off Holmdel, be sure to understand things have changed dramatically. Jeff Rainess, the Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year in ’18, has altered the culture and established stability, evidence by an 8-2 performance last fall that ended with a semifinal loss to Somerville in the Central Jersey, Group 3 playoffs. Prior to his arrival, the head-coaching position was a brief turnstile, with two different regimes in successive years before Rainess steadied the course in 2016.

Now, on the eve of his fourth season at the helm, his principles and expectations are firmly rooted and adhered to, the footing on which a level of sustainability has been built, something the cast is determined to prove. So, think twice before casting those shadows of doubt.

“The culture was broken,” Rainess said. “But, those kids (from the Class of ’19) laid the foundation. Now, this group knows how to practice and give great effort. They understand Friday nights are won and lost long before you take the field. They hold themselves accountable. It’s a lunch-pail type of group and that’s becoming more and more a part of our DNA. They’ve bought into being workman like. ”

From left to right: John Tomasulo, ???. Joe D'Acunto, Cameron LaMountain and Ryan Jennings of Holmdel.
From left to right: John Tomasulo, Evan Jennings. Joe D'Acunto, Cameron LaMountain and Ryan Jennings of Holmdel.

Player to Watch: Cam LaMountain (Sr. RB 5-10, 185)

LaMountain ripped off 708 rushing yards on 84 hauls and scored six times a year ago…as the secondary option behind lead back Dean Gallo in the option. Just imagine what he’s capable of doing in a feature role. He thrives within the deception of the triple-option, hits a hole with purpose and finishes runs with authority. The running game is a staple for the Hornets and LaMountain is equipped to shoulder the assignment.

“He had a great off season,” Rainess said. “He worked in the weight room and speed training. He understands what we do so well from a technical standpoint.���

Players to Watch, Part II: Joe Mancino (Jr. RT 6-2, 290) and Matt Reddington (Sr. RG 6-2, 230)

Execution of the triple-option has to be perfect but holes still have to be manufactured up front. These two big fellas, along with junior left tackle Gary Alaimo (6-1, 290), junior left guard Nick Iulo (5-9, 240), junior center Joe Hammer (5-9, 200) and senior tight ends Quinn Pavlinetz (6-1, 225) and Bob Eknoian (6-0, 170) will be amongst the pavers smoothing paths for those who dart out from behind them.

Player Under the Radar:  Quinn Pavlinetz (Sr. TE/DE 6-1, 225)

Good size and an ability to make a seamless transition across the line of scrimmage speaks to how invaluable Pavlinetz will be in the plans. His endurance and relentless style is exactly why he’ll be a two-way starter.

Player Under the Radar, Part II: Joe D’Acunto (Sr. OLB 5-11, 185)

Playing in the shadow of MLB Brandon Saghafi last year, D’Acunto is ready to cast some shade of his own on opponents. He sticks his nose in fearlessly to a tackle and his quick reads and reactions will point fellow defenders straight to the ball.

Top Unit: Defense

Rainess likes what he sees from his defense, which boasts collective quickness both afoot and in deciphering what is unfolding in front of it. Pavlinetz, Ekonian and Iulo team with junior defensive tackle Karim Tehlikian (5-11, 2-5) across an even front with senior Nick Bauman (5-9, 185) and D’Acunto flanking sophomore inside linebacker Tom Sardo in the second level. The secondary offers senior Ryan Jennings (5-8, 155) and junior Myles Day (6-2, 165) at the corners and junior Christian Donnelly (6-0, 180), senior Evan Jennings (5-8, 165) and Tomasulo looming at the safeties, giving revered defensive coordinator John Principe plenty to work with.

“Our overall speed is pretty good and they have a good grasp of Principe’s system,” noted Rainess. “They don’t want to take a step backwards.”

This corps has a tough act to follow. Last fall, Holmdel topped the Shore Conference, yielding a paltry 7.9 points a contest.

Holmdel will be successful if…

The Hornets can set a definitive tone from the outset. Rainess can’t stress enough how imperative early wins will be for the Hornets.

“This team is already sick of hearing how they can’t win because all the seniors graduated,” he said. “They are determined to not fall back to old Holmdel standards. We have to go out and compete and do our thing. I expect our kids to battle in every game against a schedule that’s much harder than last year.”

And, that schedule does Holmdel no favors out of the gate. It opens on the road at Shore before hosting Donovan Catholic in a Week 3 showdown and traveling to Red Bank on Sept. 27.

Notable Addition

A familiar face joins the coaching staff at Holmdel. John Kaye, who stepped down at Matawan at the end of 2018 after seven years guiding the Huskies, including a 63-51-1 mark and a Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional crown in 2014, hops aboard as the an assistant overseeing running backs and quarterbacks.

“He’s a great guy,” said Rainess. “I knew offensively, having a guy with 35 years of experience was a huge win for us. He’s never coached option football, but he notices little details that will help us out.”

Don’t be surprised if….

The offensive line gels quickly. Graduation may have taken its biggest toll along the line of scrimmage, where the Hornets lost four out of the seven players who comprised its heavy formation and were key components in a ground game that chewed up yards and controlled the clock. However, there is plenty of size as well as potential residing within the new bunch. How fast they mesh together and develop the unity necessary to dominate the point of contact could be a determining factor in how effective Holmdel is at its signature route of attack – running the football.


HEAD COACH: Jeff Rainess, 4th season


2018 RECORD: 8-2 (6-0 in National Division)


John Principe (Def. Coordinator)

Mike Dorsi (DL)

John Gazerwitz (DB)

Drew Piscatelli (WR)

John Kaye (RB, QB)

Colin Hart (Freshmen)

Jay Graham (Freshmen)

OFFENSE: Triple Option

DEFENSE: Multiple

BIG SHOES TO FILL: John Tomasulo (Sr. QB/FS)

Shoes to fill? Try two significant pairs, one on each side of the ball. Tomasulo takes over the reins of the triple-option, following in the footsteps of Jeff DeCicco, while on defense, he has the unenviable task of replacing Mac Byrne, the National Division Defensive Player of the Year and a First Team SSN All-Shore selection, at free safety.

X-FACTOR: Chip on the Shoulder Pads

Holmdel graduated 20 seniors integral to its 8-2 showing, that included a 6-0 march in the National Division and run to the semifinals of Central Jersey, Group 3 last fall. However, there are five returning starters on offense, six on defense and a bunch of guys fed up with hearing about how the program will suffer a drop off thanks to the heavy departures. The Hornets still pack a sting and can’t wait to administer it upon doubters.

IMPACT NEWCOMERS: Christian Donnelly (Jr. WR/SS)

Donnelly embodies everything the Hornets look for in regards to his dual roles. Rugged and physical, he’ll disengage contact at the outset of a route while being determined to deny counterparts the same luxury coming across the middle as the nickel back. Senior RB Tommy Amiratti and senior CB Ryan Jennings also will have big roles and are warrant monitoring.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 20 vs. Donovan Catholic

Arguably the Hornets’ signature win of the 2018, a 21-11 victory over the Griffins signaled their rise to prominence. It also went a long way toward Holmdel securing the National Division title. This fall, both move up to the Liberty Division and renew acquaintances in Week 2.

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