Rockets football looking to bounce back in ’08

first_img BY DOUG McKENZIE Correspondent “Myself included,” admitted head coach Bob Generelli, who boasts an impressive career 95-43-2 mark at Raritan. “But I really think it was just a matter of this team growing up and taking its lumps last year.”With a number of underclassmen starting on both sides of the ball a year ago, Raritan lost the majority of its games as a result of a lack of experience, rather than a lack of talent. The Rockets still have a similar caliber of players than they had when they made three straight NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II final appearances prior to last year.”A lot of the games we lost last year were to very good teams, state-tournamentcaliber teams (Freehold Borough, Rumson- Fair Haven, Manasquan, Keansburg and Point Boro, among others),” Generelli said. “We were in a lot of those games, but against some of the more high-powered offenses, we just struggled to score enough points to keep up with them.”The result was the type of rebuilding season that most teams undergo every once in a while. Only at Raritan, the expectations are higher. To a coach and to a player, the Rockets expect to be considered one of the top programs in the Shore every year.This season, they expect to prove that they belong in that elite category once again.”We’re eager to get the respect back,” Generelli said. “There seems to be a sense of urgency with the players, a little bit more focus. I think these kids were stung by the 2- 8 record because it was uncharted waters for us.”Through the preseason, Raritan looked more like the championship-level teams of the past, and less like last year’s version.”We have looked much improved so far,” the coach said. “I think some of the nine sophomores we started last year have really stepped up. But we still have a lot of work to do. I will say that what we’ve seen this preseason has been very encouraging.”I think we’re really starting to develop some good team chemistry, which will be very important moving forward. The key, as always, is to stay healthy.”Injuries played a huge role in last season’s struggles, as Raritan lost its starting quarterback, Brian Kalarjian, who suffered a foot injury in the season opener that plagued him all season, while his backup, Mark Stancati, broke his collarbone shortly thereafter.A number of other injuries to key players left the Rockets’ depth in question, and it came back to burn them on a number of occasions.This year’s Rocket offense has a number of capable playmakers, led by starting tailback Jesse Raymond, a junior, and his backfield mate Jerome Dean, a senior fullback. Anthony DiNardo and Bennett Jackson are also expected to get some carries in Raritan’s multiple attack.Stancati returns at quarterback, where he boasts a good arm and mobility. However, last year’s injury robbed him of some valuable experience, so he will be learning under fire a bit this year.Among targets for Stancati in passing downs will be Jackson and senior Chris VanFechtmann, as well as senior Brian Schmeer, senior Brett Bodner and sophomore Tim Pizanie.Stancati will also frequently look for junior Matt Facendo, a big tight end with good hands, who is also the team’s punter.Raritan will need some improved play from its offensive line, which is anchored by two returning starters — junior right guard Dan Gibson and senior center Nick Hungerford. They will be joined this year by senior Nick Sparacello at right tackle, junior Brendan Costelo at left tackle and junior Carlo Caponetta at right guard.As the Rockets get ready for the postseason, the offense remains a bit of a question mark for the head coach, though Generelli has been pleased with what he’sseen.”I think the questions for this team is on the offensive line, which we’re rebuilding, and at quarterback, where we haven’t had a lot of experience,” he said. “Those have been the areas of emphasis thus far.””I think the defense is a little bit ahead of the offense at this point, but in order for us to be successful, it’s got to be a total team effort,” he added.The Raritan defense is a more experienced group, led by a strong defensive line that features seniors Cliff Gabriel and Victor Santos at the defensive end positions, and senior Brian Flynn and Caponetta at the tackle slots.The linebackers in the Rockets’ 4-3 set are seniors Chris Raitano and Dean, along with junior Marc Cogliano.The Rockets’ athletic secondary should also be a strength, as Raymond and junior T.J. Murray will play safety, along with junior Sonny Cogliano and sophomore Anthony Bayer. The corners are Jackson, VanFechtmann, DiNardo and junior Vinnie Yeager.While Raritan certainly faces a tough National Division schedule this year, Generelli is confident that his team is ready to compete for a division title with the likes of Point Boro and Manasquan.”We had to improve in our secondary and on the offensive line, and I think we’ve done that,” he said. “A lot of that is a consequence of these kids getting a year older, being in the weight room in the offseason, being in the system for a year, and really just understanding what’s expected of them. A lot of these guys were thrown into the fire before they were ready, but they certainly learned from that.”While Generelli is not ready to say this team is ready for another run at a state championship, he is certainly prepared to predict a return to the winning ways we’ve grown accustomed to from Raritan.”It’s tough to put a number of wins on this team,” he said. “I think we should be vastly improved, because I do know that we’re a better football team than last year. Whether that translates into more wins remains to be seen.” FILE PHOTO The Raritan High School football team is out to avenge last year’s difficult 2-8 season. The Rockets start their season of redemption Friday night against Mater Dei. As the Raritan High School football team was struggling through a 2-8 season a year ago, fans throughout the Shore Conference football community were left shaking their heads, wondering how a program that had grown so accustomed to success could slip so much in a year. Raritan suffered through numerous injuries a season ago last_img

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