Head coach Kevin Carty still loves his Hillsborough High School football team, just like he did a month ago, before padded practices even began.
But now Hillsborough just needs to play a real game.
The Raiders will open their 2019 regular season with a Sept. 6 home game against Elizabeth High School.
Then they will play two more home games, against Bridgewater-Raritan High School and Franklin High School, respectively, on Sept. 13 and Sept. 20, before finally hitting the road to battle Hunterdon Central Regional High School on Sept. 27 in Flemington.
Hillsborough has a real chance to get off to a fast start and enjoy a great year. Carty expects a packed house on Sept. 6 in Hillsborough for the opener.
Everyone in town knows these Raiders might be really good in 2019. The team made the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional playoffs last year and returns its best players for 2019.
In workouts through the spring and summer months, the Raiders finished drills and plays and encouraged each other verbally. In padded practices through the back half of August, they did the same. Hillsborough didn’t keep score in its scrimmages, but Carty is confident that his players outscored their opponents.
Even the team’s purported weakness, its offensive line, which lost three starters after the 2018 season, looked strong in the scrimmages, blowing defenders off the ball and opening holes for Hillsborough’s backs.
“It’s looking good,” Carty said. “We’re healthy and the guys are excited.”
Now they just need to win a real game, starting with the Elizabeth showdown on Sept. 6.
“It’s extremely important,” Carty said. “Not a league game but they all count for the playoffs. First game, home game, it’s very significant.”
“The guys have good chemistry and leadership and now we’ll see what happens when the games are for real,” he added.
Fortunately, besides those new linemen, the Raiders already have a bunch of players who have thrived in real, live high school varsity games.
There are three standouts in particular.
Junior running back Sean Levonaitis racked up 933 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in just six games last fall. He recorded 200 or more rushing yards in three of those contests. If he can avoid the injury that costed him a month of games last season, he can become one of the best offensive weapons in New Jersey.
Senior quarterback Tommy Ramsey now has a full season of starting experience under his belt. He was more of a runner in 2018, but he worked on his throwing over the offseason. If he can become a dual threat in 2019, the Raiders will be able to keep defenses off balance with both spread and pro style looks.
Senior center and defensive tackle Jonathan Seaton anchored both Hillsborough lines in 2018, sparking Levonaitis’ breakout season. The 6-2, 280-pound bruiser dropped 20 pounds in the offseason to get more athletic so he can stand out to college scouts. If he develops into a scholarship prospect, Hillsborough will have an even more dynamic anchor on both sides of the ball.
Those are a lot of ifs, but there are always ifs before a new season. And Hillsborough’s ifs seem likely to come true.
It all begins with the Elizabeth game on Sept. 6 in Hillsborough. Hillsborough High started school on Sept. 5, so the students will be fully aware of the game.
“The guys are excited to open at home,” Carty said. “We opened on the road last year.”
“I like these kids,” he added. “They deserve to do well.”