HAZLET – Training camps are in full swing on high school football fields across the Shore Conference in Monmouth and Ocean counties and the players on the Raritan High School squad are trying to make the most of every practice they have during the preseason.
Coach Anthony Petruzzi has instilled in his players the mentality that training camp “isn’t something we have to do, (it’s something) we get to do” as they prepare for the 2021 season.
“We want to make each practice count,” Petruzzi said. “We want to get better each day and climb that one rung on the ladder.”
Raritan is coming off a 6-1 campaign in 2020 that was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. It was the program’s best record since the 2015 Rockets won the Central Jersey Group II state sectional title.
Several players made their mark for the Rockets a year ago, starting with quarterback Ben Hutchins, who threw for 867 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.
Petruzzi said Hutchins has all the tools to be an outstanding quarterback and is growing into a leadership role.
As a sophomore in 2020, tailback Kieran Falzon rushed for 626 yards and nine touchdowns.
Petruzzi called Falzon a “special player” and said the junior can make big plays running or receiving.
Junior Daniel Calicari is expected to be another playmaker for the Rockets. Calicari is a wide receiver and a free safety.
“He is a very talented young man,” Petruzzi said of Calicari. “He’s got range like no other. When he gets the ball in space, he can make people miss.”
Seniors Robby Scarola and Joseph Campanella return at wide receiver on offense and in the secondary on defense.
The defensive front seven is expected to be led by senior linebacker Alex Dekis and senior defensive end Mani Abas.
Senior Jason Trotta is expected to anchor the offensive line. The rest of that unit is still rounding into form with competition continuing for three spots on the line, according to Petruzzi.
As of Aug. 20, Raritan had three two-way players sidelined with injuries: juniors Matthew Agar, Jack Coleman and Joseph Murphy.
Agar is a returning starter who plays wide receiver and linebacker. Petruzzi said he is expected to return before the season opens.
In 2021, Raritan will play in the new Constitution Division with Red Bank Catholic, Red Bank Regional, Ocean Township and Manasquan.
To have a successful season in what appears to be a very competitive division, Petruzzi said his players need to continue to have the hard-working mindset they displayed in 2020.
“Our expectations are going to be set by our work ethic,” Petruzzi said. “We want to make sure these guys understand what made them good. It was about how we did things, not about what we are doing. We just have to keep sharpening the ax every day.”
The Rockets will host the Ocean Township Spartans in the season opener on Sept. 10.
At the end of the day, Petruzzi said, his players will go as far as they can in 2021 based on how they work together as a team on the field.
“Team chemistry is the biggest thing right now. All of the hard work we did in the offseason is not going to come together unless we come together as a team and do the little things right. Until we start playing 11 guys as one on the field, we are not going to be where we want to be,” he said.