State Championship aspiration fuels Hillsborough heading into 2021 campaign

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Hillsborough High School defensive back Thomas Amankwaa breaks down the defensive huddle during practice on Aug. 31 in Hillsborough. The Raiders open up the 2021 season on Sept. 2 against Hunterdon Central. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School quarterback Jay Mazuera runs for a first down during practice on Aug. 31 in Hillsborough. Mazuera had 16 touchdown passes last season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School linebacker Tyler Michinard makes a tackle during practice on Aug. 31 in Hillsborough. Michinard led the team in tackles last season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School running back Shayne Powell runs for a first down during practice on Aug. 31 in Hillsborough.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School defensive back Thomas Amankwaa breaks down the defensive huddle during practice on Aug. 31 in Hillsborough. The Raiders open up the 2021 season on Sept. 2 against Hunterdon Central. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School quarterback Jay Mazuera runs for a first down during practice on Aug. 31 in Hillsborough. Mazuera had 16 touchdown passes last season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School linebacker Tyler Michinard makes a tackle during practice on Aug. 31 in Hillsborough. Michinard led the team in tackles last season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School running back Shayne Powell runs for a first down during practice on Aug. 31 in Hillsborough.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

HILLSBOROUGH – The Hillsborough High School football team will suit up in front of its hometown fans on Sept. 2 at Dan A. Noonan Field for its season opener against Hunterdon Central.

Coach Kevin Carty knows his players are excited to kick off the season on their home turf.

After battling through a COVID-19 shortened season in 2020, Carty knows his team “appreciates” the opportunity they have to play a full season this fall and are ready to take advantage of it.

“We’re really excited for this season,” Carty said. “Our guys have been playing really well in the scrimmages. You can see their excitement from the way they’ve been practicing.”

State Championship aspirations are on the minds of the Raiders heading into the 2021 campaign with a loaded group of talent up and down the roster.

The group is led by Division I caliber players Thomas Amankwaa and William Dixon.

Amankwaa electrified the Big Central Football Conference last fall with his tremendous playmaking abilities as a wide receiver, hauling in 32 receptions for 637 yards and nine touchdowns.

The senior was just as impressive on defense at cornerback, racking up three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, six pass deflections, and finished the fall with 21 total tackles.

Amankwaa wants to add more big moments to his highlight reel this season, all of which he hopes will help Hillsborough achieve the No.1 goal of winning a state championship.

“I want to contribute as much as I can in every game,” Amankwaa said. “Hopefully everyone can do their job and trust each other to help us come out on top each week.”

Dixon adds to the list of playmakers Hillsborough has on offense at the tight end position. The University of Akron commit had 12 catches for 253 yards and three touchdowns last season.

He was also the stalwart of the Hillsborough defensive line, leading the team in sacks with five from his defensive end position and finished last season with 39 total tackles, nine of which were tackles for a loss.

“This team has a lot of great guys and we all push each other to make ourselves better,” Dixon said. “We’ve all been working together for a long time and we’re going to go out there and do what we do to win a state ring.”

Amankwaa and Dixon will be receiving passes this season from senior Jay Mazuera, who returns for his second year as Hillsborough’s starting quarterback.

The left-handed slinger showed off his capabilities as a top-notch quarterback last fall, throwing for 1,265 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Mazuera said he is looking forward to building off the success he had last season with the talented playmakers surrounding him on offense.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Mazuera said. “We have a bunch of guys returning. It’s great to be back with all of them. We’re all looking to have a great year.”

The biggest focus for Mazuera this season has been becoming more of a leader, doing his best to help his teammates on and off the field to make this season a great experience for everyone on the team.

“I’m just trying to be the best leader I can be,” Mazuera said. “Be a brother to all my teammates and help them out as best I can.”

Joining Mazuera in the Raiders’ backfield this fall at running back will be a tandem of players led by senior Tyler Michinard, who has made an impact defensively at outside linebacker for Hillsborough the last two seasons.

Michinard led Hillsborough in total tackles last season on defense with 52, 13 of which were tackles for a loss.

Carty believes Michinard will be able to do “a lot” at running back this season for Hillsborough, while also continuing to be a catalyst on the defensive side of the ball.

Senior Andrew Santa Barbara will also see action at running back for the Raiders. Sophomore Shayne Powell is another tailback that could get some carriers during the course of the season, added Carty.

Juniors Shane Donoghue and Kevin Shelton will step into key roles on the outside at wide receiver and on defense in the Raiders’ defensive backfield.

Along with a stellar group of skill players on offense, Hillsborough will also be loaded upfront in the trenches with most of its offensive lineman returning from last season.

Junior Christian Quandt, sophomore Carson Deroner and seniors Ethan McLaughlin and Marc Gulla will anchor an offensive that Carty said should be “solid” this year.

“The offensive line is the most important part of the team,” McLaughlin said. “If you can’t establish the line of scrimmage, all those skill guys can’t do their thing. If we set the line of scrimmage, we have a good chance of winning each game.”

Seniors Sal Volpe and Leo Schiro return on defense as experienced inside linebackers for the Raiders. Sophomore Jonathan Lobelo is also expected to make an impact at linebacker this season after a great showing during the preseason, Carty said.

The season opener against Hunterdon Central is Hillsborough’s first step towards its goals of winning the Big Central Football Conference and then the ultimate prize of capturing the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group V championship.

To start the season off with a victory, Carty knows his team needs to come out ready to play and show that they are a physical team.

“If we play hard and take care of the football, I think we have a really good chance of coming out on top,” Carty said.