The Hammonton High School football team hopes to turn last year's weakness into this season's strength.
Hammonton struggled defensively last season. Key players got injured. Their replacements were young and inexperienced. The Blue Devils, one of the state's top programs with 30 playoff appearances, finished an uncharacteristic 5-5.
But this season those injured players are back and their replacements are a year older. It's the Blue Devils' last season in the Cape-Atlantic League as they are moving to the West Jersey Football League for the 2014 season.
"We have to improve on our defense from last year," coach Pete Lancetta said. "That wasn't a typical Hammonton team. It's nice to have kids back and some of the guys that were starting last year will be role players this year. We better be playing good defense."
Wide receiver and defensive back Alex Padovani was one of those injured players last season. Padovani fractured his femur in the first game of last season. He returned at the end of the season and caught a touchdown pass as the Blue Devils upset rival St. Joseph 14-6 the night before Thanksgiving.
The 6-foot-3, 201-pound Padovani has verbally committed to Villanova University and is one of the Cape-Atlantic League's top players when healthy. He is also the team's kicker.
"We missed a lot when we lost him," Lancetta said. "When he came he wasn't a 100 percent, and he still had an impact on things."
Senior linebacker Dylan Rosu also missed time last season. Rosu and fellow linebacker Justin Fucetola are expected to spark the defense.
The Blue Devils will rely on veteran offensive and defensive lines. Bob Frederico, a 6-0, 260-pound senior, is a three-year starter.
"It's comforting," Lancetta said of having veteran linemen. "It's not the end all, but it's a nice start. They've seen things before with blitzes and different fronts."
Hammonton graduated several skill position players. Junior Jonathan Triboletti steps in at quarterback.
"He's more of a passer than a runner," Lancetta said of Triboletti. "But he can pull it down and get some yards. But he's always had a strong arm."
In addition to Padovani, the Blue Devils also feature a talented tight end in Dylan Mento.
The 6-0, 203-pound Rosu has not seen much time on offense the past three years, but he will play that side of the ball this season at running back. Rosu even played some quarterback in the preseason.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Coach: Pete Lancetta (25 years, 202-57-2)
League/Group: Cape-Atlantic League American Conference/South Jersey Group IV
Last season's record: 5-5
Playoff appearances: 30
Playoff record: 30-25
2013 Prediction: Spoiler – With Alex Padovani (DB/WR) and linebacker /running back Dylan Rosu, the Blue Devils have the talent to beat anybody on their schedule.
Key game: Nov. 8 vs. Millville – A win at home against Group V Millville could give Hammonton a big boost toward a playoff spot. Millville beat Hammonton 20-14 last season.
Key players: Dylan Rosu, Sr., RB/LB, 6-0, 203; Jonathan Triboletti, Jr., QB, 6-2, 177; Dylan Mento, Jr., TE/DB, 6-4, 210; Gary Deanley, Jr., RB/DB, 5-11, 173; Justin Fucetola, Sr., RB/LB, 5-11, 190; Tyler Armor, Jr., RB/DL, 6-0, 211; Pete Lancetta, Sr., RB, 5-7, 145; Alex Padovani, Sr., WR/DB/K, 6-3, 201; Ben Bevan, Sr., RB/DB, 5-10, 184; Kelvin Rivera, Jr., RB/DB, 5-6, 142; Brandon Beebe, Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 223; Matt Matro, Sr., C/LB, 5-10, 202; Matt Parker, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 244; Brandon Alfonso, Sr., OL/DL, 5-11, 230; Bob Frederico, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 260; Nick Carnesale, Jr., OL/DL, 6-2, 231; Nick Chile, Sr., TE, 6-1, 195; D.J. Maimone, Sr., DB, 5-10, 165.