There’s no doubt that the St. Peter’s Prep is the top high school football team in Hudson County.
The Marauders have held that spot without much competition for the last 13 years and counting. They have not lost a game to a Hudson County opponent since 1999, a stretch of almost 80 contests, an astonishing and quite amazing feat.
Barring a major unforeseeable collapse, the Marauders should occupy the top spot locally once again. There’s enough talent down at Grand and Warren to totally scare away local competition.
However, when it comes to the NJSIAA state playoffs, it’s another story. Ever since winning the school’s third state championship in 2005, the Marauders have fallen prey to a Bergen County power in the Non-Public Group 4 playoffs every year.
For five straight years, it was Don Bosco Prep that ended the Marauders’ season, twice in the state title game at Giants Stadium.
Last year, the Marauders, who finished the season 7-4, lost to Bergen Catholic in the sectional semifinals, just two weeks after falling to the Crusaders in the regular season.
Veteran head coach Rich Hansen, who now becomes the granddaddy of all Hudson County football coaches after the retirement of North Bergen’s Vince Ascolese, begins his 26th season as head coach with the Marauders.
Hansen likes the makeup of his team.
“We lost some good players, but we have some good players replacing them,” said Hansen, who became Prep’s all-time leading leader in coaching victories last season. “I love this team. They’re all hard workers. They’re low maintenance. They stay together and work together. They’re developing a good chemistry. They’re also proving to be resilient, which is a good trait. I’m excited about this team. I think we have good talent, but more importantly, this is a selfless team. There are no ego problems whatsoever. There’s no selfishness and that really does matter.”
With that in mind, Hansen likes his team’s chances.
“I think we have a chance to be very good,” Hansen said. “We have kids who have potential to be great on the field.”
The Marauders once again have depth at the quarterback position, with each signal caller offering something a little bit different to the mix.
Senior Mike Rabasca (6-1, 215) is the returnee. Rabasca saw a lot of action last year when Brandon Napoleon (now at the West Virginia University) went down with an injury. Rabasca threw for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
“Mike is a proven leader,” Hansen said. “He has experience and he has a good arm.”
But the buzz is about sophomore Brandon Wimbush (6-2, 200), who has the makings of being a truly special player.
“He’s the most talented kid we’ve ever had at this position,” said Hansen, who also had current New York Giant safety Will Hill at quarterback a few years ago. “The kid is just special. He’s very coachable. He exudes success. He’s able to play with Mike, who has the experience and that helps him. Brandon has a ton of ability and a football IQ. He handles everything we have. With those two kids, I feel very good at that position. It’s a luxury to have two players like that.”
MaxPreps.com has already listed Wimbush as the No. 84-ranked prospect in the country among sophomores and he’s No. 4 in the entire state.
Junior Jonathan Hilliman (6-1, 210) inherits the heralded tailback position. Hilliman rushed for 763 yards and seven touchdowns in a reserve role last season.
“He’s improved in every aspect of the game,” Hansen said. “His maturity level is probably the most impressive thing he has. He just goes about his business and gets the job done.”
Only a junior, Hilliman already has offers from schools like Wisconsin and Illinois.
“He has phenomenal ability and he’s a great athlete,” Hansen said. “I’m excited to watch him run.”
The Marauders have tremendous depth in the backfield, with senior Trejon Dinkins (5-10, 180) returning, as well as newcomers in sophomores Minkah Fitzgerald (6-0, 175) and Corey Caddle (5-9, 170).
“They all have a different skill set and we’re very flexible with them,” Hansen said.
The fullbacks are senior Almany Conde (5-10, 230) and juniors Justin Walker (6-1, 235) and Zaire Cuttino (6-0, 220).
The leading receiver is senior Charlie Callinan (6-4, 210), who has already declared his intentions to play next season at Boston College. Callinan led the Marauders with 31 receptions last season and is a sure-handed tough receiver.
“He has everything in control right now,” Hansen said of Callinan.
Senior Tre Bell (6-0, 180) is another player who has made his college choice. Bell, who will join Callinan at wide receiver, initially declared with Florida, but has changed his mind and is headed to Vanderbilt instead. There aren’t many schools in the country that can claim to have two NCAA Division I products at wide receiver.
Seniors Brian Githens (6-0, 190) and Kyle Shivers (6-2, 170) are also capable pass catchers at receiver.
The tight end position is being shared by senior Brian Toner (6-1, 220) and sophomore Jordan Fox (6-2, 220), the younger brother of former Marauder and state wrestling champion James Fox.
The offensive line also features some veterans, like senior Brian Rabasca (6-2, 260), the twin brother of quarterback Mike, who returns at tackle. Juniors Robbie Walsh (6-2, 255) and Jimmy Palmieri (6-2, 280) are also in the mix at tackle.
Sophomore guard Dan Bongiorno (6-1, 255), who started every game last year as a freshman, has returned to anchor the line.
“He has the makings of being an excellent lineman and already has great experience at such a young age,” Hansen said.
Junior Nick Angeli (6-1, 260) and sophomore Dave Tolentino (6-3, 255) are also in the hunt for playing time at guard. The center is senior Joe Stevenson (5-10, 260).
The defensive ends are Fox and senior
Senior Shane Huber (6-2, 230), the third of the Marauders’ Division I recruits, is back at linebacker. Huber led the Marauders in tackles last season. Conde is also another force at linebacker.
Bell, recruited as a defensive back, will return to cornerback, along with Caddle and Fitzgerald. Githens and sophomore Shamir Bearfield (6-1, 170) are the safeties.
The Marauders open with McDonagh of Maryland in a game played at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis Sept. 8.
“It’s going to be a great experience for the kids,” Hansen said. “It’s going to be a great road trip.”
The Marauders return to face Hudson County teams Memorial and Kearny in the weeks to follow.
“I think we have to be in the conversation with the best teams in the state,” Hansen said. “We’re just focusing on getting as good as we can get and staying healthy. We have the talent base, the hard work base and the chemistry to have a good season.” – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.