The Hudson Catholic football team posted a 6-5 record in 2018, eventually falling to Holy Spirit of Absecon in the NJSIAA Non-Public Groups 1 & 2 semifinals.
Veteran coach Lou Zampella welcomes back an experienced group, although the Hawks lost some very key components in Hudson Reporter All-Area honorees in two-way lineman Jayden Rolling (now playing at Villanova), hard-nosed linebacker Hasan Dominick (one of the best defensive players in the entire county, maybe the state last year) and quarterback Johnathan Bates, who earned All-Area honors three times in his career.
“We did lose some key players to graduation,” Zampella said. “But we have a good amount of experienced players back. We have six starters from our defense and seven on offense, so that’s good experience. We have good returning players at the skilled positions and we have one of the best offensive lines we’ve had since I’ve been the head coach. They’re all a year older and made major strides to get bigger and stronger.”
One of the more interesting battles in training camp has been at quarterback, where junior Lukas Casko (6-2, 190) and sophomore Jaden Stewart (6-1, 180) are heading into the final days before the season opener neck-and-neck to replace Bates, which will not be an easy task.
“Both throw the ball very well,” Zampella said. “Both bring qualities to the table that we can use, so they both will play. Jaden is a good athlete. Lukas was the backup as a freshman, but then his family moved to Pennsylvania and has now come back. Lukas commands the huddle and is a great leader. It’s a good problem to have.”
The Hawks have a deep and talented backfield, led by senior Jaheir White (5-8, 170), who saw a lot of action at running back as a sophomore, but was primarily a defensive back last season.
“He has great speed,” Zampella said of White.
Junior Anthony Posey (5-10, 175) is another promising back with good speed.
The fullback position is being shared by junior Christian Rodgers (5-11, 220) and Juan Fajardo (5-10, 215). Fajardo is a hybrid of a fullback, H-back and tight end.
The receiving corps is deep and talented.
Junior Amarrie Bolden (6-2, 180) is a three-year veteran of varsity football and already has a scholarship offer from UMass in his back pocket.
“He’s probably our best overall player,” Zampella said of Bolden.
Senior Isaiah Decias (5-10, 175) earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors as a receiver last year as one of the most electrifying players in the county as a receiver and dangerous return man. Decias is also an excellent student and a great baseball player.
“He’s just put together well,” Zampella said.
Seniors Naseem Ibrahim (5-10, 170) and Kiye Smith (6-4, 185) are the final pieces to the Hawks’ solid receiving group, although Smith is recovering from an offseason injury.
“Smith grew so tall in the offseason,” Zampella said. “He has great hands and he also has great grades. He’s a smart, tough kid who is going to help us when he gets back.”
The Hawks’ offensive line resembles most college lines when it comes to size.
The tackles are senior Jawan Jones (6-2, 260) and junior Anthony Dantzler (6-3, 325), a three-year starter. The guards are juniors Luis Galarza (6-0, 235) and Joshua Ruiz (6-2, 310) and the center is senior Sebastian Rivera (6-0, 320). Senior Ernie Vidal (5-8, 235), sophomore Taj White (6-5, 250) and freshman Carmelo Michel (5-11, 290) are all in the rotation along the Hawks’ offensive line. No one is asking “Where’s the beef?” when it comes to the Hawks. It’s right there along the line of scrimmage.
“I’m expecting big things from this line,” Zampella said.
Emphasis on big.
The Hawks’ defense features many of the same players.
Jones and Galarza are the defensive ends, with senior Anthony Jones, Jr. (5-11, 230 and no relation to Juwan) at defensive tackle.
Zampella is high on Anthony Jones.
“He’s the best player in our program,” Zampella said.
Zampella rarely brags, so it means that Anthony Jones must be one truly special player.
Rivera, Dantzler, Michel and Ruiz will all rotate in and out at defensive tackle.
Fajardo and Posey are the outside linebackers, with Rodgers a dominant force at inside linebacker.
“We moved him to the inside,” Zampella said of Rodgers. “He’s taking over for Hasan.”
Those are big shoes to fill. Dominick had over 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons. He was a defensive beast. Rodgers has the talent to duplicate those numbers.
Sophomores Andrew Hunter (5-10, 185) and Osei James (5-9, 205) are also in the mix at linebacker.
White and Ibrahim are the cornerbacks, with Bolden and Smith at safety. Junior Noah Gutierrez (5-8, 170) is also at safety and plays wide receiver on offense.
So the prospects look good for the Hawks. They face two schools from Philadelphia in the first two games of the season, facing Cardinal O’Hara in the opener Aug. 31 at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium at 1 p.m. and travel to Philly and Drexel University to face West Catholic Sept. 7 at 2 p.m.
“We should contend for our division and the state playoffs,” Zampella said.
Again, this is a man who does not boast often. He knows he has a talented bunch this year. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com