By Ryan Fennell
Rumson – They had big shoes to fill at the helm of the football program, but Rumson-Fair Haven didn’t have to look far to find the right person to fill them.
Bryan Batchler, an assistant coach under former Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Shane Fallon, who stepped down as head coach in January, was named the new head coach of the Bulldogs earlier this month.
Fallon stepped down after leading the Bulldogs to 106 wins over 15 years, reaching the state final three times, and winning the program’s first state title in 2010. Fallon, who is credited with ‘turning the program around’ and fostering a winning attitude in the players, stepped down as head coach in January in order to further his education in pursuit of a master’s degree in educational leadership.
Batchler steps into the head coaching position after 8 years as an assistant coach under Fallon.
“Being mentored by Coach Fallon has been invaluable,” Batchler said. “He’s one of my best friends, and he really took me under his wing and started helping me to be able to understand what it’s like to be a head coach over the last three seasons.
“I was privy to the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Batchler has been a mathematics teacher at Rumson-Fair Haven for the past 5 years and has also coached other sports at the school including basketball, tennis, and girls’ track.
Batchler played his high school football at Northern Burlington Regional under Charlie Pirrello, a South Jersey Hall of Fame coach, and played college ball under Eric Hamilton at The College Of New Jersey.
Becoming a head coach was something Batchler considered but was not paramount to being an assistant to Fallon or coaching at any other school.
“I think in the back of my mind, but at the same time, because I respect Coach Fallon so much, I would’ve coached under him as an assistant for as long as he wanted to coach. I wouldn’t want to be a head coach anywhere else.”
And as for where he wants to take the football program at RFH, Batchler believes Fallon already set the groundwork of a perennial championship team and it’s Batchler’s job to take the program to the next level.
“I know I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I’m trying to build on what the all-time winningest head coach, the guy that turned the program around, [has done]. I’m not just trying to continue that but take it to the level where we can win multiple championships.”
Batchler has the benefit of inheriting a team that is returning 38 seniors, by far the largest senior class Batchler has seen in his tenure with the team.
The Bulldogs return eight starters on defense as well as four that saw playing time on defense last season, and they return four starters on offense with another four that saw time on offense last year.
“We have a great crop of seniors, juniors, and sophomores back,” said Batchler, who expects 85 kids to come out for the team with another 30 to 40 freshmen.
“We expect to have a very good year,” Batchler said. “We have one banner up there and I told the kids at the first meeting that we’re going to try to put another banner up there.
“We play in a very competitive division. Just like we can go 12-0 and win every game, there’s also no team on our schedule that’s not capable of beating us. It’s one of those things where you have to come to play and expect to fight for everything every time you step on the football field.”
Batchler acknowledged that although the Bulldogs reached the pinnacle in 2010, taking home the program’s first state title, the last two years have had disappointing endings, having gone 10-0 in 2011 but losing in the state final and being eliminated in the playoffs by Weequahic in 2012.
“I met with the kids individually and asked them what they thought we need to do so that doesn’t happen again,” Batchler said. “Last year’s team was good and I think our leadership this year is tremendous; I think that will be the difference.
“Losing Danny Roberto at quarterback will be very difficult, and Travis Clark playing at Villanova; there’s big shoes to fill, but we certainly have kids that are ready to step in and ready to compete.”
Batchler said there would be an open competition to fill the vacated quarterback position with the leading candidates prior to camp being seniors Brian Dunphy and Chase Caruso, junior Max Goione, and sophomore Max Mullaney.
At running back the Bulldogs return seniors Dylan Zohn, Jamie Reeves, and junior Charlie Volker.
Seniors Sam Shaud and Melquan Reevey and junior Sam Eisenstadt return at wide receiver and senior Peter Righi returns to the offensive line.
On defense, three-year starter J.T. Jennings returns at linebacker and division 1A prospect senior Donald Bedell returns at defensive end along with senior Kevin Clayton.
Rounding out the returning defensive starters are seniors Dan Morea, Connor Phillips, Thomas Martello, Chris Hubler, Shaud, Matt Giannotto, and juniors Tucker Briggs and Jackson Reid.
Joining Batchler on the sidelines is offensive line coach Joe Murphy, who has been with the team 8 seasons, and Joe Orrok, a former quarterback at Point Pleasant Boro, in his second season with the team as the strength and conditioning coach and running backs coach.
Batchler hopes to bring in Pirrello, his former head coach at Northern Burlington Regional, as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator.