By Ryan Fennell
Rumson – After two consecutive trips to the Central Jersey Group II State Championship, the Rumson-Fair Haven Bulldogs took to the practice field on Monday in search of a third.
However, the road to that championship game won’t be without its hurdles as the Bulldogs return only 10 starters from last year’s squad.
“We lost a lot of talent,” head coach Shane Fallon said. “Those seniors last year played in back-to-back state finals, so you don’t just automatically replace that.
“But,” he added. “We do have a lot of numbers. In having a lot of numbers, it helps with competition.”
The Bulldogs increased its roster size from 77 in 2011 to 82 for this upcoming season, and another 50 freshman.
“Numbers for us are big because they allow us to have great competition in practice,” expanded Fallon. “If a kid is slacking off or not having a good practice or not giving us a good effort, we can just replace him with another kid who’s hungry and eager to get in there. It brings out the best in our kids, and it allows them to compete for playing time.”
Quarterback Danny Roberto returns as a senior on this year’s squad along with running back-defensive back Connor Walsh, and tight-end Henry Rosenberg.
Three-year starter Travis Clark also returns at linebacker and running back this season.
Andrew Brunetto, Gunnar Tilly, and Dan Wojciehowski return to the line for the Bulldogs, while Clark, senior Davis Nitto, and juniors J.T. Jennings and Donald Bedell return on defense.
“We’ve got holes to fill defensively,” Fallon admitted.
While the Bulldogs got younger this year, the youth is not without experience.
In 2010, Rumson-Fair Haven defeated Matawan 13-7 in the CJ Group II State Final for its first state championship.
After setting a school record with 10 wins in 2011, the Bulldogs had their eyes set on a second straight state title but were denied in a stunning 3-0 upset at the hands of none other than their burgeoning rival, Matawan.
“Losing in a state final is a great motivator,” Fallon said. “We’ve been preparing since the wintertime for this upcoming season. Our kids will show up and compete in every game.”
And every game will be competitive in large part to the Shore Conference realignment.
Although Matawan is out of the A-Central (now in B-North), Red Bank Catholic (10-1 in 2011) and Manasquan (9-2 in 2011) are in.
“RBC invades it and so does Manasquan, so that’s going to certainly change things,” Fallon said. “Red Bank Catholic finished number-one in the shore a year ago. Anytime they enter your division they automatically become the favorite. The rest of us all have our work cut out for us.”
Rumson-Fair Haven is scheduled to matchup against Manasquan on November 3 and Red Bank Catholic on November 21, the final two regular season games for the Bulldogs.
Despite the challenges ahead this season, Fallon is confident his team will be ready to rise to each occasion.
Even though the Bulldogs lost a lot with last year’s graduating class, the current members of the team are not without championship level experience and leadership.
“Success breeds success,” Fallon said. “So, the kids got a taste of what it’s like to be part of a big football game and deal with pressure. Our kids respond well to it. They’ve played in or been a part of a lot of big games.
“You hope to stay healthy and get back to the playoffs and give yourself a chance to get back to another state final.”
The Bulldogs’ season gets underway Friday, September 7 at home against Shore Regional at 7 pm.