By Vincent Landolfi, Jr.
Red Bank – For the eighth season in a row, Red Bank Catholic High School has qualified for the NJSIAA football playoffs. For the ninth season in a row the Caseys have a 1,000-yard rusher. This is by no means a coincidence. While their almost decade long run of success can be attributed to a myriad of factors, none is more prevalent than a strong, tough, aggressive running game.
This season’s undefeated, Shore Conference #1 ranked juggernaut, one of the most prolific in RBC’s storied past, is no exception. It is a freight train that has paved the way to the Casey’s 8-0 start, and has them eyeing a season of historic proportions. Their locomotive is a little engine that could by the name of John DiStefano (Senior, 5’8” 185 lbs.). With at least two games left to play this year, DiStefano has already totaled over 1,200 yards, averaging more than 8 yards per carry and scoring 19 touchdowns. And while those are easily All-Shore like stats for an entire season, the Caseys #33 did it to date while not stepping foot on the field in the second half of the Monmouth Regional game, or the fourth quarter versus Ocean Twp. and Toms River East respectively.
“It’s been fun this year playing with guys that have been together here for four years, and some as far back as Pop-Warner” said the speedy tailback. “I was glad to be able to carry on the tradition (of 1,000 yard rushers), but for me, it’s all about the win.”
Well he is carrying on the tradition in more ways than one, because that is the same type of answer received from former RBC backs such as Andrew Casten (Class of 2011; Harvard University) and Donnie Brown (Class of 2005; Indianapolis Colts).
“We’re good friends” DiStefano said of his gridiron pals, “and now we’re meshing as a team.”
Part of DiStefano’s success must be attributed to his unique blend of skills. They include not only tremendous speed and quickness, along with size-belying strength, but also tremendous balance and an uncanny vision that allows him to follow and utilize the blocks of his superb offensive lineman to the utmost.
“He has a tremendous worth ethic,” said Casey’s Head Coach Jim Portela in his assessment of DiStefano’s attributes. “And his legs never stop churning. He is unassuming, almost like an offensive lineman. He doesn’t care who gets the credit as long as the team is successful.”
Some of that credit has to go to the diesel-powered players up front whose jerseys number in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Center Jimmy Portela, guards Anthony Dorsi, Joe Coscarelli, Richie Curran and Josh Klecko, and tackles Ryan Byrne and Frank Gabriel (all seniors save for juniors Klecko and Curran), form a tight-knit offensive line. They take great pleasure in opening holes for their running backs and watching as they scamper down the field, and eventually into the end zone.
“They are an experienced group,” Portela said of his outstanding o-line. “All of them started at least a handful of games last year. They are more confident this season in picking up stunts and blitzes and recognizing various defensive fronts.”
From their vantage point in and around the tackle box they also have the best view of their receiver’s backs. Senior tight ends Doug Whitlock and Mike Stickle, and wideouts Greg Golden, James Taylor, Chris Whitlock, JV Mennie and Kyle Vill (also seniors except for Taylor and Whitlock), are responsible for turning a lot of DiStefano’s 5 yard gains into 25 yarders.
“Many of the breakaway runs we’ve had are because of our receivers blocking well downfield,” added Portela.
Another contributor to the opening of the cracks and caverns up front is senior fullback Chris Donald. A beast of a blocker at 6’3”, 240 lbs., Donald has also opened some eyes with deceptive speed on many of his carries, which have tallied almost 300 yards. In what amounts to this season’s Shore Conference football all-time ‘You Tube moment’, big #32 took the handoff, leaped over a tackler, was hit in mid-air, did a complete 360 degree spin, landed on his feet, and sped into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in overtime versus powerhouse Neptune.
“He has good hips, and great feet,” Portela said of his behemoth two-way player.
And while those accolades sound like the description of a dancer rather than a football player, in this case, they are poignantly accurate. Sharing some time in helping to lead the way at fullback is senior Dylan Hronich, who, according to his coach “really stepped up his game the past two weeks.”
Couple all of this with a tough, stingy defense, a tremendous kicking game, and a passing attack led by senior quarterback Ryan Spahr, that has, pardon the expression, flown under the radar this season, the Red Bank Catholic football team is ready and poised for a tough playoff run. Not to mention a Thanksgiving clash with currently undefeated rival Rumson-Fair Haven.
“We wanted a home playoff game from the very beginning,” said DiStefano. “It was one of our goals all year.”