Hard Work vs. Hard Luck: 2022 Howell High School Football Preview
Only 10 teams in the Shore Conference and no other team in the Independence Division scored more points than Howell did last season, but only three in the entire conference gave up more points than the Rebels did. The result was an 2-8 record with six losses by five points or fewer.
While that close-loss problem is one Howell is focused on turning around in 2022, it is also a problem that has lingered for several years. In 2020, the Rebels went 2-4 with two losses by one score and back in 2019, a whopping seven of their nine losses came by seven points or fewer. Over the past three seasons, Howell is 5-21 with a record of 2-15 in games decided by one score.
For second-year Howell head coach Bill Hill, performance in close games was a focus for him and his staff heading into the 2021 season, and while the results did not turn around the way the Rebels hoped, they have a new weapon on their side for 2022: the weight room.
“We weren’t allowed in the weight room last summer and that was after we couldn’t get in there the previous summer, when COVID first hit,” Hill said. “That really put us behind and when we got on the field, you could see the difference in size and strength and endurance. This year, pretty much every guy in our lineup added 20 pounds and in some cases more like 40, 50 pounds of muscle.”
The result of the focus on strength in the offseason is a bigger roster that can now contend with teams that try to overpower Howell while also giving the Rebels a different dimension to what was a run-and-gun style that too often ended with Howell on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
With that being said, the run-and-gun element isn’t going anywhere. Despite graduating the Shore’s leading passer in quarterback Stephen Jardim and the conference’s second-leading receiver in Nick Vecchiarelli, the Rebels bring back two key receivers from last year, one of whom will be shifting to quarterback.
With some depth on defense, some upcoming sophomore talent ready to break through and those extra pounds in the front seven on defense, Howell may be able to find the missing ingredients from the past several years.
“I’m old school: you control the game up front, you block, you tackle, you win games,” Hill said. “We have the athletes who can make the big plays. If we can do the basics, I think we’ll be alright.”
Howell at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter; 3RS=Third-year Starter)
Returning Starters: 7
QB: Jack Gartenstein, Sr. RS; Egan Nelms, Jr.; Vince Meehan, So.
RB: Brandon Wright, Jr.; Robert Owen, Sr.
WR: Kevin Maloney, Jr. RS
WR: Matt Iandoli, Jr., Dom Marino, Sr.
TE: Damien Padilla, Sr. RS
TE: Declan Flaherty, Jr. RS
LT: Dan Bailey, Jr. RS
LG: Sean Howell, Jr.
C: Jaxson Campese, Jr. RS
RG: Rich Diab, Sr.
RT: Riley Johnston, Sr. 3RS
Returning Starters: 5
DE: Alex Lorenzo, Jr.
DT: Rich Diab, Sr. 3RS; Sebastian Malekov, Jr.
DT: Dan Bailey, Jr.
DE: Seven Miller, Sr. 3RS
OLB: Declan Flaherty, Jr. RS; Jason DeMichele, Sr.; Seven Miller, Sr.
ILB: Sam Mele, Sr. RS; Ray DeFrancesco, Jr. RS; Joe Cate, Jr.
OLB: Shane Fox, Jr.; Damien Padilla, Sr.; Robert Owen, Sr.
CB: Jamie Picado, Jr.
CB: Zach Padilla, So.; Kevin Maloney, Jr.
SS: Vince Meehan, So.; Matt Iandoli, Jr.
FS: Dom Marino, Sr.
K: Jamie Picado, Jr.
P: Jason DeMichele, Sr.
Head Coach: Bill Hill, second season
Record Last Five Years
Assistant Coaches: Bill Hill Jr. (Def. Coordinator/WR), Tom Bradley (Def. Run Game/OL), Ken Bradley (RB/LB), Adam Sacco (DL), Zach Zulli (QB/DB), Angelo Furmato (Team Manager), Larry Peslak (Freshman), Nick Farrara (Freshman Assistant), Amy Ghione (Howell)
Player to Watch: Jack Gartenstein, Sr., QB
At first glance, replacing the Shore’s leading passer by total yardage will be a daunting task for Howell this season, but Gartenstein taking over at quarterback will give the Rebels an additional dimension despite losing Jardim to graduation. Gartenstein is one of the best athletes on the team and he can also hit the open man, so while the passing numbers may not be as robust as the 2,200-plus yards Jardim threw for in 2021, the Rebels should again have no problem moving the ball with Gartenstein calling the shots. The other benefit to having Gartenstein back is if one of the younger quarterback candidates emerges, Howell can turn its quarterback back into a No. 1 receiver.
Player Under the Radar: Kevin Maloney, Sr., WR/CB
While Gartenstein was a multi-faceted threat, Jardim did the quarterbacking and Vecchiarelli was the top two-way player, Maloney may have gotten lost in the shuffle. That really should not be the case considering he was one of the three Howell receivers in the Shore’s top 15 in receiving yardage. Moloney finished second on the team with 573 receiving yards on 34 catches, with the yardage total placing him sixth in the entire Shore Conference. Maloney will also be a key cog in the Howell secondary, which is looking to tighten up its coverage after giving up at least three touchdowns in eight of its 10 games last year.
“Offensively, we still think we’re going to be able to throw the ball around,” Hill said. “We lost a couple key players, but all of those other guys are back and Jack looks like he will be able to make the transition. We thought about moving him to quarterback last year, but he was too valuable as a receiver. We have a couple younger guys who look like they can manage the game, so you could see Jack go back to receiver at some point if we think that improves us.”
Top Position Group: Receivers
Howell remains loaded with receivers, which means no one should expect the passing numbers to fall off all that much with the graduation of Jardim and Vecchiarelli. The Rebels are stocked enough at the position to move a proven talent like Gartenstein to quarterback and still have plenty of weapons for him to target. In addition to Maloney, Matt Iandoli and Dom Marino will figure into the passing attack and tight ends Damien Padilla and Declan Flaherty will be dangerous as well.
X-Factor: Defensive Line
The passing game will again be the calling card of the Rebels, but the defensive line could also be a positive this season with a pair of three-year starters returning in defensive tackle Rich Diab and defensive end Seven Miller. Juniors Alex Lorenzo and Dan Bailey will round out the projected starting four up front and with some quality athletes like Flaherty and Padilla poised to rush the passer from the outside linebacker spots, Howell could be able to get a little more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.
“Our front seven is mostly back and it’s a pretty good rotation,” Hill said. “Ray DeFrancesca, Sam Mele, Declan Flaherty all have experience and Damien Padilla is going to work in there on the other side, so it’s a good group of athletes. Behind them, Zach Padilla and Vince Meehan are sophomores who have looked good in the secondary, so we think that defense has a chance to be improved.”
Newcomer to Watch: Brandon Wright, Jr., RB
One thing Hill would like to see more of this season is balance in the offense with Wright getting more carries on the ground. Howell can help its defense out by controlling the ball for longer possessions and Wright – while also a potential home-run hitter – can extend drives with his running ability. A dangerous all-around back will also make the Rebels even harder to defend.
“He has looked very good so far,” Hill said of Wright. “He was injured and didn’t get to play much last year and that really hurt us as far as our running game goes. With Brandon healthy, we should have more balance and he is a big-play back who is going to open some eyes.”
Rivalry Game: Sept. 16 at Freehold Twp.
A 35-33 loss to Freehold Township was among the many close losses for Freehold Township and it might have been the most gut-wrenching of them all. The Rebels will get their rematch with the neighbor Patriots in their third game of the season.
Thursday, Sept. 1 vs. Central, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 9 vs. Jackson Memorial, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 16 at Freehold Twp., 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 23 vs. Marlboro, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 30 at Wall, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 8 at Colts Neck, Noon
Friday, Oct. 14 vs. Southern, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 22 at Freehold Boro, Noon