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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Blue Devils have high expectations

Dan Russoman/THG Junior running back Kenny Smith (3) ranks as one of the top rushers in the state and will help lead a strong Hammonton offense this season.

HAMMONTON—Setting high goals is an annual tradition for the Hammonton High School football team, and the 2023 season is no different for the Blue Devils, who have their sights set on a South Jersey Group 4 championship.

Hammonton fell to eventual state champion Millville in last year’s South Jersey finals, a game that still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the Blue Devils.

“We were only a play or two away [from winning that game],” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.

“Our kids remember that and how they felt after that game. It’s helped motivate us for this season,” Raso said.

With almost its entire roster back this season, boosted by some potentially impact newcomers, there’s plenty of reason to believe Hammonton will be right back in the championship hunt this season.

“We have a great group of kids back this year. They’ve been very committed the entire offseason, on the field and in the weight room. A lot of our guys are bigger, stronger and faster this season,” Raso said.

Hammonton’s leader on the field is junior running back Kenny Smith, who was one of the state’s top rushers a year ago when he carried 221 times for 1,670 yards and scored 23 touchdowns.

“He’s a special player. We’re very fortunate to have him back. He’s become more mature this year physically and as a leader. We really feel he’s ready to take his game to the next level,” Raso said.

Smith, who looked excellent in a pair of preseason scrimmages, is eager to start the new season.

“I feel good, I’m ready to go and help us win a championship,” Smith said.

Smith hopes to top the 2,000-yard mark this season.

“That’s what I want. And I think with the line we have and all the other talent, I can get there,” Smith said.

Smith will run behind a veteran offensive line that brings back four starters. Camryn Broadnax and Christian Medina form a strong left side, while Ryland Smith anchors the right side at guard. Gabe Ramirez will take over at right tackle this season, with returning starter Mike Ryan and Nick Nocella splitting time at center. Gabe Wehner will also be in the mix up front.

“Communication and experience up front, those guys have been on the same page and they just keep getting better. They know what their job is and what we want to get done,” Raso said of his line.

When Smith isn’t carrying the ball, Hammonton will turn to DeAndre Clemons, a quick back who runs with power and Josh Camargo, who has outside speed.

Justin Doughty, who saw time at quarterback last season, will also play in the backfield and add depth at wide receiver this year.

Hammonton has always been a team that looks to run the football, but this could be the year the Devils become a much more pass-oriented offense. is the biggest reason for the change, as he brings a strong, accurate arm to the Hammonton offense.

“Drew has stepped in and really taken command. He’s blended in from day one, immediately grasped the offense and he has a great arm,” Raso said.

Craig can run the ball as well, making him a dangerous weapon for a strong offense.

Receivers Jayden Smith, Breeon Cobbs, Caden Gamble and Doughty give Craig several quick targets down the field, while he will target Smith, tight end Joey Gillen and Camargo underneath.

Defensively, Hammonton is led by its linebackers. Senior Andy Wehner is a four-year starter who has drawn interest from several Division 1 college programs. A strong run stopper, Wehner hits hard and has improved in coverage across the field.

Gillen, another senior, is a tenacious ball hawk who ranges across the field and provide a strong inside pass rush.

On the edge is Clemons, who can cover speedy backs and also pressure the quarterback on blitzes.

“They [Wehner, Gillen and Clemons] are all explosive, physical players. They set the tone for us on defense, no doubt,” Raso said.

Smith and Doughty spearhead the secondary for Hammonton, along with Camargo, a strong pass defender. Smith and Ethan Peterson will also see time for the Blue Devils.

On the defensive line, Medina, Broadnax and Smith form a strong unit in the middle. Donald Church adds depth.

At defensive end, Hammonton will use a rotation that could include Smith and Cooper DelGozzo.

To achieve its goal of a sectional title, Hammonton will need to defeat some of the top teams in southern New Jersey.

“Group IV is loaded. We know what we’re up against and we have our work cut out for us. But our goal is always the same, to be in the postseason and win a championship. To accomplish that, we need to take care of the football, not give it away and create turnovers. I think offensively, we’ll be a lot more balanced this year, which will help us a lot,” Raso said.

Hammonton opens the season on August 25 against St. John Vianney at Ocean City High School at 1 p.m.


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