Blue Devils should contend in 2022
HAMMONTON—Hammonton High School’s football program isn’t used to rebuilding.
For most of the last 30 years, the Blue Devils have been consistent contenders for division and sectional championships, and with a roster filled with varsity veterans in 2022, Hammonton is ready to return to the top of the standings following an up-and-down 5-6 season a year ago.
“The kids are hungry. They put in the work in the offseason and we’re definitely looking forward to seeing how we end up this year,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.
Raso heads into his eighth season with a young roster, but one that gained a lot of experience a year ago.
“We call these kids the ‘young bucks,’ and they had their share of highs and lows last season. They got some experience and were able to see things for the first time. This year they are all very motivated,” Raso said.
Last season, a tough three-game losing streak put the Blue Devils on the postseason bubble, but they were able to win four straight games to claim a berth in the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs, where they lost to Shawnee in the first round.
“I think that showed what we could be. We very easily could have packed it in and struggled, but the kids rallied for some big wins and made the playoffs. Now we need to build off of that,” Raso said.
Raso and Hammonton’s coaching staff has been pleased with the work ethic of this year’s team and they believe the Blue Devils can compete for a title this fall.
“We’re looking to take that next step. Last year, we started a couple of freshmen and at times, seven sophomores. Those guys are all back this year and we’ve added some new pieces and have a few seniors who will start for the first time. Our big question is are these kids ready to step in and take that next step? They worked hard in the weight room in the offseason and they’re bigger and stronger but are they ready mentally? That’s what we need to find out,” Raso said.
Hammonton will lean on sophomore running back Kenny Smith this season. Smith rushed for more than 400 yards as a freshman and has shown the ability to be an explosive player in the preseason.
“Kenny stepped in last year and started on both sides of the ball, returned kicks and punts for us and had a great year. I don’t think we’ve ever asked a freshman to do that much. He spent a lot of time in the weight room, had a great season for the basketball team and he just keeps rising to the occasion. Now he’s in year two and we expect some big things,” Raso said.
Smith will carry the ball in Hammonton’s traditional Wing-T set, but fans should also expect to see the ball in the air more this season as the Blue Devils mix things up offensively.
“We’ll be a little more unpredictable this season,” Raso said.
Senior quarterback Billy Way joined the Blue Devils midway through last season after transferring into Hammonton, and he looks much more comfortable with the offense this summer.
“Billy [Way] has a strong arm and he’s beginning to understand what we want him to do. He’s a leader and he’s playing well,” Raso said.
Way will look to stretch the field with passes to Smith and Deandre Clemons out of the backfield as well as to receivers Dylan Testa and freshman Nakeem Powell.
In the backfield, Lucas Goehringer and Justin Doughty add depth between the tackles.
Up front, Hammonton has a solid offensive line led by veterans Christian Medina and Elijah Church. Mike Ryan will be the center, with Camryn Broadnax and Ryland Smith in the mix up front.
On the defensive side, Hammonton features a strong front seven led by Church and Medina up front. John Smith will also see time at tackle.
The Blue Devils received a huge boost on the edge with the addition of transfer Kye Pressley, a strong senior pass rusher who has drawn the attention of several collages.
“He makes a world of difference. This is a kid who came in with a great work ethic and our kids picked up on that from the first day. He’s been a leader and established himself right away. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do out there for us,” Raso said.
Another newcomer, junior Joey Gillen, should start at linebacker alongside varsity veteran Andy Wehner.
“Joey [Gillen] has come in and been very strong from the start. He and Andy Wehner are very talented,” Raso said.
In the secondary, Testa and Kenny Smith will be joined by Doughty to form a solid unit.
The talented roster has Raso excited about the season, but for now the Blue Devils are focused on staying healthy and playing one game at a time.
“Can we stay healthy? That’s a big question and it we have to stay healthy to achieve our goals. If you stay healthy, you give yourself a chance to win. Right now, our focus is on the first game, Notre Dame. We only get one shot at that and it won’t be easy because they [Notre Dame] are a very good football team. We want to be 1-0, that’s the goal. After that, we’ll take it from there, game-by-game,” Raso said.
Raso is reluctant to look too far ahead, but admitted the Blue Devils hope to be back in the postseason.
“We want to compete for the division title and, hopefully, in the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs. We’re like a lot of teams, we want to be playing in December,” Raso said.
Hammonton opens the season on August 26 at home against Notre Dame at 6 p.m.