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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

St. Joe rebuilding a legendary program

Dan Russoman/THG St. Joe’s Cole Brubaker, right, tries to elude a Woodstown defender.

HAMMONTON—Minutes before St. Joseph Academy’s scrimmage against Woodstown last week, Ron Dorsey was anxious.

“Man, I have butterflies. I didn’t sleep at all last night, just tossed and turned. I’m nervous, but really excited at the same time” Dorsey said.

The preseason matchup was the first for Dorsey as the Wildcats head coach, and he is well aware that all the feelings he had could become commonplace this season.

Dorsey takes over for legendary St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco, who left the program at the end of last season. In 41 years as head coach, Sacco had turned St. Joe into perennial state championship contenders and a program that was routinely regarded as one of the state’s top teams.

If that wasn’t enough pressure for Dorsey, he now has to guide a young team through one of the region’s toughest schedules. Almost every opponent on St. Joseph’s slate was a postseason qualifier a year ago.

“It’s a lot to handle, but I think we’ll be OK. We know what we’re up against and we know what people expect. But we can’t control that. We just have to work hard and get better every day,” Dorsey said.

St. Joe saw several of last year’s top players graduate and many who would have formed the foundation of this year’s squad opted to transfer away from the program. That leaves a young team that lacks experience at the varsity level. The Wildcats’ roster features just 29 players, most of them freshmen and sophomores.

Building those athletes up as both players and people is one of Dorsey’s biggest goals.

“We have a very young team. But being able to work with, teach and see these guys develop into young men is exciting. I knew what we were facing and I would not have taken the job if I didn’t think I was ready for this. I’m ready to go,” Dorsey said.

With only a few players back from last year, St. Joe will have new starters at almost every position this season. It’s far from an ideal situation, but the Wildcats staff feels their team will be prepared for every game.

“I’m seeing improvement every day. We’re throwing a lot at them and they’re picking it up quickly. Everyone has been very positive,” Dorsey said.

While several players chose to give up on St. Joe and transfer away, others made the decision to join the program and will play key roles this season for the Wildcats.

Shane Reed, a wide receiver who was at Buena, is a potential game-breaker, while Ismael Cotto (Triton) adds depth at receiver. Up front, Joe Cosme (Triton) transferred to St. Joe, adding an experienced lineman on both sides of the ball.

Cosme will join returning starter Jordan Palmer to anchor an offensive line that will also feature Luca Schiano, who played at Hammonton last season, as well as Eric Straub and Cayden Banks.

At quarterback will be sophomore Gary Battaglini, who was sharp against Woodstown and has the respect of his teammates.

“Gary has picked things up quickly and looked really good,” Dorsey said.

Freshman Anthony Salamone could also see time under center.

“We’re confident in both of them [Salamone and Battaglini],” Dorsey said.

In the backfield, Matt Greco, a transfer from Eastern, will see time at fullback, while Cole Brubaker will carry the ball a lot and ran well in the preseason. Hanif Hernandez will also play in the backfield.

Reed and Cotto lead a strong group of receivers that also includes Dawain Jackson, Jeremy LaBelle, Jermaine Rhyens and Keaton Doyle.

Many of the offensive line starters will pull double duty and see time on the defensive front, with Tyson Catoe manning one of the edge positions.

Greco should start at linebacker, as will freshman Raymond Brown, who played well in the scrimmage at Woodstown.

“He [Brown] has a lot of potential. He’s going to be a very good player for us,” Dorsey said.

Cotto, Jackson, Reed and Doyle lead the secondary, which will be tested by many of St. Joseph opponents this season.

Last week’s scrimmage exposed many of the Wildcats weaknesses but also gave the team a few reasons to be optimistic about the new season.

“Let’s face it, it’ going to be an uphill battle all season,” Dorsey said.

“We have a really tough schedule; we’re a young team and we understand where we are as a program. I’ve told the kids that I expect us to compete. We will be a tough team to beat and we’ll challenge every team we play. Will that mean we win a lot of games? I don’t know. I can say that I hate losing. I want us to win. A lot of people are expecting this to be bad this season, but I really think we’re going to surprise people. I see a lot of potential in these kids.

It’s a challenge, but I’m ready for it,” Dorsey said.

St. Joseph opens its season on August 25 at Carteret at 6 p.m.


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