It was a move that made sense.
When Butler shifted to the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference last fall in search of small-school competition, the possibilities became clear for the storied football program and its future.
The Bulldogs’ debut in the small-school conference resulted in renewed success and the school’s first state sectional title in nearly two decades. Entering the 2019 season, optimism is high in Butler and the future looks promising.
“The NJIC is a phenomenal conference. The move didn’t necessarily help or hurt our program, but the conference is designed to help all its members succeed,” said coach Jason Luciani, who is 38-23 in six seasons at Butler. “The way the conference operates is very professional and its members are always looking to maintain a competitive balance. So far it’s worked for us and we’re proud to be a part of it.”
Last fall Butler turned in a 10-2 record and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2013.
Butler has won eight NJSIAA sectional titles, its most recent coming last fall when the Bulldogs defeated Park Ridge 35-28 in North 1, Group 1. It was their first state sectional final appearance since 2009.
Butler claimed consecutive North 2, Group 1 titles in 1982 and 1983, but its glory years were the 1990s when the small Morris County school won five more in an eight-year period, highlighted by four straight championships from 1994 to ’97.
Since 1974, Butler has qualified for the postseason 43 times and has 14 state final appearances.
As is the case with most small schools, numbers and depth are always a challenge.
Butler needs to replace five starters on the offense and another six on defense.
The area that needs the most attention is the offensive line, where holes need to be filled at guard and tackle.
At the skill positions, the Bulldogs will replace running back Sean Centinaro (1,280 yards, 17 TD) and receivers Derek Timpanaro and John Cafasso.
Coming off a championship season, Luciani expect to be back in the thick of things come November.
But this time, the Bulldogs want to take it a step further and vie for a league title and Group 1 bowl championship.
Despite key losses at skill positions, Luciani believes he has a core of experienced starters back and capable newcomers up for the challenge.
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Rising senior quarterback Evan Smith returns after finishing 2018 with 1,416 yards, 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He’ll turn to senior receivers Jason Polons and Matt Wolowitz and highly-touted junior newcomer Chris Verrico.
“We have talent at the receiver positions and we’ve liked what we’ve seen so far,” Luciani said. “Evan is a leader and he’s proven that he’s capable of leading this team and getting the job done.”
Junior Joey Conti steps in at running back after battling injuries last season in limited action.