By Greg Matura – Record Sports Dept.
Hasbrouck Heights has been a small-school juggernaut the previous three seasons and the question everyone in the NJIC should be asking is, “Will the Aviators continue their dominance?”
Hasbrouck Heights returns just seven starters from a team that last year capped a 12-0 campaign by winning the North Group 1 Bowl Championship and finishing No. 18 in the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey Top 20. Several other Aviators return with significant experience.
Nick Delcalzo, who enters his 35th season guiding the program, remains among the state’s most low-key coaches. He isn’t looking beyond competing for the NJIC Meadowlands Division title, which is the pathway to challenging for the four-team NJIC Championship and a fourth consecutive sectional crown.
“You want to win the league there,” said Delcalzo, whose team is 33-1 over the past three seasons, twice won the NJIC Championship, and owns a 15-game winning streak. “And the [Meadowlands is] going to be tough this year.”
Hasbrouck Heights has the numbers, if not yet the experience, to make a run at Meadowlands, NJIC Championship and North Group 1 honors. The roster has more than 40 players, with three starters returning on offense and four on defense.
The Aviators averaged 38 points per game last season and the attack is strong at the skill positions. Senior Spencer Lee returns at quarterback and senior Mike Robertson, who last year surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, is the featured running back. Senior Matteo Ochoa is the lone returning lineman.
Stepping up to take bigger roles will be senior receiver Zai’heer Jenkins, junior slotback Rocco Minichello and junior receivers Steven Faussette and Danny Viola. The line should include senior center Will Koukoutsis, senior guard Gage Delorenzo, junior guard Chris Lohrmann and senior tight end Indiana Stone.
“The offensive line did a great job for us the past three years,” Delcalzo said. “They all stepped up and did a great job, and that’s what we’re hoping for this year.”
The Aviators only allowed 10 points per game last season and should be good at stopping the run. Robertson and Ochoa return at linebacker, and they will be joined by Minichello. Senior John Sedlmeir returns at defensive end, and Jenkins is back in the secondary.
Seniors Max Powers and Andre Brown saw action last season and will join Sedlmeir on the line. Faussette will be in the defensive backfield.
Hasbrouck Heights has won seven sectional titles and a majority have come this century.
The Aviators have posted 15 consecutive winning seasons, featuring four sectional titles, and over that stretch were 134-30. This decade, they are 77-20.
Hasbrouck Heights returns only one starting offensive lineman, so new faces must step up to pave the way for a talented cast of skill players.
“We have to develop our offensive line,” Delcalzo said. “I think that’s important.”
Hasbrouck Heights has created high expectations over the previous several years – and delivered.
While this group isn’t as talented or experienced as last year’s lineup, expect the Aviators to challenge for the Meadowlands title and berth in the NJIC Championship.