Now that St. John Vianney has changed its image to a program on the rise, third-year coach Andy Carlstrom wants the team to take the next step this season.
The Lancers began the season with an impressive 40-20 win over Monsignor Donovan last Friday at Kean University.
“When I took over the program two years ago, they hadn’t had a winning season in a while and things were on the decline. Our goal the first year was to just get the kids confident and believe that they could do some good things,” Carlstrom said. “We started out 1-5 (that first year) and we ended up winning our last four games. Last year, we went 6-4 and we made the playoffs. Delbarton beat us pretty badly, but it was a great experience because none of these kids had ever seen the playoffs before let alone been in a playoff game before.”
That 55-14 loss on Nov. 17 at Delbarton in an NJSIAA Non-Public Group III first-round game motivated the players to work harder in the offseason and in the weight room, Carlstrom said. With a decent number of starters back on both sides of the ball, this year’s focus will be about executing higher goals.
“There are six starters back on offense and six starters back on defense. And they are all pretty much the same kids. Now, we expect to win,” Carlstrom said. “Our kids understand that we are turning into a high level program, and 6-4 was great last year but now we want to win a couple more games and we are trying to get a home playoff game. We would like to compete for the division championship too.”
The offense will be run by senior quarterback Billy DeMato, who threw for over 2,000 yards last season. The team’s top receiving threat will be senior Julanee Prince, who was the No. 3 option last year but graduation gives him a larger role this season.
“Last year, we were kind of a more pass heavy offense and this year we are trying to balance it out,” DeMato said. “We want to keep opponents on their heels, and instead of them knowing we are going to drop back and throw the ball 35 times a game. We want to balance the run and the pass equally.”
Prince had the benefit of playing behind talented wide receivers Ishmael Hyman (now at Kansas) and Steve Callari (now at Sacred Heart), but now the focus will be on him more as the veteran member of the receiving corps.
“Julanee stepping up in the No. 1 role and we have three kids coming up from the junior varsity team that are taking the other spots and we are hoping they can get the job done,” Carlstrom said. “We also had a transfer, Ishmael’s cousin Tyler Hyman, a transfer from Howell, and another kid Josh Taylor, who transferred in from Red Bank Catholic. Among all those kids rotating at receiver, we have a pretty good core.”
For the quarterback, wide receivers and other skill positions to be successful, Carlstrom said he was putting the most pressure on the line this season.
“Four of our five offensive linemen all played O-line last year together and the same kids played defensive line. So, we have a lot of experience and three of those kids are only juniors and they played last year as sophomores,” Carlstrom said. “Even though we are young, we have experience and we are big boys. We are hoping to control the line of scrimmage.”
Defensively, the Lancers are experienced but they have one area of concern. If they can overcome that, another successful season shouldn’t be a problem.
“We graduated three of our four linebackers from last year, Matt Falco is the only linebacker that is back. Linebacker is a big question mark for us,” Carlstrom said. “The defensive line is all back. Our secondary is pretty much all back. Again, the big question mark is our linebackers.”