CJ Hanson is quite literally the centerpiece of Saint John Vianney High School’s football program.
The senior, who stands 6-5 and weighs in at 295 pounds, plays offensive guard and defensive tackle. He is already committed to play football at Rutgers University.
Hanson is also Saint John Vianney’s figurative centerpiece. He has a clean haircut, a firm handshake and a clear voice that projects across a room.
“Guys, come over here,” Hanson said at a team gathering on Aug. 24 in the school’s gymnasium in Holmdel. The other Lancers hustled over right away.
“Young kids look up to him. He’s doing a great job for us,” said new Saint John Vianney coach Joe Martucci. “CJ is taking on the vocal aspect of what we want our leadership to be. He’s pushing kids and always talking to them about doing the right things.”
The senior has to lead the 2018 Lancers.
Only two other starters are back from a 2017 team that reached the NJSIAA Non-Public, Group 3 playoff semifinals. Saint John Vianney lost to DePaul Catholic High School, 42-21. DePaul, which is located in Wayne, went on to win the Non-Public, Group 3 state title.
That big 2017 senior class led the Lancers to a 31-3 record and three Shore Conference Class A Central Division titles.
Saint John Vianney will host rival Red Bank Catholic in its season opener on Aug. 31. Hanson said that despite the graduations, Saint John’s expectations have not changed.
“I’m excited for the season. We are going to do good things,” Hanson said. “Keep that (Shore Conference) winning streak going. Everyone knows we have a 38-game winning streak (in the conference). And at the end of the day, it’s all about winning the state championship.”
This is not just a confident athlete expressing optimism to the outside world. Sure, a lot is new at Saint John Vianney this year, 18 starters and a coaching staff.
But the other two returning starters, senior lineman Paul Liseno and senior tight end Andrew McGimpsey, are both college prospects. Liseno is a Division I prospect.
The Lancers also added a lot of talent via transfer. Senior running back/defensive back Damon Washington and junior running back/linebacker Kavon Chambers came from Don Bosco Preparatory High School, one of the state’s heavyweight powers out of Ramsey, and Central Regional High School in Bayville, respectively. Both are college prospects in their own right.
Junior quarterback CJ Duell hopes to become one in his first year as a starter. The Toms River native was a backup at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia the last two years.
Hanson, Liseno, McGimpsey and the transfers form an interesting core. They all have high level high school football experience, just not together.
“We need to come together as one unit,” Washington said.
“We expect to win a state championship, week by week though,” McGimpsey said.
The transfers have impressed their new coach in practice.
“We are very excited about them. Kavon, CJ and Damon have all been pleasant surprises,” Martucci said. “I didn’t know any of them before. They will be starters and a big part of the program.”
The transfers also fit the identity Martucci is trying to build at Saint John Vianney, the one Hanson embodies more than anyone.
Martucci comes to the Holmdel school after a highly successful career when he was the head coach at Matawan Regional High School for 26 years (1984-2011). He won five state sectional platoff titles. His teams were known for winning and placing players in colleges.
“It’s part of the head coach’s job to get the kids placed where they want to go. Not every kid is a Division 1 kid. And the DI guys are going to get found,” Martucci said. “It’s the high school coach’s job more to get his kids placed in the DI-AAs, the DIIs and IIIs. It’s more important for the coaches on our level to communicate with the college coaches at those levels.”
If Saint John Vianney continues to win and produce college athletes, it should be able to grow the program. The Lancers have 56 players on their 2018 roster. Martucci wants even more.
“We need to get up into the 60s,” Martucci said. “We’ve got to get our brand out there, and hopefully in the future we’ll draw more kids. Our brand is family. We’re trying to create a family.”