Dayton Bulldogs eye improvement behind large cast of returning starters

Jonathan Dayton High School’s offense, at left, lines up against Roselle Park High School’s defense in second-half action last year.

SPRINGFIELD, NJ — With eight starters back on offense and seven on defense, Jonathan Dayton High School’s desire is to turn three close losses last year into wins this season.

The Bulldogs went 3-5 a year ago, and, with the exception of their games against state playoff teams New Providence High School and David Brearley High School, six contests were highly winnable.

Jonathan Dayton won three of them and, of the other three, lost two by only 6 points and one by just 1.

Jonathan Dayton has varsity only again this year, but first-year head coach Nick Iannacone was pleased to announce last week that he had 35 players that cleared.

“We picked up a few,” Iannacone said. “We did better than I thought we were going to be.”

Focusing more on completing a viable varsity roster, Jonathan Dayton was not able to get any scrimmages in. The Bulldogs open on Friday, Sept. 2, at home against Dunellen High School.

“We’ve been able to simulate a scrimmage of sorts in practice,” Iannacone said. “I think it might be a good thing in a way that we didn’t have any, because we want to preserve as many bodies as we can.”

Orchestrating Jonathan Dayton’s triple-option offense is senior quarterback Lujuan Quinones, who was a starting wide receiver a year ago.

“The terminology is all the same,” Iannacone said. “Lujuan is a very talented athlete with legs and an arm. He’s learning to understand his reads and looking over a defense.

“The first few days it was an adjustment, but things are starting to slow down for him. He can pitch the ball and also pull it in. He’s progressing nicely and building a relationship with his receivers.

“Lujuan has the potential to be a dynamite player who can do a lot of special things.”

Iannacone likes the speed and athleticism his offense is showing.
“We have three returning linemen up front and that will be huge,” Iannacone said.

Those players, all seniors, are left guard Wesley Griffith, center Jonah Malino and right guard David Hurtares.

“They are all good on their feet and very athletic,” Iannacone said.

Dayton is employing a 5-3 defense this year, stacking the line with five up front ahead of three linebackers in the middle.

“Our defense is always consistent with coach (Bob) Martin,” Iannacone said. “You can see the younger kids talking to the upperclassmen, with the upperclassmen providing leadership that is pivotal to what we’re trying to build here.”

Iannacone said that junior linebacker Alex Altemus “takes command of the huddle” on defense, recognizing opposing offensive sets. Wesley Griffith and Malino are strong up front.

“Wes bought into our weight room, and his speed has increased where it comes to stopping the run,” Iannacone said. “Jonah, from the edge, flows back to the defense so that the linebackers can clean everything up.

“We go with a base up front, which allows us to play at a different speed, a different tempo and do different things on both sides of the ball.”

Although not a returning starter, another player back for the Bulldogs is sophomore Molly McLeer. She is a tackle on offense and one of Dayton’s six linemen on defense.

“She played last year, getting in a few times,” Iannacone said. “She played in the Highland Park game and had a few tackles.

“She’s not afraid and is willing to go and do her job. She’s really working her tail off. She had 100 percent attendance in the weight room this summer and always asks questions in practice.”

Jonathan Dayton is situated in the Big Central Conference’s Freedom Gold Division, along with David Brearley, Highland Park, Roselle Park and Spotswood. Crossover games include Dunellen, Manville, South Hunterdon and Metuchen.

For the first time since the 1990s, Jonathan Dayton is a Group 2 school footballwise. The Bulldogs are in South, Group 2 for this year and next.

Of Jonathan Dayton’s opponents this year, two are Group 2 schools; Spotswood and Metuchen.

“No matter what your group size is, you have to play who is in front of you,” Iannacone said. “Yeah, we were a bit surprised when we found out, but all we can do is just go with it.”

Jonathan Dayton’s triple-option offense:
• LG Wesley Griffith, senior, 5-9, 230.
• T Tyler Flores, junior, 5-10, 190.
• C Jonah Malino, senior, 5-10, 225.
• RG David Hurtares, senior, 6-1, 240.
• T Nick Apicella, junior, 5-8, 180.
• T Molly McLeer, sophomore, 5-7, 170.
• QB Lujuan Quinones, senior, 6-1, 170.
• FB Alex Altemus, junior, 5-10, 195.
• RB Brandon Bernknopf, junior, 5-7, 165.
• RB Jacob Griffith, senior, 5-10, 180.
• RB Zaakir Youmans, senior, 5-8, 180.
• WR Thomas Madden, senior, 6-4, 210.
• WR Joe Parente, senior, 6-3, 200.
• PK Brandon Bernknopf, junior, 5-7, 165.
• PK Enoch Deng, senior, 6-2, 200.
Returning starters: W. Griffith, Malino, Hurtares, Quinones, Altemus, Bernknopf, Madden, Parente.

Jonathan Dayton’s 5-3 defense:
• L David Hurtares, senior, 6-1, 240.
• L Wesley Griffith, senior, 5-9, 230.
• L Jonah Malino, senior, 5-10, 225.
• L Joe Parente, senior, 6-3, 200.
• L Molly McLeer, sophomore, 5-7, 170.
• L Andres Valladeras, junior, 5-7, 230.
• LB Jacob Griffith, senior, 5-10, 180.
• LB Alex Altemus, junior, 5-10, 195.
• LB Declan Vesey, junior, 6-1, 185.
• LB Nick Apicella, junior, 5-8, 180.
• LB Brandon Bernknopf, junior, 5-7, 165.
• CB Lujuan Quinones, senior, 6-1, 170.
• SS Zaakir Youmans, senior, 5-8, 180.
• CB John John DeSarno, sophomore, 6-1, 160.
• P Joe Parente, senior, 6-3, 200.
Returning starters: Hurtares, W. Griffith, Malino, J. Griffith, Altemus, Bernknopf, Quinones.

Jonathan Dayton Bulldogs 2022
• Sept. 2: vs. Dunellen, 6 p.m.
• Sept. 9: at Roselle Park, 6 p.m.
• Sept. 15: vs. Manville, 6 p.m.
• Sept. 23: vs. David Brearley, 6 p.m.
• Sept. 30: at Highland Park, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 8: at Spotswood, 1 p.m.
• Oct. 14: at South Hunterdon, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 21: vs. Metuchen, 6 p.m.
Head coach: Nick Iannacone, first season

2021 Jonathan Dayton Bulldogs, 3-5:
• Jonathan Dayton 34, Highland Park 0, home at Scotch Plains–Fanwood.
• South Hunterdon 13, Jonathan Dayton 7, away.
• Jonathan Dayton 47, Dunellen 14, away.
• Manville 28, Jonathan Dayton 27, home at Scotch Plains–Fanwood.
• New Providence 38, Jonathan Dayton 0, home.
• Belvidere 20, Jonathan Dayton 14, home.
• Jonathan Dayton 18, Roselle Park 13, away.
• David Brearley 40, Jonathan Dayton 6, away.
Head coach: Mike Abbate, second season.
Section: North, Group 1
Conference: Big Central
Division: 1B, 2-3
Record: 3-5
Home: 1-3
Away: 2-2
Neutral: 0-0
Points for: 153
Points against: 166
Shutouts: 1
Overtime: 0-0

Jonathan Dayton bulldogs
Head coach: Nick Iannacone, a 2013 New Providence graduate.
First season.
Conference: Big Central
Division: Freedom Gold
Section: South, Group 2
Jonathan Dayton’s last playoff season: 2012
2021: 3-5
Jonathan Dayton’s field: Turf

Iannacone was on head coach Mike Abbate’s staff at Jonathan Dayton the past two years, coaching the offensive and defensive lines. He is a 2013 New Providence graduate who started varsity there for three years under three different head coaches: Frank Bottone’s final year in 2010, the stop-gap year Art Cattano moved up to head coach in 2011 and Joe Carollo’s first year in 2012. Iannacone, now in his fourth year as a special education teacher at Jonathan Dayton, then went on to star at Pace University, graduating in 2017. Iannacone played on New Providence’s last state championship team, the 2010 squad that captured the North 2, Group 1 title at Giants Stadium in Bottone’s final game as coach of the Pioneers. Bottone was the head coach at New Providence for 48 years and won 334 games, ranking in the all-time Top 10 for number of wins in New Jersey.

Photo by JR Parachini