Jonathan Dayton HS Bulldogs see participation number increase

SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Head coach Nick Iannacone talked about questioning himself, going through a big learning curve and managing emotions as he entered his second season at the helm of the Bulldogs.

Much to his and the program’s liking, when it comes to managing emotions, there are a lot more of them to manage this year.
“We were at 32 last year and are now at 51 and ready to pick up a few more kids,” Iannacone said. “I was thinking maybe, by year four, we would have this many, but I’ll certainly take it in year two.”

Jonathan Dayton High School also saw the number in the win column increase by one last year, as the Bulldogs finished 4-5. Jonathan Dayton’s last winning season was in 2010, when the Bulldogs went 9-2 and reached the next North 2, Group 1 semifinals.

Since then, the best Jonathan Dayton has done record-wise has been 5-5 seasons in 2011 and 2015. The last team that qualified for the playoffs was the 2012 squad.

In addition to the increase in players, Iannacone said he likes his veteran skill players.

“We have kids that have logged significant time on offense,” Iannacone said. “Our offense will be the evolution of the triple-option this year, more spread out.”

Representing the Bulldogs

• Alex Altemus, No. 14, senior, RB-LB
• Brandyn Bernknopf, No. 8, senior, SLOT-DB
• Declan Vesey, No. 30, senior, H-LB
• Nick Apicella, No. 63, senior, OL-LB

The line up front is revamped, with the loss to graduation of two guards and a center. Back, however, is senior Nick Apicella.

“Nick is the anchor of our offensive line,” Iannacone said. “He’s shown a lot of growth and development, also at linebacker.”

Alex Altemus is also a key linebacker in Jonathan Dayton’s 5-3 scheme and the motor that drives that offense.

“Alex leads the stampede for us,” Iannacone said. “On offense, he is very explosive, and on defense, he goes sideline to sideline.”

Brandyn Berknopf, a three-year starter, has been moved from linebacker to safety. He’s also a kick returner and kicker.

“Because of his baseball background, he’s sort of like a center fielder for us,” Iannacone said. “He’ll also get his hands on the ball plenty of times on offense.”

Declan Vesey will also be given a chance to run with the ball as an H back in Jonathan Dayton’s triple option.

“Declan is a big playmaker on both sides of the ball for us,” Iannacone said. “He really stepped up last year.”

At quarterback is junior John DeSarno, who Iannacone described as a bit more “drop back.”

“He has a big arm and is great with his legs,” Iannacone said. “He can throw and run. In our triple option phase he will have the opportunity to create.”

For the second straight season, Jonathan Dayton is situated in South, Group 2 and is in the Freedom Gold Division of the Big Central Conference, along with David Brearley, Roselle Park, Highland Park and Spotswood high schools.

“I prefer playing Group 2 schools, because you see more four-man fronts,” Iannacone said.

Jonathan Dayton got off to a good start last year, with wins against Dunellen and Roselle Park high schools, to start 2-0. After beating Highland Park, the Bulldogs were 3-2 through their first five games. The losses at Spotswood and South Hunterdon Regional high schools followed, however, and prevented Jonathan Dayton from qualifying for a playoff berth out of South, Group 2.

Jonathan Dayton rebounded to beat Metuchen High School in its regular-season finale and was then defeated at Abraham Clark High School in its South, Group 2 Regional Invitational Tournament contest.

2023 Jonathan Dayton Bulldogs

• Friday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m., at Dunellen High School
• Friday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m., Roselle Park High School
• Thursday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m., at Manville High School
• Friday, Sept. 22, at 6 p.m., at David Brearley High School
• Friday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m., Highland Park High School
• Friday, Oct. 6, at 6 p.m., Spotswood High School
• Friday, Oct. 13, at 6 p.m., South Hunterdon Regional High School
• Saturday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m., at Metuchen High School