ROSELLE PARK, NJ — When Highland Park High School came to town on Sept. 23 of last year, the Panthers were looking for answers.
Roselle Park High School was off to an 0-3 start and, including how tough its 2021 season turned out, was now on a 12-game losing streak.
The Panthers set things right with a convincing 42-13 home win against the Middlesex County school that has had its share of struggles in recent years.
Next came an even bigger test: A game at Group 2 Spotswood High School, which sported a 4-1 record that included two wins by double digits.
Roselle Park, against the odds, found a way to prevail 26-22. It was a quality win against a Spotswood team that would finish 7-3, including a season-ending consolation victory.
The victory also spurred Roselle Park to a three-game winning streak and eventual 5-6 finish, which was a stark contrast to the 1-9 conclusion the year before. Roselle Park won its most games since the 2017 season.
“We had some hard times, but our kids never quit,” head coach Greg Dunkerton said. “They never gave up for one second. They continued to grind it out in practice and even if they were outmanned they gave maximum effort.”
Representing the Panthers
• Xavier Padilla, No. 5, senior, QB-LB-DB
• Adrian Palacios, No. 4, senior, RB-DB
• Darren Chen, No. 52, senior, OL-DL
• Tyler Signorello, No. 1, senior, WR-DB
With the numbers slightly up this year, closer to 35 as compared to 28-30 last year, according to Dunkerton, the Panthers will seek to produce the program’s first winning season in six years.
“It’s not a big increase, but any time you can go in the right direction, you’ll take it,” Dunkerton said.
Roselle Park last finished better than .500, made the playoffs and beat Thanksgiving Day neighborhood rival Abraham Clark High School all in 2017, when the Panthers finished 7-4 after beating Abraham Clark 7-6 at Roselle Park’s Herm Shaw Athletic Field in the 100th game of the series.
“We had a good summer, with workouts four days a week,” Dunkerton said. “We put in some big concepts as well. Camp was good.”
Returning at quarterback is senior Xavier Padilla, who made considerable strides during his first season under center a year ago.
“It’s great to have him back running our offense,” Dunkerton said. “He knows it well, which allows him to open the playbook up more. He’s aware of other things. He’s a big, strong kid.”
The lead running back is senior Adrian Palacious, who started last year.
“We’re looking for good things from Adrian after the experience he gained,” Dunkerton said. “We will also rely on him in the secondary. He knows his reads and that allows for the game to slow down for him so he can play with a lot more confidence.”
Darren Chen, another senior, is a key returning two-way lineman.
“Darren is responsible for the line calls and knows other people’s jobs,” Dunkerton said. “His experience will be a factor as well.”
One of Padilla’s targets to throw the ball to is senior wide receiver Tyler Signorello.
“Tyler made some big catches for us last year at critical points,” Dunkerton said. “Like Adrian he also provides stability in the secondary.”
At fullback is senior Dylan George.
“He played some for us last year, so we’re excited to see him take on the responsibility of adding more this year,” Dunkerton said.
For the first time in eight years, Roselle Park will open at home. The Panthers host South Hunterdon Regional High School in their season-opener on Friday, Sept. 1, at 6 p.m., at Herm Shaw Athletic Field.
Roselle Park last opened at home in 2015, when the Panthers shut out the Pingry School 38-0 en route to a 5-5 season. Since then, Roselle Park has opened on the road against South Hunterdon Regional in 2016, 2019 and 2022, at Sussex County Technical School in 2017, at New Providence High School in 2020 and at Dunellen High School in 2021.
“We seek to improve each practice, each game, each season,” Dunkerton said. “In order to build the program here, we have to make sure we’re continuing to be best prepared.”
2023 Roselle Park Panthers
• Friday, Sept. 1, at 6 p.m., South Hunterdon Regional High School
• Friday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m., at Jonathan Dayton High School
• Friday, Sept. 15, at 6 p.m., David Brearley High School
• Friday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m., at Highland Park High School
• Friday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m., Spotswood High School
• Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m., at Middlesex High School
• Friday, Oct. 13, at 6 p.m., Dunellen High School
• Thursday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m., at KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy
• Thursday, Nov. 23, at 10:30 a.m., Abraham Clark High School