SUMMIT, NJ – Last year was the first season the Hilltoppers did not make the playoffs since 2008. However, Summit High School made the most of its first participation in the new Regional Invitational Tournaments designed for teams that did not qualify for the playoffs in their sections.
After closing their regular season with a resounding 57-8 home victory against neighborhood rival Governor Livingston High School, Summit went on to win two RIT thrillers. First, the Hilltoppers traveled to Hudson County and defeated Henry Snyder High School of Jersey City 41-34 in overtime. Then Summit, at its home Tatlock Field, came away with a 32-30 triumph against Bergen County foe Pascack Valley Regional High School.
Those two wins made Summit the first North, Group 3 RIT champions.
The Hilltoppers, who won their last three games last year to finish better than .500 at 6-5, are confident they can take that momentum with them into their 2023 campaign. A rare 0-3 start last year was the impetus for Summit falling short of a playoff berth for the first time in 14 years.
“We were upset we didn’t make the playoffs last year, but we were given a second chance,” said standout two-way senior lineman Leo Haselmann. “We found those tournament games to be very competitive and we wanted to play for a championship.
“We’re really motivated to take that success and incorporate it into this season.”
Representing the Hilltoppers
• Tyler Kessel, No. 12, senior, RB-TE-MLB
• Leo Haselmann, No. 77, senior, OT-DE
• Ryan Schnall, No. 9, senior, RB-OLB
• Luke Harris, No. 1, senior, LB
Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos would certainly welcome a layover of any kind of success from one season to another.
“Whenever you get the opportunity to play more games, it’s a positive,” said Kostibos, now at the helm of the Hilltoppers since 2013. “We weren’t able to close out certain games last year, but found a way to do so in close games against Snyder and Pascack Valley. It was a great learning experience for our kids.”
The focus for this year, according to Haselmann, is “all about confidence.”
“We’re returning a lot of guys that are ready to lead the team this year,” Haselmann said.
“The biggest thing is consistency,” Kostibos said. “That means limiting mistakes, being in the right position, those kinds of things.
“We have a ton of guys returning, so game experience and maturity come into play.”
Haselmann is one lineman who doesn’t mind seeing a teammate such as Ryan Schnall getting all the headlines by running with the ball. Schmall, as a junior last year, rushed for more than 700 yards and scored eight touchdowns.
“I love to give the light and glory to my boys,” Haselmann said. “We know, as linemen, that we don’t really get the glory and the same amount of praise, but that just motivates me.”
Haselmann has played on the line since he started football in fifth grade.
“The Summit community really rallies around the team and provides a lot of support,” Haselmann said.
2023 Summit Hilltoppers
• Saturday, Sept. 2, at 1 p.m., Woodbridge High School
• Friday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m., at Cranford High School
• Friday, Sept. 15, at 4 p.m., St. Thomas Aquinas High School
• Friday, Sept. 22, at 7 pm., at Rahway High School
• Saturday, Sept. 30, at 1 p.m., Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School
• Saturday, Oct. 7, at 1 p.m., Linden High School
• Friday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m., Colonia High School
• Friday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m., St. Joseph High School, Metuchen
Photos by JR Parachini