Coach Frank Riggitano sees 55 players on the practice field for the Middle Township High School football team this preseason.
That number shows that Riggitano has achieved his first goal in his second stint as the Panthers coach – renewing enthusiasm for the program.
Middle finished 6-4 and made the playoff for the first time since 2004.
Riggitano coached Middle from 1989-2000 and then became a school administrator. He returned as coach last season.
The Panthers are young with only eight seniors on the roster, but they are talented. They should again for the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference title and a South Jersey Group II playoff spot.
A pair of juniors – Yamir McNeal and Jim Versage – will lead the team.
McNeal, a running back, could carry the ball between 20 and 25 times per game. Versage will play tight end and linebacker. Erik Arenberg sparks the secondary.
Junior Joe Durso returns at quarterback. He is much more experienced this season and Riggitano expects the Panthers to throw more often than they did last year.
Middle should also get contributions from freshman Zahir Bland, a running back with plenty of potential. Bland lives in Woodbine. Students in that borough used to attend Millville but now got to Middle Township.
The 55 players on the roster gives Middle something it has rarely had in the past - depth. Riggitano expects just five players to start on both offense and defense.
The Panthers face a tough schedule to start the season. They play St. Augustine in the season opener Friday and then host Absegami on Sept. 20. Middle’s first three games are home this season.