The Barnegat High School football team begins the season with optimism.

And with good reason.

The Bengals return eight starters on both offense and defense from last season’s 5-5 team that made the South Jersey Group III playoffs. Barnegat also won the Shore Conference seven-on-seven passing tournament this summer.

Barnegat features a pair of high-profile college recruits in quarterback Cinjun Erskine and lineman Sam Madden. The two, both juniors, transferred from Holy Spirit after their freshmen years, and sat the first 30 days of last season because of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association transfer rules.

Erskine ran for seven touchdowns and threw for 589 yards. The University of Miami and Massachusetts have offered him scholarships.

Rutgers, Wisconsin and South Carolina are among the dozen schools to offer the 6-foot-7, 340-pound a scholarship.

In addition to Erskine, the Bengals also return running back A.J. Opre (914 rushing yards) and wide receiver Ryan Ulrich (20 catches) at the skill positions. The Bengals should also get a boost from Central Regional transfer Manny Bowen, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.

Barnegat has always featured talented skill players but this year the Bengals are also strong on the offensive and defensive lines. Zach Andrews, a 6-2, 308-pound senior, is a three-year starter.

Senior Greg Moran starts at guard and linebacker. He made 70 tackles – 11 of them for losses – last season.

I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.