Coach Charles Roman hears the same words from Holy Spirit High School football fans everywhere he goes.
"You guys are going to win it all this year," the fans say.
Roman said: "They're not asking me. They're telling me."
The Spartans return nearly everyone from last season's 8-3 team. There's Stanford University-bound linebacker Anthony Sarao, whose combination of speed and strength makes him one of the state's top college prospects.
Spirit will be difficult to defend. Running backs Nigel Jones and Donta Pollock combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards. Quarterback Joe Callahan threw for 1,884 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Roman calls defensive back and wide receiver Joe Sarnese the Cape-Atlantic League's best player. He is headed to Villanova on a scholarship. Sarnese picked off five passes and forced three fumbles last season.
"He means everything to our team," Roman said of Sarnese. "He may get lost, media-wise. But his contribution is not lost on us."
Tim Goodwin, a 6-foot-2, 263-pound senior, leads the offensive and defensive lines that average 265 pounds per player.
The 2010 Spartans are drawing comparisons to the 2007 Spirit team that went 12-0 and won the state Non-Public III championship.
The Spartans aren't afraid of all the hype.
"We kind of embrace it," Roman said. "We talk about goals all the time. We talk about a state championship being our ultimate goal."
Another reason for optimism is the way the Spartans finished last year.
Holy Spirit rallied from a 14-0 deficit and beat DePaul (Passaic County) 28-14 on the road in a state Non-Public III quarterfinal.
"That was a huge night for us," Roman said. "We could have lost that game 42-0. Our guys dug in and fought, and I think they learned a lot about themselves. That fills us with great confidence."
Spirit then lost to eventual state champion and perennial power St. Joe Montvale (Bergen County) 45-19 in the semifinal.
This year Spirit hopes to achieve what Montvale did last season.
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 24
LAST APPEARANCE: 2009
PLAYOFF RECORD: 18-17
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League National Conference/State Non-Public III
COACH: Charles Roman (15-6, two seasons)
2009 RECORD: 8-3
2010 PREDICTION: Favorite. Spirit returns enough talent to challenge for a state title.
GAME TO WATCH:
Sept. 17 at Absegami. Could be a meeting of the Cape-Atlantic League’s top two teams.
TOP RETURNEES: Joe Callahan, Sr., QB, 6-1, 180; Nigel Jones, Jr., RB, 5-10, 195; Donta Pollock, Jr., RB, 5-10, 201; Troy Beck, Sr., WR, 6-1, 180; Matt Rubino, Jr., WR, 6-0, 184; Zach Fabel, Jr., TE, 6-2, 228; Joe Bodlenos, Jr., OT, 6-2, 275; Tim Goodwin, Sr., OG/DT, 6-2, 263; Rocco Tabasso, Sr., C, 6-1, 263; Nico D’Angelo, Jr., OG, 6-4, 277; Vinny Jiacopello, Sr., OT, 6-0, 268; Ryan Donovan, Sr., DE, 6-2, 202; Dan Mastromatteo, Jr., OLB, 6-2, 214; Rocky Figueroa, Jr., LB, 6-0, 203; Ethan Gambale, Jr., LB, 6-0, 211; Anthony Sarao, Sr., LB, 6-1, 215; Joe Sarnese, Sr., FS/WR, 6-1, 193; Andrew DiPasquale, Sr., DB/WR/P, 6-0, 180; Donny Pham, Sr., DB, 5-9, 173.
KEY NEWCOMERS: Jarren McBryde, So., DB, 6-0, 181; Josh Popper, Sr., DE, 6-2, 225; Steve Hartley, Sr., OLB, 5-11, 185; Domenic LaFragola, Jr., NG, 276; Ryan Jones, Sr., DB/WR, 5-9, 165; Alex Penny, Jr., DE, 6-3, 181; Rob Evans, Sr., LB/DB, 5-11, 177; Na’am Molley, Fr., RB, 5-9, 150; AJ Dawson, Fr., WR, 5-8, 158; Jeff Steeb, Fr., QB, 5-11, 183; TJ Anderson, Fr., DB, 5-10, 173.