The schedules of the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference high school football teams should come with a simple warning.
Not for the squeamish.
The nine-team CAL American Conference is arguably the best and deepest league in southern New Jersey. The conference consists of Absegami, Atlantic City, Egg Harbor Township, Hammonton, Holy Spirit, Mainland Regional, Millville, Oakcrest, and St. Joseph.
Each Friday night and Saturday afternoon of the season is filled with attractive matchups that fans can't wait to see.
This Friday's schedule features Holy Spirit at Hammonton, Millville at Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township at Oakcrest. St. Joseph hosts Absegami on Saturday.
Fans aren't the only ones filled with anticipation for the season. The players are pumped too.
"I'm really excited to show what we can do," St. Joseph quarterback Anthony Giagunto said. "We play a good team each week."
How good are the CAL American teams?
Two schools - St. Joe (Non-Public I) and Holy Spirit (Non-Public II) - won state titles last year.
Two more - Hammonton and Millville - reached South Jersey finals.
Two more - Atlantic City and Oakcrest - made the playoffs.
The conference's nine teams combined for a 63-32 record for a .663 winning percentage. Only one team, EHT, finished below .500 last year and the Eagles were 4-6.
"We're all in the same boat," Mainland Regional coach Bob Coffey said. "I look at these teams and say I don't want to play them, but then I wouldn't want to play us either."
The conference is filled with talented players. Oakcrest linebacker and fullback Brandon Bell has verbally committed to Penn State. Absegami quarterback and defensive back Rashad Kinlaw, who will miss the first three to five games with a broken leg, has verbally committed to Notre Dame.
"I think it's cool," Bell said of the league. "We'll be going against tough competition each week. It should be fun. It will be great for the fans to see."
The CAL created the ultra-competitive conference when it realigned from three divisions to two conferences for the 2012 and 2013 football seasons. The CAL, like all New Jersey high school sports leagues, realigns every two seasons.
A five-member committee devised the two divisions using the power points that are used to determine whether teams make the playoffs. Teams earn power points based on their opponents' enrollment and victories.
The committee added together the power points each school earned in 2010 and 2011 and then ranked the CAL schools from one to 18. The top nine teams with most power points were placed in the American and the bottom nine in the National Conference.
By realigning this way, the CAL is consistent with several leagues around the state that realign by strength of program and enrollment.
"This is how it's supposed to be," Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta said. "The (league) wanted two conferences and the schools in the (American) conference all belong there. You can't have an off night because you're probably going to go home with your tail between your legs."
Burt many coaches shuddered when they first looked at their schedules.
"When I first heard about it, I said, 'No way,' " Atlantic City coach Thomas Kelly said. "I don't want to play Holy Spirit, St. Joe, EHT, Gami and Millville back-to-back-to-back. But we're trying to build a program and if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best."
Of the schools in the conference, St. Joe is the most affected by the new schedule.
Few teams in the state can match the Wildcats' tradition of success. They have won 20 playoff titles, including three straight state Non-Public championships.
But as successful as they've been, some fans have questioned the Wildcats' strength of schedule as they have mostly played and dominated the smaller public schools in the CAL when the league's conferences were organized by school enrollment.
No one will question St. Joe's schedule this year. After opening with Absegami, the Wildcats host their biggest rival Holy Spirit in week two and then travel to play a Millville team that finished 11-1 last season in week three. The schedule hardly eases up after that.
With a sophomore through senior class enrollment of 281 students, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, St. Joe is by far the smallest school in the conference. Most of the other schools in the conference have enrollments of 1,000 or more.
"Everybody says we don't play anyone," Giagunto said. "If we play (well) this season, nobody can say that anymore."
The new conference does raise questions. Will teams just beat each other up week after week leading to a group of schools with 4-4 records at the cutoff date for determining playoff fields?
Is the league so competitive that teams won't win enough games to make the postseason? If conference schools do qualify will they have so many injuries they won't be competitive in the postseason?
Those concerns are legitimate but there is denying the conference will make this one of the most exciting high school football seasons in years.
And one other thing about the new conference is also certain.
"Whoever is left standing at the end is going to be a hell of a football team," Lancetta said.
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