The Holy Spirit High School football team won a state championship this fall.
The Spartans ambitions don't end there.
"We want to be spoken in the same breath as the (state's) top teams," Spartans coach Charles Roman said. "Those teams are St. Joseph-Montvale, Bergen Catholic and Don Bosco Prep. Those guys are perennial powers and that's exactly who we want to be."
Spirit took a big step in that direction with this season.
The Spartans finished 12-0 and won the state non-Public III title with a dramatic 14-13 win over Montvale at Rutgers University on Dec. 3. Spirit started the season No. 1 in The Press' Elite and ended the season in the same spot.
Spirit running back Donta Pollock is The Press Player of the Year. The 17-year-old junior from Atlantic City carried 277 times for 1,878 yards and 29 touchdowns.
He led the area in scoring with 178 points.
"I'm most proud of the success we had as a team," Pollock said. "We have a year's worth of bragging rights. To set a goal from the beginning of the year and achieve it is amazing."
There were countless Spirit scoring drives on which the 5-foot-10, 196-pound Pollock carried the ball on every play. He averaged 23.1 carries per game.
"I'm human, so I get tired," Pollock said of his workload. "But what keeps me going is my teammates' support. You look out and see all the fans. You've been working so hard with your team, and you don't want to let anybody down."
Pollock's presence became even more important after fellow standout running back Nigel Jones injured his ankle in a season-opening 49-0 win over Oakcrest. The injury limited Jones for most of the year.
"Donta carried us," Roman said. "We really had to change our offense after the first game of the year. We had practiced the whole summer with two backs."
Pollock's physical style of running also helped the Spartans set a dominant tone. He often ran over would-be tacklers.
"He defined who we were as a football team," Roman said.
The Spartans' success came in a season in which several teams had standout years.
Lacey Township went undefeated and won the fourth South Jersey title in school history with a 56-7 win over Delsea Regional in the Group III final.
St. Joe won its second straight state Non-Public II title and its 13th championship since the state Non-Public tournament began in 1993.
Oakcrest won its first playoff game in school history and reached the South Jersey Group IV final.
Atlantic City won its first playoff game since 1999, while Millville qualified for the postseason for the first time since 1998.
Spirit will try to build on this year's success as it strives toward its goal of being a consistent state power.
The Spartans have upgraded their facilities.
They built and opened a 4,800-square-foot speed and strength training facility next to their stadium last summer. The project cost $300,000 and was paid for by alumni, according to Roman.
"The school didn't pay a nickel for that," Roman said. "Football is extremely important to our fan base and they backed it up with their financial support."
Spirit also finished 12-0 and won the state Non-Public III championship in 2007. That team graduated 18 starters.
This year's team featured plenty of juniors and sophomores. Pollock, Jones and standout linebackers Dan Mastromatteo, Rocky Figueroa and Ethan Gambale are back in 2011.
"This team is the opposite of (2007)," Roman said. "We finally got the program to the point where we're never going to be top-loaded with (senior) talent. I hate to use the words but we should be in the championship game as much as anybody."
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