The Holy Spirit High School football team ended the 2016 season with a crushing loss.
Mater Dei scored with six seconds left on a 50-yard hook-and-lateral pass to beat Spirit 26-20 in the state Non-Public II title game on Dec. 3.
The Spartans didn’t give themselves much time to wallow in defeat. They started lifting weights a week later to prepare for the 2017 season.
“There was shock in losing the way we did after fighting so hard to get there, especially for the seniors,” Russo said. “But we got back in the weight room and that knocked the hanging of their heads right out of their system. It is going to motivate us. We were close, but we didn’t get there. That’s our motivation.”
The high school football season starts Aug. 31.
The Spartans are favored to defend their West Jersey Football League United Division title and again contend for a state championship.
Senior quarterback Josh Zamot is a big reason for the optimism. He transferred from St. Augustine and is eligible immediately after moving from Millville to Buena Township.
Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties are once again are prime spots fo…
“From a teammate perspective, he’s jumped right in,” Russo said. “The guys accepted him with open arms. He’s part of the family now.”
Zamot threw for 15 touchdowns and ran for nine scores while leading St. Augustine to a 9-1 record last season.
“He adds another dimension to our offense,” Russo said. “His ability to run and throw is a dynamic we haven’t had for a few years.”
The Spartans also get a boost from the return of former head coach Chalie Roman, who was a St. Augustine assistant the past five years. Roman led Spirit to state titles in 2011 and 2010.
“Chalie has a great football mind both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball,” Russo said. “He brings another dynamic to our team.”
The Spartans also return a number of standout players.
Dimitris Pali is a 6-foot-1, 260-pound offensive and defensive lineman. He made 23 tackles and had four sacks last season. Senior standout linemen Owen Kramer (seven sacks) and Anthony Lord also are key returnees.
Senior defensive back and wide receiver Lee Dawson is a four-year starter. He made 35 tackles and picked off three passes last season. Daniel Tarsitano established himself as one of Atlantic County’s top wide receivers with 29 catches for 386 yards last season.
“We have to develop leadership,” Russo said. “We (graduated) a ton of leadership. If we get the leadership on the field along with the talent that these kids have, I think we can be very successful this year.”
Coach: A.J. Russo (13-9, two seasons)
League/group: West Jersey Football League United Division/state Non-Public II
Last season’s record: 9-3
Playoff appearances: 31
Playoff record: 32-21
2017 prediction: Favorite – Spirit adds talented transfer quarterback Josh Zamot to a team that reached the state Non-Public II final last season.
Key game: 6 p.m. Oct. 13 at St. Augustine Prep. This game is always highly anticipated but with St. Augustine transfer quarterback Josh Zamot and former St. Augustine assistant Chalie Roman now at Spirit expectations are even higher this season.
Key players: Dimitris Pali, Sr., OL/DL, 6-1, 260; Lee Dawson, Sr., WR/DB, 5-9, 185; Anthony Lord, Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 245; Owen Kramer, Sr., DL, 5-11, 210; Dan Tarsitano, Sr., WR, 6-0, 180; Joe Marczyk, Jr., TE, 6-3, 190; Alvaro Lora, Jr., WR, 5-11, 170; Colin Nolan, Jr., TE/OL, 6-2, 225; Elijah Gray, So., RB/CB, 5-8, 175; Ahmad Brown, So., DB, 6-1, 195; Isaiah Gerena, So., TE/LB, 6-2, 225; Brandon Johnson, So., OL/DL, 6-3, 250; Sean Applegate, Sr., OL/DL, 5-10, 210; Ralph Bright, Sr., RB, 5-7, 150; Griffin Doyne, Sr., DL, 5-10, 185; Devin Findley, Sr., LB, 5-10, 195; Vaughan Reale, Sr., OL, 6-2, 205.
Top newcomers: John Bee, Jr., TE/LB, 6-0, 185; Sabri Drinks, So., RB/DB, 5-10, 175; Malachi Valentine, Jr., LB, 5-9, 225; Azim Baker-Coley, Jr., LB, 5-10, 225; Josh Zamot, Sr., QB, 6-0, 190; Michael Preston, Jr., WR/DB, 5-9, 175; George Ramp, Jr., WR, 6-3, 185; Joseph Pagano, Sr., LB, 5-10, 205.