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

"Our practices have been very competitive," Davis said. "We're excited, but we're playing a schedule (against) a lot of teams that are better than you want them to be. It's a very competitive schedule."

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.

"It was frustrating having to see two guys sit out," Davis said.

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

"We put a lot on his plate with multiple-type reads on various plays," Davis said. "He gets the guys the ball that need to get it. He's becoming a better leader on the field."

Erskine is one of several skill position players to return. Running back A.J. Opre (914 rushing yards) and wide receiver Ryan Ulrich (20 catches) are also back. 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 lines.

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

Madden isn't the only 300-pounder on the line. 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. Mark Magoon is a three-year starter at linebacker.

"We can't give up big plays on both sides of the ball," Davis said. "When we have a good situation, we have to take care of it. We didn't do it last year, but that's because we were young. I look for that to change this year."

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Coach: Rob Davis (seven years, 35-37)

League/Group: Shore Conference B South/South Jersey Group III

Last season's record: 5-5

Playoff appearances: 4

Championships: 0

Playoff record: 2-4

2013 prediction: Contender – The Bengals have made three straight playoff appearances.

Key game: Oct. 4 vs. Jackson Liberty – These teams played a thrilling game last season with Barnegat winning 14-13 in overtime.

Key players: Cinjun Erskine, Jr., QB, 6-2, 201; A.J. Opre, Sr., RB, 5-10, 198; Zach Andrews, Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 308; Sam Madden, Jr., OL/DL, 6-7, 340; Greg Moran, Sr., OL/LB, 5-10, 213; Xavier Young, Jr., OL/DL, 6-2, 245; Ryan Ulrich, Sr., WR/DB, 5-9, 163; Chris Michaels, Sr., DT, 5-9, 245; Tom Kampo, Sr., DE, 6-0, 208; Mark Magoon, Sr., LB, 5-9, 185; Bennie Bivins, Sr., CB, 6-0, 175; Ricky Gerena, Jr., CB, 6-1, 163.

Top newcomers: Manny Bowen, Jr., DE/WR, 6-2, 185; Tyler McGuiness, Jr., RB/LB, 5-8, 183; Mike Christensen, Jr., DB, 5-7, 166; Kyle Morris, Jr., WR/TE, 6-4, 185; Ken Bass, Jr., WR/CB, 5-7, 148; Vinny DiGirolamo, Sr., WR/DB, 5-11, 163; Anthony Hause, Sr., WR, 5-7, 148.