The high school football season begins this week - right before the end of summer.

It ends the first weekend in December with the cold of winter approaching.

There should be plenty of thrills and highlights in between.

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Who is No. 1 in The Press Preseason Elite 11?

Holy Spirit could add to its illustrious football tradition this season.

The Spartans return numerous starters and begin the season No. 1 in The Press Elite 11.

"I hate preseason rankings," Spirit coach John Iannucci said. "They don't mean anything. We're like everybody else right now.

"Hopefully our season will be fun, and we did the hard work in the preseason."

The Spartans have won three straight state titles and finished 12-0 in 2007 and 2010. They feature college prospects in defensive lineman Ray Ellis, linebacker Jeff Steeb and defensive back A.J. Dawson.

The roster is filled with players who can change the game with one play. Taalib Gerald is one of the Cape-Atlantic League's speediest running backs. Quarterback T.J. Anderson has a year of experience running the Spartans' triple-option offense. Defensive back and running back Franco Rifici seems to always make the key play and is also the team's kicker.

The Spartans' football team has always been Spirit's premier sports program.

"We're a family community," Rifici said of Holy Spirit. "Everybody knows everyone. The whole schools is behind this football team. We don't want to disappoint them."

New faces

Three teams have new coaches.

Alumni take over at Lower Cape May and Vineland.

Bill Miller, a 1988 Lower graduate, is the new Caper Tigers coach. Dan Russo, a 1993 Vineland graduate, is the 17th head coach in the Fighting Clan's 93-year history.

Pinelands Regional turns to Brian Wilkerson, who led Toms River South to three playoff appearances in the early 2000s.


Holy Spirit and St. Joe seem to be perennial state champions.

Lacey Township is the last southern Ocean County school to win a playoff title, winning South Jersey Group III in 2010. Hammonton is the last Cape-Atlantic League public school to be a South Jersey champion, winning Group III in 2009.

Here's a look at this year's playoff favorites.

South Jersey Group V: Williamstown is the defending champion and the frontrunner but Millville, Cherokee, Southern Regional and Eastern are poised to contend.

South Jersey Group IV: Timber Creek is the defending champion and the favorite. Lacey Township, Kingsway Regional and Hammonton are next in line.

South Jersey Group III: Delsea Regional is the defending champion, but Barnegat is a team to watch. This group also features a pair of Shore Conference schools - Manasquan and Wall Township - that usually are in the Central Jersey bracket.

South Jersey Group II: West Deptford is the defending champion and the prohibitive favorite this year with one of the best teams in the program's history. Running back Gerald Owens is headed to Michigan State.

South Jersey Group I: Penns Grove is the defending champion. The Red Devils have won 13 straight.

State Non-Public IV: This should come down to defending champion Paramus Catholic and Bergen Catholic.

State Non-Public III: Defending champion St. Joseph Montvale might be the state's best team this season.

State Non-Public II: Holy Spirit is the defending champion. Camden Catholic, DePaul and Hudson Catholic figure to be Spirit's top challengers.

State Non-Public I: St. Joseph is the defending champion and the favorite to win its 16th championship since the state Non-Public playoffs began in 1993.

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