The Cedar Creek High School football team graduated its first senior class and 2012 Press Player of the Year Damon Mitchell last spring.
The school opened in 2010 and that first senior class built a top program. The Pirates finished 10-2 and reached the South Jersey Group II final last season, losing to West Deptford 42-28.
Now Cedar Creek must sustain that success.
"Last year's senior class established an overall mindset and level of expectation for the program," Pirates coach Tim Watson said. "I don't think any of these kids want to go backward. We don't need a star this year, we just need everybody to be the best at doing their job."
The Pirates return some talented players but will be a different type of team this season. With Mitchell - now at the University of Arkansas - Cedar Creek relied on the big play last year. This year, the Pirates will be more methodical. They are talented up front with veteran linemen Nick Catherine, Jose Flores, Jayson Williams and Chris Lynch. The Pirates' linemen average 250 pounds.
"We have to use the size we have up front to control the line of scrimmage and hopefully wear some teams down," Watson said. "We plan on grinding this year. That's our mindset, and I think the kids are buying into it."
Mitchell's younger brother - sophomore Ahmir Mitchell - has plenty of potential and will play defensive back and wide receiver.
"We're going to use him at different spots," Watson said. "We're trying to hone his receiving skills and defensively he can play safety or corner."
Sophomore Alex Dawn and freshman Jesse Milza are contending for the quarterback spot.
The strength of the defense is also up front with Ralphie Collazo and Keith Alston.
Linebacker Dustin Voss leads the defense and gives the Pirates an emotional spark with his enthusiastic play.
Watson said this year's expectations for the Pirates are the same as last year's.
"Our players understand people are going to doubt them a little bit because of the star power we lost," Watson said. "They're well aware of it and in some ways it's a chip on their shoulder. They have something to prove."
Watson said this year's seniors are motivated to make a name for themselves.
"We'll be disappointed if we don't make another run at it in (South Jersey) Group II," Watson said.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Coach: Tim Watson (two years, 14-7)
League/Group: Cape-Atlantic League National Conference/South Jersey Group II
Last season's record: 8-2
Playoff appearances: 1
Playoff record: 2-1
2013 prediction: Contender: The Pirates relied on the big play last season. They will be more methodical and depend on veteran offensive and defensive lines this season.
Key players: Nick Catherine, Jr., OL, 5-11, 215; Dustin Voss, Sr., LB, 5-11, 195; Keith Alston, Sr., DL, 5-11, 240; Trey Blackwell, Jr., NG, 6-2, 321; Ralphie Collazo, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 252; Jose Flores, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 238; Jayson Williams, Jr., OL, 6-2, 271; Jalil Burrell, Jr., RB/LB, 6-0, 192; Chris Lynch, Jr., OL, 6-2, 284; Ahmir Mitchell, So., S/WR, 6-3, 193; Zack Newman, Jr., WR, 5-11, 168; Bryshaun Dunkley, Jr., WR, 5-9, 158; Isa Willis, Jr., RB/LB, 6-0, 203; Kendall Laster, Sr., LB, 5-10, 188; Karl Reik, Jr., DB/RB, 5-10, 184; Krishan Guerra, Jr., OL, 5-11, 247; Gary Voss, Jr., CB/WR, 5-9, 168; Dennis Woodley, Jr., OL/LB, 5-11, 210; Angelo Williams, Jr., OL/LB, 5-11, 210; Nate Pauls, Jr., TE/LB, QB, 6-2, 215.
Top newcomers: Tristan Bacha, Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 225; Jose Quinones, Jr., LB/FB, 5-10, 195; Jesse Milza, Fr., QB, 5-10, 172; Tyler Clybourne, So., DB, 5-10, 163; Pat Lynch, So., OL/DL, 5-10, 235; Alex Dawn, So., QB, 6-1, 165; Nick Sartorio, So., DB, 5-11, 178; Miles Melton, Fr., RB/DB, 5-11, 168; Isiah Watson, Fr., LB/WR, 6-2, 188; Owen Bowles, Fr., TE/DT, 6-3, 233.