Bill Miller knows the challenges he faces as the new coach of a rebuilding Lower Cape May Regional High School football team.
Miller was an assistant with the Caper Tigers last season. A 1988 Lower graduate, he's been involved with Cape May youth football for 15 years.
"I know the kids. I know their families," Miller said. "I've coached their siblings. I know how the community works. People have been great. People here really want this to be successful, but it's a work in progress."
Lower finished 1-9 last season. The Caper Tigers have had some successful years. They finished 7-3 in 2010. But often that one winning season is followed by several lean years.
"This year it's all teaching and learning," Miller said. "I've already seen tremendous progress with the kids. Whether it's a scrimmage or a practice, I just want the kids to get better each day. They're practicing with enthusiasm. We're enjoying ourselves and the kids are coming together as a team."
Lower is struggling to fill out its roster. The Caper Tigers will feature 35 players, most of them underclassmen. A South Jersey Group II school, Lower has a sophomore through senior class enrollment of 698 students, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Miller says his relationship with Cape May's youth football community should attract more players.
"The younger kids know me," he said. "If I have 30 kids or more coming back next year and then I can get 19 or 20 freshmen out next year, then we're getting to where we need to be."
Lower will feature just two seniors who have been in the program since they were freshmen in lineman Josh Frederick and wide receiver and linebacker John Campbell.
"We're extremely young and even the older kids we have have very little high school football experience," Miller said. "That's the issue. But the older kids we do have are really good kids. They're great examples for the young guys. We have a group of talented freshmen and sophomores, but they're not ready to lead the program.
The Caper Tigers will run the spread offense. Junior Dylan Harrison steps in at quarterback.
Miller has a simple goal for this year's team and it doesn't center on wins and losses.
"No matter what the scoreboard says we want the team to play hard each play," he said. "As long as we can point to the kids that they're getting better. We can say to them, 'Hey, you're getting better. You're doing things you couldn't do five days a go, a week ago, a month ago. I think that will be the goal for this year."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Coach: Bill Miller (first season)
League/group: Cape-Atlantic League National Conference/South Jersey Group II
Last season's record: 1-9
Playoff appearances: 3
Playoff record: 0-3
2013 prediction: Rebuilding – The Caper Tigers have had just one winning season (7-3 in 2010) since 2007.
Key game: Sept. 27 vs. Buena Regional – This is Lower's home opener. Buena beat the Caper Tigers 34-6 last season.
Key players: Josh Frederick, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 229; Alec Soriano, Sr., RB/DB, 5-8, 167; John Campbell, Sr., WR/LB, 5-11, 172; Dylan Harrison, Jr., QB, 5-11, 168; Zack Hagan, Jr., G/LB, 6-0, 189; Greg Durham, Sr., DE/WR, 6-0, 187.