Both the newcomers and veterans of the Mainland Regional High School football team have something to prove this season.
The Mustangs have been competitive the past four seasons but they haven't had a winning year since they finished 12-0 and won the South Jersey Group IV title in 2008.
This is the last chance for talented seniors such as linemen Mike Bucca, David Donovan and Kenny Randall to be part of a winning team. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Randall has verbally committed to Temple University.
"That (a last chance at success) got us all motivated," Bucca said. "We've been working extremely hard and that's what's been in the back of our minds the whole time. We think about close games that we lost last year. We really feel we can come out and beat the teams we didn't beat last year."
Mainland is a combined 9-11 the past two seasons.
"We've played pretty good football at times, but we'd like to see it improve," Mainland coach Bob Coffey said. "I look at it as a challenge for me as a coach, and the kids feel the same way. We haven't been at the level that we've been in the past, but we've held our own. It's cyclical in a public school system."
The Mustangs will start several sophomores. They have potential but like all young players must prove they can be successful on the field.
"They're young and they need experience but they do have ability," Coffey said.
Mainland has built around talented classes in the past. Many of the seniors on the 2008 team started as sophomores and went 5-5 in 2006.
"We have a lot of hope for these sophomores," Coffey said. "There's lots of them and they like to play football."
Coffey said this team is close and the veterans and sophomores make for an interesting mix.
"The younger kids are football smart," Coffey said. "The older kids have more athletic ability. The younger kids are easy to coach. They're a class that kind of gets it."
The Mustangs will be a run-oriented team. Senior Ty Mindisch has the edge at quarterback, but sophomore Sam Jackson is competing for the position. Running back Justin Walsh has shown excellent speed.
Mainland tried to develop depth in the preseason.
"We have to try to find as many one-way players as we possibly can," Coffey said. "If we can do that and some of our young kids come through, we can be in every game in a tough league."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Coach: Bob Coffey (174-98-2)
League/Group: Cape-Atlantic League American Conference/South Jersey Group IV
Last season's record: 4-6
Playoff appearances: 14
Playoff record: 21-8
2013 prediction: Rebuilding – Mustangs enter the season with some momentum having won their final two games last season.
Key game: Oct. 25 vs. Hammonton – The Mustangs host a CAL American Conference and South Jersey Group IV rival.
Key players: David Donovan, Sr., OL/DL, 6-3, 240; Ken Randall, OL/DL, 6-3, 305; Mike Bucca, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 235; Abdel Sarhan, Sr., OL/DL, 6-3, 235; Justin Walsh, Jr., RB/DB, 5-9, 160; Qwin Vitale, Sr., RB/DB, 5-9, 180; Mike Velez, Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 218; Matt Thomas, So., WR/DB, 5-9, 150; Nick Drobiniku, Jr., RB/LB, 6-0, 200; Collin Kaczmarski Jr., OL/DL, 6-0, 210; Matt Becker, Jr., OL/LB, 5-10, 175; Bryce Edmunds, Jr., WR/DB, 5-11, 175; Mike Juliano, So., K/WR, 5-11, 165.
Top newcomers: Sam Jackson, So., QB/DB, 5-9, 165; David Evans, So., OL/DL, 6-1, 215; David Devenney, So., TE/DE, 6-2, 200; Dom Perna, So., RB/LB, 6-0, 175; Ty Coffey, So., OL/LB, 5-9, 175; Kolin Roberts, So., RB/LB, 6-0, 180; Bryan Thelismond, So., RB/DB, 5-10, 180; Mike Kennedy, So., OL/DL, 6-1, 205; Andrew Brown, So., OL/DL, 6-1, 215; Sean Rutala, So., OL/DL, 6-0, 240