The St. Joseph High School football team won a state title in 2009.
This year could be even better.
The Wildcats, who finished 8-3, return numerous standouts and are predicted to be among the top teams in southern New Jersey.
"We're trying to low key it a little bit," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said.
"We've tried to take small steps, break up the season. It's no secret we have eight seniors and seven of them started last year. When you look around, we do have a good amount of talent, but talent doesn't always win football games and championships."
St. Joe also began last season with high expectations. But the Wildcats lost their season opener to Bridgeton.
"We kind of got ahead of ourselves," Sacco said. "We're going to make sure that doesn't happen this year."
Quarterback Darryl Smith started as a sophomore and threw for 705 yards and five touchdowns last season. Smith got better as last season progressed and should emerge as one of the Cape-Atlantic League's best this season.
"A year makes a difference, especially your sophomore to junior year," Sacco said. "We've done a nice job throwing the ball in scrimmages."
The Wildcats have talented returnees at every position. Running backs Kaheem Reynolds and Gordon Hill averaged better than 7 yards per carry last season. Nick O'Brien anchors the offensive line.
Defensively, the Wildcats will be tough to score against. Defensive ends Max Valles (6-foot-4, 205) and Kaiwan Lewis (6-2, 235) have size and speed.
Mike Mazzeo is a stellar nose guard. Pat Casey and Josh Moore return at linebacker. Casey made 101 tackles last season. Cornerback Phillip Paulhill picked off five passes.
Few teams in the state can match St. Joe's tradition of success. The Wildcats have won 19 playoff championships.
This team has the talent to make it 20 titles.
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 28
LAST APPEARANCE: 2009
PLAYOFF RECORD: 33-12
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League United/State Non-Public II
COACH: Paul Sacco (236-53-5, 29 seasons)
2009 RECORD: 8-3
2010 PREDICTION: Favorite. The Wildcats return standouts at just about every position. They have the potential to be one of the best teams in school history.
GAME TO WATCH:
Oct. 1 at Holy Spirit .
These two schools are both predicted to among the state’s best. St. Joe beat Spirit 19-14 last season.
Pat Casey, Sr., TE/LB, 6-1, 205; Mike Mazzeo, Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 225; Nick O’Brien, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 225; Josh Moore, Sr., OL/LB, 5-11, 205; Gordon Hill, Sr., RB/DB, 6-0, 210; Todd Bockarie, Jr., WR/K, 5-11, 160; Phillip Paulhill, Jr., WR/DB, 6-0, 165; Max Valles, Jr., WR/DE, 6-1, 205; Kaiwan Lewis, Jr., OL/DL, 6-2, 235; Darryl Smith, Jr., QB/DB, 6-0, 185; Eli Pogue, Jr., RB/DB, 5-11, 175; Kaheem Reynolds, Jr., RB/DB, 5-8, 165; Cory Litton, Jr., OL/DL, 5-11, 210; Anthony Giagunto, So, QB/DB, 5-8, 160; Roy Lucas, So., OL/DL, 5-10, 225; Buddy Brown, So., FB/LB, 6-2, 195; Zach Grant, So., RB/DB, 6-0, 160; Miles Pease, So., RB/DB, 5-8, 145; Mike Adams, Jr., OL/DL, 6-2, 235.