Barnegat could have its best defense in school history. That and a pair of a Division I college prospects has the Bengals enthusiastic for the upcoming season.

The Bengals began varsity play in 2006. They have had no problem scoring points, but stopping teams has been challenging at times.

"The kids are physical," Barnegat coach Rob Davis. "It's the chemistry. We're a little bigger than we were before."

The Bengals will have to be. They play in the Shore Conference National Division. That league features several Monmouth and Ocean county perennial powers, most notably Manasquan, Raritan and Point Pleasant Borough.

Jarrett Darmstatter is a big reason for Barnegat's optimism. The 6-foot-4, 244-pound senior returns at linebacker and tight end.

With his reach and speed, he is a force on defense. He made 75 tackles and had two sacks last season.

But on offense he's a Division I prospect. A dozen schools, including Rutgers University and Boston College, have offered him scholarships.

Darmstatter caught 20 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns last season. The Bengals are not going to force the ball to him this season.

"He's a tight end," Davis said. "He's a blocker first. He makes other receivers good. His presence opens things up for other people."

Barnegat's other Division I prospect is Nick San Giacomo. The 6-4, 197-pound junior already had a college scholarship offer from Tulane. San Giacomo threw for 1,575 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Barnegat made the playoffs in its first season but missed it the past two years. The Bengals were in contention last season until the final weeks of the regular season, but losses to Manasquan, Raritan and Monsignor Donovan doomed its chances. Each of those defeats were by a touchdown.

"We play some tough, tough teams," Davis said. "It's good. We're hungry, and we'd like to think we can give those teams some problems. We want to make it back to the playoffs."

PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 1

LAST APPEARANCE: 2007

PLAYOFF RECORD: 0-1

CHAMPIONSHIPS: 0

LEAGUE/GROUP: Shore Conference National Division/South Jersey Group II

COACH: Rob Davis (13-17, three seasons)

2008 RECORD: 4-6

2009 PREDICTION: Spoiler.

With Division I prospects Jarrett Darmstatter and Nick San Giacomo, the Bengals could surprise.

THE GROUND GAME:

Davis said the Bengals will ue running back by committee this season.

KEY REURNEES:

Nick San Giacomo, Jr., QB, 6-4, 197; Jarrett Darmstatter, Sr., TE/LB, 6-4, 241;

Danny Carlo, Sr., OL/DL, 5-10, 211; Rob Municchi, Sr., OL,DL 6-2, 264; Mike Rubino, Sr., OL, 6-4, 240;

Tom Erb, Jr., RB/LB, 5-10, 193;

Ryan Burns, Sr., LB, 5-11, 197;

Mike DeTroia, Jr., WR/CB, 6-3, 179; Lou Buscio, Jr., DB, 5-9, 173;

Adam Kolvites, Sr., DB, 5-8, 166.

TOP NEWCOMERS:

Casey Pinto, Jr., RB, 5-8, 143;

Scott Hardy, Sr., WR, 5-6, 158;

Kyle Maurer, Jr., WR, 6-3, 180;

John Frigon, Jr., OL/DL, 5-8, 231; Anthony Frigon, Sr., OL, 5-7, 293;

Ed Siciliano, Sr., K, 5-9, 150;

Matt Scofield, So., LB, 5-8, 194;

Josh Aviles, Sr., CB, 6-1, 168;

Ryan Gelenites, Sr., P, 6-2, 183.

Barnegat's schedule

Sept. 17: at Holmdel, 7 p.m.

Sept. 25: Pinelands, 7 p.m.

Oct. 2: Jackson Liberty, 7 p.m.

Oct. 10: at Manasquan, 2 p.m

Oct. 16: St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.

Oct. 23: at Raritan, 7 p.m.

Oct. 30: Point Pleasant Borough, 7 p.m.

Nov. 7: at Lakewood, 2:30 p.m.

Nov. 26: at Southern Regional, 10 a.m.