The Egg Harbor Township High School football team gathered each Friday at 6 a.m. during the summer for what the Eagles called their "power hour."
The session actually lasted two hours. Players worked out at the school, running sprints and flipping truck tires.
"We got up early when other teams were sleeping," EHT defensive lineman and tight end Mark Capetola said. "It's mental fuel. We like to think we outwork teams."
The workouts did more than build strength and stamina. They built the bonds that have helped make EHT one of the state's top teams.
EHT (11-0) plays at Cherokee (10-1) for the South Jersey Group IV title today. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. This is EHT's first South Jersey appearance in eight years. The Eagles haven't won a sectional championship since 1993.
"We're so used to turning in our pads after Thanksgiving," Capetola said. "I feel like we've been preparing for this game forever. We're anxious."
EHT is obviously talented. Few teams can match the Eagles' speed. But what makes EHT special is the relationships between the players, especially the seniors.
"Everybody gets along with everybody," fullback and linebacker Zach Agostino said.
EHT had talented teams earlier this decade that underachieved in part because the players didn't get along.
It's a challenge to unite a team at EHT.
The school is one of the Cape-Atlantic League's biggest, with a sophomore-through-senior enrollment this school year of 1,823, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic association. Only Cherokee (1,851), Vineland (1,892) and Washington Township (2,084) are bigger in southern New Jersey.
The township has no main street. Players come from different schools and different areas. Wide receiver Joe Magosin lives in West Atlantic City in sight of the casinos on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Capetola and his twin brother, Matt, a senior defensive back, live by the Hamilton Mall.
The size of the town can make it difficult for people to get to know each other.
But these seniors have been different from the start. They played in youth leagues together, and their families were committed to the sport.
"We all had really great football families," Mark Capetola said. "Our moms would always drive us places."
A big reason the Eagles get along is that they're committed to winning.
"They have a common goal," coach Tony DeRosa said. "They're all competitive, and it doesn't matter what they're doing. I play Zach Agostino in ping pong, and he wants to bury me."
They also hang out together away from the field. Agostino had a party at his house before the start of the preseason training camp last summer. The Eagles ate, played video games and joked around.
"We've had some problems in the past," DeRosa said, "but the right pieces of the puzzle came together."
The media have billed today's game as EHT's speed vs. Cherokee's power.
DeRosa agrees with that assessment.
"They're going to come right at us," DeRosa said. "That's how you beat speed. You go right at it."
DeRosa reminded his team this week that it has played well against powerful running teams this year. The Eagles beat Hammonton in the regular season and Shawnee and Toms River East in the playoffs.
"We've faced big offensive lines before, and we've done the job," the coach said.
DeRosa also stressed something else to his team this week.
Win or lose, the season ends today.
"We told them to enjoy their last week together," he said. "We told them you will never be as close again as you've been the past four months."
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