The Bridgeton High School football team features 22 seniors this season.
That's saying something.
In past years, the Bulldogs haven't had many more than 22 players on their entire roster.
"It's unusual for us," Bulldogs coach Dave Ellen said of the large senior class. "We should be a seasoned group."
The seniors' experience has already shown itself in Bridgeton's scrimmages.
"You have a four-year player who ends up being a coach on the field," Ellen said. "He's able to direct and fix problems. We don't have to wait for a timeout or a stoppage in play to fix. They're fixing it on the fly."
The 22 seniors aren't the only good news. One of the seniors, offensive and defensive lineman Sean Henigin, is one of the state's top college prospects. Rutgers, Duke and North Carolina are among the colleges that have offered the 6-foot-7, 325-pound Henigin a scholarship.
Henigin had 18 pancake blocks last season. On defense, he made 45 tackles and had two sacks. He could be even more of a force this season.
"He's been in the weight room the whole offseason," Ellen said of Henigin.
"He's gotten a lot stronger. He's really excited about this season and you see it rubbing off on the others."
Henigin isn't Bridgeton's only big guy on the offensive and defensive lines. The Bulldogs also feature 6-5, 285-pound Sam Bell and 6-4, 300-pound Christian Brown, who transferred from Florida and is also a Division I prospect.
Another returnee is Tamar Jackson, a four-year starter at quarterback. He threw for seven touchdowns last season.
Ellen said Jackson looked comfortable and confident in the preseason.
"He's playing with a smile on his face," Ellen said. "The game has slowed down for him so much. He's so adept at playing at the varsity level."
As is usually the case, the Bulldogs' strength will be their team speed. But the Bulldogs seem to lack the explosive runner who can score from anywhere on the field. Ellen said Jerome Scurry established himself as one of the team's top backs in the preseason, but it could be a running back by committee situation.
"We're going to have to be a real multiple-type offense," Ellen said. "Defensively, we should be pretty good. We're flying around to the ball."
The Bulldogs don't have much depth, so they must avoid injuries. In the past, the Bulldogs almost always qualify for the playoffs when they avoid injuries.
"That's really going to be the key to our season," Ellen said.
Contact Michael McGarry:
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 7
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2009
PLAYOFF RECORD: 9-5
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League United/South Jersey Group II
COACH: Dave Ellen (68-66, 12 seasons)
2010 RECORD: 4-5
2011 PREDICTION: Contender - The Bulldogs with 22 seniors and top college recruit Sean Henigin are a team on the rise in the South Jersey Group II.
GAME TO WATCH: Oct. 7 vs. Lower Cape May Regional — The Bulldogs host CAL United and South Jersey Group II rival Lower Cape May. The Caper Tigers beat Bridgeton 21-10 last year.