The Hammonton High School football team will start several sophomores this year.
Coach Pete Lancetta is excited about that.
"We're going to be young and inexperienced," Blue Devils coach Pete Lancetta. "But we had a heck of a freshman team last year. I think they're going to be more than capable. Some of these kids will play for three years."
Hammonton will blend the newcomers with a talented transfer and some determined veterans.
That combination should again make the Blue Devils a Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Group III contender.
Few local teams can match Hammonton's success. The Blue Devils have made 28 playoff appearances and won five South Jersey titles, the last one coming in 2009 when they won the Group III crown.
"We have real good leadership in the senior class, which is important," Lancetta said.
The Blue Devils will rely on senior lineman Nate Haden, a three-year starter, defensive back and wide receiver Bobby Barbieri and running back and linebacker Chris Brennan. Senior linebacker Jordan Brown established himself as one of the area's best last season.
Hammonton - as always seems to be the case - should feature solid special teams. Barbieri is the punter, Anthony Scibilia is a veteran long snapper and sophomore Alex Padovani is a promising kicker.
"I hope defense is going to carry us," Lancetta said. "Hopefully, the offense matures quickly enough."
Hammonton's offensive strength will be its depth at running back.
"We have six kids back there running with the first unit," Lancetta said. "That's as much depth as we've had in the backfield."
Senior Russell Forchion, a transfer from Overbook, rushed for more than 1,000 yards at his former school last season.
"He's quick," Lancetta said. "He's a real good receiver type. He has great hands."
Sophomore running back Dylan Rosu saw time at the end of last season and showed himself to be a quick, physical runner.
He scored touchdowns in wins over Ocean City and Atlantic City.
Christian Mortellite and Tyler D'Amelio are the top contenders to play quarterback. D'Amelio started last season. The 6-foot-4 Mortellite is more of a pocket passer.
Hammonton is talented but the Blue Devils will have to overcome their inexperience. Hammonton plays one of the region's toughest schedules. Six of its nine opponents made the playoffs last season. Two (Holy Spirit and St. Joe) won championships. One (Oakcrest) reached a South Jersey final and two more (Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township) won playoff games.
"We don't know how the young kids are going to respond and develop," Lancetta said. "We're going to be confronted with some tough situations."
Contact Michael McGarry:
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 28
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010
PLAYOFF RECORD: 28-23
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League National/South Jersey Group III
COACH: Pete Lancetta (187-49-2, 22 seasons)
2010 RECORD: 7-4
2011 PREDICTION: Contender - The Blue Devils will combine some returning standouts with a talented sophomore class.
GAME TO WATCH: Sept. 23 at Oakcrest - Hammonton and Oakcrest are CAL National Division and South Jersey Group III rivals. Game will effect the division and both team's playoff chances.