Mainland Regional High School starts the season reeling from a tragedy when four players were killed and another four were injured in a car accident three weeks before the start of the season.
The Mustangs are using football as a way to cope. They were back on the practice field quickly after the accident, remembering the four they lost.
Last season, Mainland was 7-3 on the field, winning its last three games. However, it had to forfeit four of its earlier wins because of an ineligible player.
Even though the disqualifications prevented the Mustangs from making the playoffs, Mainland was able to move on from that and look at the positives from the season.
"It's always a good thing to end with a win, much less three wins in a row," coach Bob Coffey said. "I'm just real proud of the kids. They did a great job."
Mainland had a dual-attack backfield last year with Dashown Walker and Chris Kaczmarski.
They combined for 761 yards and five touchdowns.
But one of Mainland's best offensive attributes was its kicker. The Mustangs have Jim Cooper, one of the best kickers in the state.
Last season, he was second in the Cape-Atlantic League in kicking points with 42 and tied a CAL record with nine field goals. No one else in the area had more than four.
Cooper also hit four of the five longest field goals in the area, which were between 35 and 44 yards.
"Of course, our kicker is awesome," Coffey said. "A lot of specialty guys are back. Our backfield is back, our secondary is back. I think if we mature like I hope, we can have a couple of upsets. That would be nice."
Last season, Mainland only gave up 12.6 points in 10 games on defense.
The Mustangs had two shutouts, one game where they gave up three points and two games where they gave up just a touchdown.
Mainland focuses a lot on defense and will definitely need it this year.
Even though the Mustangs have many returning starters on offense, their offensive line will be brand new.
"We get to the ball real good," Coffey said. "We love playing defense here. It's always one of our strong points."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj:
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 13
LAST APPEARANCE: 2008
PLAYOFF RECORD: 20-8
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League National/South Jersey Group III
COACH: Bob Coffey (165-86-2, 26 seasons)
2010 RECORD: 3-7
2011 PREDICTION: Spoiler. Mainland brings back strong young players, especially on defense. Could be a fit for many teams.
GAME TO WATCH:
Sept. 30 vs. Oakcrest. Last year's game was low scoring with just one field goal deciding the winner. Expect another exciting defensive game.
Mike Anderson, Sr., LB, 5-11, 210; Jae Shim, Sr., LB, 5-10, 185; Bill Wilcox, Sr., WR, 5-8, 165; Chris Kaczmarski, Sr., RB, 5-8, 165; Jim Cooper, Jr., K/P, 6-1, 180; Tom Bradway, Jr., QB, 5-11, 185; Christian Scittina, Sr., NG, 5-8, 195; Dashown Waller, Sr., SE, 5-8, 155; Zack Storr, Sr., RB/DB, 5-10, 171; Matt Maiman, Jr., TE/DB, 5-11, 166; Evan Hartman, Sr., WR, 5-9, 166; Joe Fortunato, Sr., DL, 6-3, 217; Joe Sutor, Jr., WR, 5-10, 161; Guy Loggi, Sr., WR/LB, 5-10, 166.