The Oakcrest High School football team surprised the South Jersey football community last year under first-year coach Chuck Smith.
The Falcons finished 9-3 for their first winning season since 1998.
They made the playoffs for the third time in school history.
Oakcrest reached the South Jersey Group IV final for the first time in school history, losing to Cherokee 33-6.
Oakcrest won't sneak up on anybody this season. The Falcons return a number of talented and speedy players.
"Nobody is looking past us now," Smith said. "Nobody is looking at the schedule this year and saying, ‘Hey, that's a W.' That's how we want it. We want the target."
Smith said last year's success makes the Falcons want even more.
"We went to the championship last year and now we have to do it again," linebacker and running back Brandon Bell said. "You can't get too cocky, but we have the confidence to play with anybody."
Bell is a big reason why the Falcons should be optimistic this season. The junior established himself as one of the Cape-Atlantic League's top players with 591 rushing yards, 57.5 tackles and nine sacks last season.
Senior defensive back Mark Clements, who is headed to Villanova University, is also one of the region's top defenders. He picked off seven passes last season.
"He has a great knack for the ball," Smith said. "He reacts so well. We go at him in practice all the time, and we can't get anything by him."
Quarterback Quaashie Jetter started as a sophomore last season. Jetter rushed for 214 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 700 yards and six touchdowns. Smith expects him to improve and be more consistent as a passer this fall.
"The key for us this year outside of line play is his consistency in throwing the football," Smith said.
The Falcons feature a number of speedy receivers and running backs, chief among them Fabian Santiago. The Oakcrest boys track and field team won the state Group IV championship last spring.
"We have a lot of kids from the track team on our football team," Smith said. "We need to get the ball in the hands of those athletes because a 5-yard play could go 65 yards for us real quickly."
Last year's season helped change the perception of the Oakcrest program. The Falcons had 50 players - compared to 30 last year - come out for their freshmen team this year. Another winning season and playoff berth this fall would be another boost.
"Last year was big to get it going," Smith said. "This year it's about continuing and establishing a program."
One thing will be different for the Falcons. Oakcrest will compete in Group III - not Group IV - this fall.
"There are some good teams in Group III," Smith said. "It is what it is, but you just have to roll with the schedule."
Contact Michael McGarry:
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 3
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010
PLAYOFF RECORD: 2-3
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League National/South Jersey Group III
COACH: Chuck Smith (9-3, one year)
2010 RECORD: 9-3
2011 PREDICTION: Contender - With two of the area's more dynamic players in RB/KB Brandon Bell and DB/WR Mark Clements, the Falcons have the talent and speed to repeat last year's success.
GAME TO WATCH: Sept. 9 vs. Holy Spirit. Oakcrest opens at home against top-ranked Holy Spirit, which beat the Falcons 49-0 last year.