This year's Southern Regional High School football team will feature a characteristic it hasn't had in years and maybe ever.
The Rams hope to convert that speed into big plays on offense.
"We're going to be more of an offensive team," said Southern coach Chuck Donohue, who begins his 14th season this year. "Over the years, we've played to our defense. This year, I feel confident we can take shots down the field and make teams defend the whole length of the field. I really don't think we've ever been able to do that."
Southern returns numerous players from last season's 5-5 team. Many of those players are juniors who started as sophomores.
The Rams should contend for the Shore Conference A-South title and a South Jersey Group IV playoff spot.
Team speed isn't the only difference between this year's Rams and the school's past teams. Southern isn't as big as it usually is.
"We're very small," Donohue said. "We don't have big linemen right now and normally that's always been our strength. I'm concerned about a team upfront that can pound us. We have to control the line of scrimmage with movement, quickness and pressure."
Southern must also overcome a preseason injury. Nick Munafo, a standout linebacker, is out five weeks with a neck injury.
"We're going to be overly cautious," Donohue said.
The Rams return eight starters on defense. Senior linebacker Jackman Bush is a three-year starter.
"He has to step up and be an outstanding player and not just one of the guys," Donohue said.
Senior defensive end Ryan Boyle has started since he was a freshman. The Rams also expect big contributions on offense and defense from senior wide receiver and defensive back Alec Morris, who is completely healthy for the first time in years. Morris was hobbled as a sophomore and junior by a foot injury that occurred in the 2009 season opener.
On offense, wide receiver Kevin Barreau finished fourth in the South Jersey Group IV 100-meter dash last spring.
"We have a kid who can get down the field," Donohue said.
Quarterback Dan Higgins played some last year.
"We have high hopes for him," Donohue said. "He throws the ball very, very well and has a good understanding of the offense. I like the way the kid plays."
Contact Michael McGarry:
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 7
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2008
PLAYOFF RECORD: 3-7
LEAGUE/GROUP: Shore Conference A South/South Jersey Group IV
COACH: Chuck Donohue (209-145-4, 38 seasons)
2010 RECORD: 5-5
2011 PREDICTION: Contender - Rams will feature plenty of speedy players - a rarity for them.
GAME TO WATCH: Oct. 1 vs. Brick Memorial: Rams host last season's Central Jersey Group IV finalist.