The St. Augustine Prep football team struggled at times last season, finishing 4-6, but the Hermits showed their potential late in the season.
They beat Millville (a South Jersey Group IV playoff team) 38-23 as running back John Barillo rushed for 242 yards.
St. Augustine also ended its season with wins over St. John Vianney and Buena Regional. The Hermits have the talent to build on that late-season success.
They return eight starters on offense and eight on defense.
"A lot of our players have played a year," Hermits coach Dennis Scuderi said. "Now they have to get better. They have to go to the next level."
The Hermits feature one of the league's top college recruits in offensive and defensive tackle Austin Johnson. The 6-foot-5, 280-pound senior is headed to Penn State.
"College coaches love his quickness on defense," Scuderi said. "I talked to the Penn State coaches. They said they're fighting about whether he's going to play offense or defense."
Barillo was one of the CAL's top running backs last season, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior is fast. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds this summer.
Sophomore Joe Gatto returns at quarterback. Gatto completed 51 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns as a freshman.
"He's more confident mentally," Scuderi said of Gatto. "When you're thrown into the fire and then you come back, I think it gets a little easier."
St. Augustine finished 4-6 last season but it just as easily could have been 6-4.
The Hermits squandered second-half leads in losses to Atlantic City and Vineland.
The Hermits emphasized weight training even more than they usually do in the offseason, so they won't wear down in games.
"I think as last season went on we grew," Scuderi said. "They (the Hermit players) didn't quit. I'm optimistic (about this season). I think we can be a good football team. If the kids grow and believe in themselves, we're going to be successful."
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Augustine Prep
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 6
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2009
PLAYOFF RECORD: 3-5
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League American/State Non-Public IV
COACH: Dennis Scuderi (88-37, 13 seasons)
2010 RECORD: 4-6
2011 PREDICTION: Spoiler - With eight starters back on offense and eight back on defense, Hermits are a team on the rise.
GAME TO WATCH: Sept. 23 at Vineland - Last season the Hermits squandered a 21-7 lead and lost 28-21. Those are the tyoe of games St. Augustine needs to win to be successful this season.