The St. Joseph High School football team is famous for how hard it prepares for each season.
This year, Wildcats fullback Eli Pogue says coach Paul Sacco is pushing the team even more. That's because this could be one of the best teams in St. Joe's illustrious history.
"I feel like this year coach Sacco has a higher expectation for us," Pogue said.
That's saying something because few teams in New Jersey can match St. Joe's tradition of excellence. The Wildcats finished 10-1 and won the state Non-Public II title last year. They have won 13 state championships since private schools began playing for state titles in 1993.
This year, St. Joe features a pair of future Division I college players in defensive ends Kaiwan Lewis and Max Valles.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Valles is headed to the University of Virginia. He had 10 sacks and recovered four fumbles last season.
The 6-2, 225-pound Lewis will attend the University of South Carolina. He had 79 tackles and six sacks last season.
"They're anchoring both sides of the defense," Sacco said. "I'm sure teams will game plan to beat them."
On offense, St. Joe usually relies on the run combined with some timely passes. This season will be no different.
Senior running back Kaheem Reynolds rushed for 647 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore but was troubled by a high ankle sprain last year and finished with just 390 rushing yards. He seems primed for a productive season this year.
"I think he's due," Sacco said of Reynolds. "This is his last chance to do it. Hopefully, he'll get it done."
Sacco also expects contributions from former quarterback Darryl Smith. The senior will start at running back and defensive back this year.
"I think he's much more comfortable now," Sacco said. "He's 195 pounds. He runs well. He catches well. He's blocking well."
The Wildcats also will get a boost from junior running back Miles Pease, who missed the last two seasons with shoulder injuries.
"He's electrifying to watch," Sacco said. "You talk about fast."
Cory Litton, Mike Adams and Delonce Hargrave lead a veteran offensive line.
Sacco said this group of Wildcats is an enjoyable one to coach.
"This group just comes to practice. They enjoy themselves and go home," he said.
Contact Michael McGarry:
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 32
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010
PLAYOFF RECORD: 35-12
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League United/State Non-Public I
COACH: Paul Sacco (246-54-5, 29 seasons)
2010 RECORD: 10-1
2011 PREDICTION: Favorite - Wildcats are one of the top teams in the state and the overwhelming favorite to win the CAL united Division and the state Non-Public I championship.
GAME TO WATCH: Oct. 1 vs. Holy Spirit - This has become of the state's best rivalries the past five seasons. Both teams are defending state champions.