Lacey Township will not have it easy this season.

The Lions play their toughest schedule ever, according to Lou Vircillo, who has coached Lacey since the school opened in 1980.

Lacey plays traditional Shore Conference powers Middletown South, Brick Township, Colts Neck, Freehold Borough and Toms River East.

"It's going to be an interesting year," Vircillo said.

The Lions also graduated several standouts.

Still, Lacey has the talent to achieve its fifth straight winning season. The Lions have been one of the region's most successful teams this decade, reaching the South Jersey Group III final from 2005-07 and winning the title in 2006.

Lacey played in three seven-on-seven tournaments this summer and only lost one game.

"Our kids can compete with a lot of kids in the state of New Jersey," Vircillo said.

Lacey is known for its outstanding tailbacks. Tom Rickmers ran for 1,574 yards as a senior last season.

But with Rickmers gone, the Lions will get more people involved. Lacey will operate primarily out of the shotgun.

Junior Craig Cicardo took over the quarterback job midway through last year. He showed promise as a sophomore throwing for 604 yards and four touchdowns.

"What we're trying to do," Vircillo said, "is open it up more and use a lot more of our athletes and have a more balanced attack. Instead of putting the burden on a tailback, we're shuffling in a lot of different kids."

The Lions will feature Jarrod Molzon at running back, Anthony Caputo at fullback and Zach Terrill, Pat Jenson and Roby Honeycutt at wide receiver.

"We've all been playing together since we were (7-years-old)," Cicardo said.

Molzon in particular has been impressive in the preseason. He is quick and elusive.

"I'm looking to make big blocks for him and Craig Cicardo," Caputo said.

Linemen Mike Stuppiello is a force on defense. The 6-foot, 245-pound senior made 56 tackles and had nine sacks last season.

PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 15

LAST APPEARANCE: 2008

PLAYOFF RECORD: 13-12

CHAMPIONSHIPS: 3

LEAGUE/GROUP: Shore Conference Consititution Division/South Jersey Group III

COACH: Lou Vircillo (224-103-3, 34 seasons)

2008 RECORD: 6-5

2009 PREDICTION: Contender. Many standouts graduated but quarterback Craig Cicardo leads a strong junior class. Senior defensive linemen Mike Stuppiello is a playmaker with nine sacks last season.

THE GROUND GAME:

Jarrod Molzon is a speedy back and was impressive in the preseason.

KEY RETURNEES:

Mike Stuppiello, Sr., DE/OT, 6-1, 245;

Corey Neil, Sr., Center, 6-2, 255;

Joe Tulino, Sr., DE/OG, 6-1, 250;

Anthony Caputo, Sr., FB/LB, 5-11, 190;

Craig Cicardo, Jr., QB, 6-0, 190;

Jarrod Molzon, Jr., RB/FS/K, 5-11, 188;

Zach Torrell, Jr., WR/SS, 5-11, 185;

Jake Dabal, Jr., CB/RB, 5-7, 165;

Dave Vierra, Jr., NG, 6-0, 190;

Matt Uveges, Jr., LB/FB, 5-11, 190;

Brian Mykolew, Jr., G/CB, 5-11, 220.

TOP NEWCOMERS:

Anthony Pierce, Jr., OLB, 6-0, 190;

Pat Jensen, Jr., CB/WR, 5-10, 170;

Mike D'Asdarrio, Jr., OT, 6-1, 225;

Dylan Joslin, Jr., OLB/TE, 6-3, 230;

Rob Honeycutt, Jr., WR/DB, 5-11, 180;

Tom Murray, Jr., OL, 5-10, 190;

Austin Rickmers, Jr., LB, 5-8, 180;

Jordon Powell, So., TE/OLB, 6-3, 200.

Lacey Township's schedule

Sept. 11: at Middletown South 7 p.m.

Sept. 18: Toms River East 4 p.m.

Oct. 3: at Toms River South 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 10: Brick Township 2 p.m.

Oct. 17: at Marlboro 2 p.m.

Oct. 24: Colts Neck 1 p.m.

Oct. 30: at Middletown North 7 p.m.

Nov. 17: Freehold Boro 2 p.m.

Nov. 26: Central Regional 11 a.m.