St. Joseph won a state title when Jarred Bianchini was a freshman three years ago.
It was the Wildcats' eighth straight championship - a New Jersey record.
Bianchini and the rest of the Wildcats could not be blamed for thinking those days would never end. Bianchini, now a senior, knows better.
St. Joe hasn't won a championship since 2006. The Wildcats were 5-5 and were shut out in their last two games last season.
"It sticks with us good," Bianchini, a running back and defensive back, said of the disappointments of the past two seasons. "It's a bad time."
St. Joe should be back in state title contention this season. The Wildcats return nine starters each on offense and defense.
"We're really excited," Bianchini said. "You can tell the coaches are really excited too."
Many of those players were freshmen and sophomores last season. Inexperience was a problem.
"People remind you all the time (and ask) how did you go through a 12- to 15-year period where your worst record was 8-2, 9-2," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "All of a sudden you're 5-5. We had two or three seniors on the field at one time. These kids are a lot older, a lot more mature. We're a much better football team. We weren't a bad football team last season. The five games we lost, three of them we should have won."
The Wildcats should have an easier time scoring. Bianchini rushed for 370 yards last season. Kaheem Reynolds gained 221 yards as a freshman. Sean Clark should be a force at fullback. Sophomore Darryl Smith probably takes over at quarterback.
"I think the line is really improved," Bianchini said.
Defense wasn't a problem for the Wildcats last year. St. Joe defenders should be even stingier this season.
Junior linebacker Pat Casey had 81 tackles and six sacks last season. Defensive end Kaiwan Lewis showed flashes of dominance as a freshman last year. He had 57 tackles and five sacks.
"A lot of people have been doubting us," Bianchini said. "We're going to come out and surprise people."
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 27
LAST APPEARANCE: 2008
PLAYOFF RECORD: 31-12
LEAGUE/GROUP: Cape-Atlantic League National Conference/ Non-Public II
COACH: Paul Sacco
2008 RECORD: 5-5
2009 PREDICTION: Contender.
After a rare down season, the Wildcats return 18 starters and should again contend for a conference
and state title.
THE GROUND GAME:
Running backs Jarred Bianchini, Kaheem Reynolds and Sean Clark form a potent combination.
Allan McMurran, Sr., WR/DB, 5-11, 150;
Kaiwan Lewis, So., TE/DE, 6-2, 220;
Dennis Gibson, Sr., WR/DB, 6-1, 190;
Kaheem Reynolds, So., RB/LB, 5-10, 160;
Pat Casey, Jr., TE/LB, 6-1, 195;
Sean Clark, Sr., FB/LB, 5-8, 200;
Gordon Hill, Jr., RB/DB, 6-0, 190;
Jarred Bianchini, Sr., RB/DB, 6-0, 175;
Mark Tomaszewski, Sr., OT/DT, 6-1, 240;
Kyle Lafferty, Sr., OT/DT, 6-1, 220;
Michael Mazzeo, Jr., OL/DL, 6-2, 215;
Anthony DeRosa, Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 270;
Darryl Smith, So., QB, 6-0, 170;
Dan Gary, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 215;
Mike Maniscalco, Jr., QB/DB, 5-10, 185;
P.J. Dailey, Sr., C/DT, 5-7, 170;
Theo Kelly, Sr., WR/DB, 6-0, 170;
Mike Tavini, Sr., WR/DE, 5-9, 165;
Vinny Reed, Sr., WR/DB, 5-7, 155;
Stuart DeVries, Sr., WR/DB, 5-8, 150.
St. Joseph's schedule
Sept. 11 at Bridgeton 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 vs. Middle Township noon
Sept. 26 vs. Pleasantville noon
Oct. 3 vs. Holy Spirit noon
Oct. 10 vs. Haverford Prep 2 p.m.
Oct. 23 at St. Augustine 7 p.m.
Oct. 30 at Lower Cape May Regional 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 at Buena Regional 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 vs. Hammonton noon