The St. Joseph High School football team will play the toughest schedule of its illustrious history this season.

After years of competing in the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference, the Wildcats will play in the CAL American Conference against schools with much larger enrollments.

St. Joe has a sophomore through senior class enrollment of 281 students, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. All but two of its opponents have a similar enrollment of at least 1,000 students.

“We have to prove to everybody that we can play that schedule and take care of it,” Wildcats quarterback Anthony Giagunto said.

Giagunto said the Wildcats thought often about the schedule as they lifted weights and ran sprints this summer to prepare for the season. St. Joe had better be in shape. The Wildcats will have 10 players start on both offense and defense.

“We all knew we had to work twice as hard because we’re playing tougher teams,” he said.

The challenge will not only be a physical one. The Wildcats must prepare mentally to be the “big game” on each team’s schedule. Their success makes the Wildcats a target. They have won 20 playoff championships, including the state Non-Public I title last year when they finished 10-0.

“Hopefully, our kids will be resilient,” St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said.

Few local fans doubt St. Joe will be up to the task. The Wildcats feature many of the region’s top players.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Giagunto is 17-0 as a starter. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns and no interceptions in 107 career passes.

“I feel great,” he said. “I’ve run the offense for four years. I’m comfortable. I’m just ready.”

St. Joe will also rely on dominant offensive and defensive lines this season. Roy Lucas, a 5-10, 245-pound senior, is a force upfront on offense and defense. Kevin Goldsmith, a 6-1, 195-pound senior, led the team with nine sacks last season.

The Wildcats will feature a versatile and talented backfield. Miles Pease is a speedy standout who has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons. Robert Thompson also has excellent speed.

St. Joe has played schools with large enrollments before. But the Wildcats haven’t faced schools of that size on a consistent basis until this season. Fans have wondered how St. Joe would fare against a tougher schedule. This season they’ll get their answer.

“It’s a big change for us,” Sacco said. “But we’re taking the same approach. We’re playing each game like it’s a championship game.”

Contact Michael McGarry:

609-272-7185