Holy Spirit High School football players, left to right, Domenic LaFragola, Ethan Gamble and Mike Mooney celebrate with the championship trophy after their win oer Camden Catholic on Friday night in Ewing Township.

Brian Branch-Price

New Holy Spirit High School football coach John Iannucci won’t be able to ease into the season.

The Spartans open Friday at Hammonton, last season’s South Jersey Group III finalist.

Spirit then travels to its biggest rival and defending state Non-Public I champion St. Joseph on Saturday, Sept. 15.

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“We can’t make our whole season those two games,” Iannucci said. “We’re a young team. We’re going to get better and better. I think we have a good chance in the first two games but after that I think we’ll get better and better.”

Spirit is the defending state Non-Public II champion but returns few players from last season’s team, with just two starters back on offense and five on defense.

Spirit hired Iannucci in January after last season’s head coach, Charles Roman, left to become an assistant at St. Augustine Prep. Roman was 35-9 and won two state titles in his four seasons.

Iannucci, 58, is a career football coach. He’s been the head coach at nine high schools, including Cherry Hill East from 2004-06.

Like with any new coach, Iannucci’s arrival has meant changes for the Spartans.

“They’re good kids,” Iannucci said of the Spartans. “They’re fighting through. We practice different then the way they used to practice. Every coach is different. We hit a little bit more. We wear pads a little bit more.”

Iannucci is famed for coaching the triple-option offense and that is what the Spartans will run this season.

Spirit is young. The Spartans won’t start a senior on defense. But they are also talented and may have more team speed than last year.

Sophomore C.J. LaFragola steps in at quarterback.

“He’s the perfect kid for the (triple option),” Iannucci said. “He can run. He’s smart. He reads well. He’s going to be real good. It’s just going to take a bit of time.”

Running backs Talib Gerald and A.J. Dawson give the Spartans speed in the backfield. Dawson, who is also a force at cornerback, won the Cape-Atlantic League 200-meter dash title last spring. Dawson also won the fastest defensive back at a Rutgers University invitational camp this summer.

“We’re deep at running back,” Iannucci said. “This is as probably as good speed as I’ve had in my (coaching) career.”

Spirit featured huge offensive and defensive lines the past few years. The Spartans will also have some size up front this year with senior Steve Domonoski (6-foot-4, 295 pounds) and junior Ray Ellis (6-2, 257).

Spirit does get one scheduling break. The Spartans get a bye after the St. Joe game.

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