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Training camp 2019: A quick look at Pleasantville
The Pleasantville High School football team will answer a question about itself this season.
"Are we a team or are we a program," Greyhounds coach Chris Sacco said. "We're not happy with last year. It was a great year, but we didn't win any championships."
The Greyhounds finished 8-3, won their first playoff game in 15 years and reached the South Jersey Group II semifinals last season. They graduated 17 seniors but still have the talent to contend in the West Jersey Football League United Division and the South Jersey Group II playoffs.
"The bulk of our team are sophomores and juniors that are talented but they're a little raw and a little inexperienced," Sacco said. "But they definitely have a high ceiling."
On offense, Pleasantville will feature senior running back Joshua Kotokpo, who averaged 8.1 yards per carry and scored 13 touchdowns last season.
"Josh has great vision," Sacco said. "He's a pure running back. He's poised to hopefully have a big year in the backfield."
Senior wide receiver Keon Henry showed promise last season. He caught a touchdown pass and returned an interception for a touchdown in a scrimmage against Timber Creek this preseason.
"His routes have gotten better," Sacco said. "His hands have gotten better. He's really trying to polish up and be a complete receiver this year."
Equallie Bumpass is a three-year starter on the offensive line. Jonathan Valentine, a 5-foot-9, 265-pound transfer from Holy Spirit, will start on the offensive and defensive lines when he becomes eligible 30 days into the season.
Sophomore Adonis Diaz and freshman Marlon Leslie were competing for the quarterback in preseason.
"Marlon has played quarterback his entire life," Sacco said. "He has the mechanics. He's very fast. Adonis has been in the system for a year. He has good arm strength. Both of them are showing promise in certain areas and then there are other areas where there will probably be some growing pains because of the lack of experience."
Senior linebacker Ernest Howard sparks the defense. He made 52 tackles last season and has scholarship offers from Howard University and Moorehead State.
"He's a presence," Sacco said. "He's looking to have a big early part of the year and get a few more (college) offers and really solidify and establish himself as a next level player. Plus he wants to wants championship. You put those two things together on a great football player and you get a heck of a leader."
Zahir Howard and promising sophomore Jaquan Howard are also players to watch at linebacker.
"Right now there's a lot of new faces on defense," Sacco said. "But they're picking things up and they're flying around."
Pleasantville won't get a chance to ease into the season. The Greyhounds open with Salem and then play at Haddonfield. Salem reached the South Jersey Group I final, while Haddonfield won the South Jersey Group II championship and beat Pleasantville twice last season.
The tough opening schedule is just fine with Sacco.
"They are where we want to be," he said of Salem and Haddonfield. "We would love to compete for a division and a Group II championship. That's the goal every year, and we're not going to stray away from that."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at Egg Harbor Township
There are plenty of good vibes around the Egg Harbor Township High School football program this preseason.
Now, the Eagles hope to translate those feelings into wins.
Egg Harbor finished 4-6 but won three of its five final games last season. The four victories were Egg Harbor's most since 2015.
"Last year was some bittersweet stuff," Eagles coach Kevin Stetser said. "We improved from the previous two years, but we felt like we left some games out there that we could have had. It's positive. We feel like we're moving in the right direction.""
The Eagles have more than 100 players involved in the program this season.
"The winning hasn't been where we wanted it," Stetser said. "But we kind of had to rip it down to the foundation and build it back up. Hopefully, we get to see it (this season) in wins and losses and not just numbers and positive vibes."
Senior running back Tre McKenzie is another reason for optimism. He ran for 385 yards and three touchdowns last season and has played since he was a freshman.
"We're looking to feed the ball to him this year," Stetser said.
Anthony Rando, a 5-foot-11, 160-pound junior, takes over at quarterback after getting some experience at the position last season.
"He's developed a ton," Stetser said. "He's the guy we're rolling with. We're excited about him. He knows the game. He's going to run what you call."
Junior running back Chris Decker, who like McKenzie has played since he was a freshman, will also get some carries.
Ben Cericola emerged as a reliable wide receiver last season. Yasir Triniwell is a talented wide receiver and defensive back. Amir Dunn, a junior transfer from St. Joe, should contribute at wide receiver.
Michael Chew leads the offensive line. Stephen Moore was a two-way starter on the offensive and defensive lines. Michael Carfagno and Chris Garofalo also have experience upfront.
"Our goal is to establish the run," Stetser said. "As the year goes on, we might open things up more. We like our line. Our guys upfront are smart."
Most of Egg Harbor's offensive standouts will also play defense.
Senior linebacker James Tucker sparked the defense with 47 tackles, 12.5 for losses last season. Decker impressed at linebacker last season with 40 tackles. Senior linebacker Jack Schiavo made 35 tackles last season.
"It's a hard working group of kids, and I think that's going to translate into the game we want to play," Stetser said. "We're going to try to come out and be a team that goes toe-to-toe with people."
Egg Harbor is seeking its first winning season since 2010.
"We have to play full four-quarter games," Stetser said. "If we do that, I think we can be pretty solid. I think this group can take the next step in what we're trying to do."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at Ocean City football
There is a buzz surrounding the Ocean City High School football team this preseason.
The Red Raiders finished 4-6 but made the South Jersey Group IV playoffs for the second straight year last season. They also had an excellent freshman team last season and the Upper Township and Ocean City feeder programs are on the rise.
The Red Raiders have 60 players involved in the program.
"Everybody is an optimist this time of year," Ocean City coach Kevin Smith said. "We have an awful lot of work to do to get to where want to. But there's a lot of enthusiasm for the program right now. We've coordinated pretty well with the feeder programs. We've tried to promote football back in Ocean City. I feel the next few years we have a chance to do some pretty good things."
This season Ocean City will rely on a defense that returns eight starters.
Smith said junior linebackers Brad Jamison and Jake Inserra compliment each other well. Inserra made 55 tackles last season.
"Brad is a little bit more of a downhill player who can take on blocks," Smith said. "Jake is a little more sideline to sideline."
The Red Raiders return three starters on the defensive line in Mike Williscroft at nose tackle and defensive ends Will Drain (9.5 tackles for losses last season) and Mike Rhodes.
Senior Lou Conte, Jaden Tocci-Rogers and Brian Breckmann lead the secondary.
"I don't know what we are on offense," Smith said. "We have some very promising young players (on offense), but you just don't know. The defense, I have a pretty good idea what they are. We're going to try to take our identity from the defense and then hopefully the offense will grow up as the season goes on."
Junior Joe Repetti steps in at quarterback.
"He's very, very smart and coachable," Smith said. "We can put a lot on his plate. I think he's going to be pretty good. He has a good arm, but I think the thing that he does best is read coverages well."
The Red Raiders return one of Cape May County's top receivers in Jake Schneider, who caught 38 passes for 548 yards and three touchdowns last season.
"He's a quick kid, who runs great routes," Smith said.
Two starters - Jack Baker and Chris Armstrong - return on the offensive line.
Smith said Ocean City must run the ball effectively this season to reach its potential. The Red Raiders struggled with the rushing game last season, losing four games where they had fourth quarter leads.
"If we can play good defense, run the ball and protect the quarterback, I think we're a Group IV playoff team, and I think we're a team that can challenge for a sectional title," Smith said. "If we don't do those things, we're going to fall far short of that goal."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at Buena Regional
Coach Jonathan Caputo of the Buena Regional High school football team hopes to see Luke Santiago and Byron Spellman on the field as much as possible this season.
Santiago and Spellman are the leaders of a Chiefs team that should contend for the West Jersey Football League United Division title and the South Jersey Group I playoffs.
Santiago is a three-year starter and excelled at quarterback and defensive back last season. He intercepted seven passes and made 49 tackles.
"The hardest part about defense and the most important thing is lining up right," Caputo said. "If you line up right, you have a chance. Santiago has seen pretty much all the formations out there. He can line us up right."
At quarterback, Santiago threw six touchdown passes and ran for three scores.
"He knows what we're doing," Caputo said. "He can call the plays at the line (of scrimmage). We've worked on expanding our passing game."
Spellman is a senior running back, wide receiver and defensive back. He rushed for 553 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
"We'll move him all the field," Caputo said. "He's got the best hands on the team. He can run the ball between the tackles and then we can line him up wide and get him the ball in space."
Buena finished last season with about 25 players. The Chiefs had about 40 players on the roster this preseason with 10 seniors, four juniors and the rest being freshmen and sophomores.
Junior defensive end Antonio Thompson sparks Buena's defense. Thompson has the speed and strength to be a consistent presence in opposing team's backfields.
Buena has experience on the offensive line with Anthony Grieco, Sam Drogo and Garrett Ancheta.
The Chiefs also expect to get contributions from sophomore running back Shayron Smithbey, who would have played as a freshman but missed of the season with a fractured tibia.
The Chiefs finished 9-1, won the division title and reached the South Jersey I semifinals last season. Can this team achieve similar success? Caputo says it depends on how the Chiefs handle adversity. Buena had excellent leadership last season.
"I want to see how we handle football games and stuff happening," Caputo said. "I think that's going to be the key. I think we have talent to play with the teams on our schedule."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at St. Joe football
The St. Joseph High School football team should be exciting to watch this season.
The defending state Non-Public II champions should again also be very good.
Few South Jersey teams can match the Wildcats talent at the skill positions. They have several players, who can score every time they touch the football no matter where they are on the field.
"I think people are going to see us do a lot of things that we don't normally do," St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said. "One thing would be throwing the football now. We have some really good kids at the skill positions. We don't have a lot of depth, but we're used to that."
Any talk about St. Joe begins with senior running back Jada Byers, The Press Player of the Year last season. Byers wowed fans by rushing 1,738 yards and scoring 35 touchdowns last season.
But defenses won't be able to just focus on Byers. Ahmad Ross, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior fullback, rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns in St. Joe's 41-22 win over Holy Spirit in last year's state Non-Public II title game.
"It's hard to believe he came to St. Joe and he was about 119 pounds," Sacco said. "He reminds of the old-fashion big fullbacks we had in the Cape-Atlantic league way back in the 80s and 90s."
Junior quarterback Jayden Shertel threw for eight touchdowns and ran for two scores last season. Cohl Mercado is a sophomore will excellent hands, who will play running back and wide receiver.
Tight/end linebacker Keshon Griffin, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior, emerged as a Division I college prospect during the summer. Baylor is among the dozen colleges to offer him a scholarship. Griffin will be more involved in the offense this season.
"He has to be involved in the offense," Sacco said. "He's a big target."
As talented as they are at the skill positions, St. Joe must replace a core of physical linemen.
Stephen Omrod is the lone senior on the offensive line. Tyler Paige moves from backup fullback to the offensive line.
"Those (young linemen) have progressed throughout the summer," Sacco said. "They're doing a good job."
St. Joe returns eight starters on defense.
"It's one of the fastest defenses we've had," Sacco said. "They're not real big, but they're aggressive."
Griffin and Chase Lomax will each play defensive end. The two were among the six sophomores St. Joe started in the state Non-Public II final last year. Griffin made 48 tackles, 10 for losses last season. Lomas made nine tackles for losses.
Ethan Hunt, a 6-1, 260-pound junior defensive tackle, should also be a force on defense. Hunt made 63 tackles - 14 for losses - last season. Paige, who made 71 tackles, anchors the linebackers. Defensive back Ja'son Prevard could emerge as one of South Jersey's top sophomores this season.
"I think you'll see a defense that's constantly moving around," Sacco said, "and creating havoc."
That doesn't sound much different than the Wildcats offense.
Training camp 2019: A quick look at Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit High School football offense has plenty of choices when it comes to who gets the ball on offense.
That makes the Spartans one of South Jersey's top teams.
Spirit features Ahmad Brown at wide receiver, E'lijah Gray at running back and Isaiah Gerena at tight end.
"We have three legitimate threats at the skill spots," Spirit coach A.J. Russo said. "It presents challenges."
Brown caught 32 passes for 398 yards last season.. Gray rushed for 1,233 and 15 touchdowns, while Gerena caught 31 passes for 379 yards.
"Defenses can't put all of their attention on one of those three kids," Russo said. "If I was defending us, I would be a little cautious about who I picked and choosed (to focus on)."
Sophomore Trevor Cohen takes over at quarterback. Spirit will feature more run-pass options this season to take advantage of Cohen's athletic ability. Cohen started as a freshman in center field for the Spartans baseball team last spring.
"He has poise," Russo said. "He was under a lot of pressure as a center fielder for a division contending baseball team. I know the baseball team played in some big games. He's very athletic. He's a lefty. He throws the ball a little differently, but he throws it well."
Spirit has experience on the offensive line. Riley Howat will play left tackle. He started as a sophomore but missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Sophomore guard Justin McNulty started as a freshman.
"Upfront we have kids who have some experience," Russo said, "although they haven't all played together because of injuries and other things. They're starting to come together as a unit."
The Spartans will feature a speedy defense. The strength is in the secondary with veterans Brown, Tommy Finan, and Charlie Murray.
Junior noseguard Andrew Constantino often demanded double teams last season.
Sophomore strong safety Michael Weaver started as a freshman and showed signs of being an even bigger impact playmaker in the preseason. Sophomore linebacker Michael Francisco is another player who impressed as a freshman.
"We have a lot of fast kids on the field for us," Russo said. "We're attacking with speed and looking for turnovers and big plays."
Spirit last season won the West Jersey Football league Royal Division and reached the state Non-Public II final, losing to rival St. Joseph 41-22. These Spartans are capable of achieving even more this season.
"If (the offensive line) comes together like I believe they will and if Trevor Cohen continues on the path he is," Russo said, "I think that's what it's going to take for us to be very, very, very successful. You know Ahmad, Isaiah and E'lijah are coming to play every day. If the other kids can match that, I think we'll be tough."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at Hammonton
Not many in the South Jersey high school football community knew of Jaiden Abrams before last season started.
It didn't take the Hammonton High School junior running back long to gain plenty of attention and plenty of rushing yards.
He rushed for 288 yards in the Blue Devils third game - a 21-17 win over eventual South Jersey Group IV champion Shawnee.
The 5-foot-10, 188-pound Abrams finished the season with 1,611 rushing yards.
Abrams is just one of several reasons why the Blue Devils, who finished 3-7 last year, seem poised to take a step forward this season.
"It's the first year in a couple of years that we have a lot of returning starters," Blue Devils coach Jim Raso said. "We were very young last year. We were playing at times seven or eight sophomores. Those guys having experience there's definitely some optimism going into the season."
Raso said Abrams is about 15 pounds heavier than he was last season.
"He ran winter and spring track and has been in the weight room the whole time," Raso said. "He came on the scene last year as an unknown. He established himself, and he has that work ethic going. He has very good field vision. He's able to see things open up before they actually open up. He does a great job of cutting things back."
The Blue Devils hope to have several other players step forward and compliment Abrams. Caleb Nartey is a speedy senior running back and a three-year starter at defensive back.
"We're hoping (Nartey) can take some of the pressure off Jaiden," Raso said.
Ryan Barts and Kyle Vandever both saw time at quarterback last season.
There's plenty of experience on the offensive line with juniors Johnny Scibilia, Brock Beebe and Michael Dogostino.
"They got their feet wet as sophomores last year," Raso said. "They have another year in the weight room. They're bigger and stronger and that's going to go a long way for them."
On defense, Dalton Chaney will shift from the line to linebacker. Brock Weissman is also expected to contribute at linebacker.
The Blue Devils have played one of the region's toughest schedules the past few years. They reached the South Jersey Group IV final in 2017 but haven't had a winning season since they finished 9-2 in 2015.
Raso said an inability for the defense to get off the field on third down and penalties hurt Hammonton last season.
"We had a lot of sophomores, and they're going to make sophomore mistakes," Raso said. "We have to more disciplined. If we're able to do that and get off the field on third down, I think that is going to make good things happen."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at St. Augustine Prep
The St. Augustine Prep football roster is filled with talented sophomores and juniors.
But the Hermits aren't a year away from success
They're ready to win, challenge for the West Jersey Football League American Division championship and be one of South Jersey's top teams this season. The Hermits have 80 players in the program, only 11 of them are seniors.
"Our numbers are up," said coach Pete Lancetta, who is beginning his third season with the Hermits. "The kids have bought in terms of the (weight) lifting. They've had a good summer. We have a really talented sophomore class."
Nasir Hill typifies the young Hermits. The sophomore rushed for 894 yards at running back as a freshman but could shift to quarterback this season. In addition to running back and quarterback, Hill could also see time at wide receiver and on defense.
"That's probably going to be his role - a little bit of everything," Lancetta said. "He's smart. He knows everything. He's got great hands and throws the ball well. He's one of those guys you don't want coming off the field."
St. Augustine should also get a big boost from junior wide receiver Carnell Davis. Auburn, Baylor and Penn State are among the nearly 20 schools to offer the 6-2, 180-pound Davis a Division I college scholarship.
Davis caught 25 passes for 272 yards at Absegami last fall and then enrolled in Florida school before transferring to St. Augustine in August.
Despite their youth, the Hermits do have some talented veterans.
Isaiah Raikes, a 6-foot-1, 295-pound senior defensive lineman, fullback and tight end, has verbally committed to Texas A.M. to play on Division I scholarship. Raikes ran for eight touchdowns and also had eight sacks last season.
"He looks great running the ball," Lancetta said. "He looks different. He's really worked on his conditioning."
The Hermits have plenty of size on the offensive line with 6-5, 300-pound junior Jake Ketschek and 6-2, 270-pound senior Chandler Bird.
Freshman wide receiver David Washington could be a playmaker on offense. Sophomore running back Kanye Udoh, a transfer from St. Joe, must sit the first 30 days but could be one of the running game's leaders when he becomes eligible.
On defense, the Hermits must replace some talented linebackers, who graduated. Logan Hone, Dylan McNally and sophomores Franklin Simms and Rob Papadeas are the top candidates at that position.
"We're going to have mature quickly at the quarterback spot," Lancetta said. "We'd better be able to run the ball. Defensively, we need two guys to rise up at linebacker."
Also this season, the Hermits will to try to continue make progress against the North Jersey non-public powers it often faces in the playoffs.
St. Augustine has yet to beat Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco Prep, St. Peter's Prep, Paramus Catholic or St. Joseph Montvale n the postseason. These teams are not only among the best in the state but in some cases also in the country.
St. Augustine lost to St. Joe Montvale 16-8 in the playoffs last season.
"Hopefully, we proved to the kids (last year) that we can hang (with a North Jersey power)," Lancetta said. "It wasn't pretty, but we had a chance. We had the ball down eight on their 45-yard line. Win the conference down here, make the playoffs and beat one of the big teams up north, that's our goal."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at Vineland
In 2016-17, the Vineland High School football team had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1990-91.
In 2018, the Fighting Clan won the first playoff game in the program's history.
In 2019, Vineland will try to take another step forward.
"Each year we try to step it up a little bit," Vineland coach Dan Russo said. "I'm looking forward to the daily grind and just seeing what this team can do."
The Fighting Clan has the talent to challenge for the West Jersey Football League Continental Division title and their fourth straight South Jersey Group V playoff appearance.
"Team chemistry is the best we've had since we've been here," said Russo, a Vineland graduate who took over the program in 2013. "They're easy maintenance. They show up. They work hard."
Senior tight end and defensive back Tyreem Powell has committed to Virginia Tech to play on an NCAA Division I scholarship. Penn State also offered Powell a scholarship this summer.
The 6-foot-5 Powell played wide receiver and quarterback last season. He made 60 tackles and also caught 23 passes for 273 yards.
"I feel like every day I see him he grows more," Russo said.
Powell will shift to tight end to make room for wide receiver Levi Manson, a 6-3 junior transfer from Schalick. Vineland has plenty of depth at receiver with not only Powell and Manson but also Jonathan Toney and Conrad Jackson.
Vineland should feature a potent running game. Junior running back Nahzir Broome rushed for 749 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Vineland will also rely on linemen Zach Tharp, David Dutra and Aaron Garcia.
Senior quarterback Ryan Shelton will run the offense. He played well until he broke his collarbone late last season, throwing for 1,214 yards and rushing for 552 yards and seven touchdowns.
"He feels better than ever," Russo said. "He's played quarterback his whole life."
On defense, Vineland will be inexperienced but big upfront. DeMarcus Rivers is a 315-pound junior noseguard.
Junior Lathan Kent is a linebacker to watch. The secondary features plenty of experience with seniors Nayshaun Gregory and Barry Turner.
Vineland will again play one South Jersey's toughest schedules. The Fighting Clan opens at defending South Jersey Group V champion Williamstown. Vineland also plays defending state Non-Public II champion St. Joseph.
Russo set 10 goals when he took over the program. Vineland has achieved most of them. The one thing the Fighting Clan hasn't done is win the program's first South Jersey championship.
"We want that type of schedule," Russo said. "It makes us a better team. I really feel like we can make a run in the playoffs. We're looking to win that first sectional championship. We'll see."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at Millville
Coach Dennis Thomas of the Millville High School football team isn't shy when it comes to stating the Thunderbolts' goals.
Millville returns just one starter on offense and three on defense from last season's team, which finished 6-5 and reached the South Jersey Group IV semifinals.
"We need to win championships," Thomas said. "We don't invest hundreds of hours, studying and getting better to win two games. We need to win championships. That's the goal. If we don't, fine. But we'd better be competitive."
Despite its experience, no opponent should underestimate the Thunderbolts.
Junior wide receiver and linebacker Solomon DeShields has committed to the University of Pittsburgh. He caught 34 passes for 342 yards and five touchdowns last season.
"On defense, he'll be a guy where not many people run toward his side," Thomas said. "I expect him to have a huge year on the defensive side, offense as well, but I think he'll have a better year defensively."
Defensive end and tight end Shamore Collins has committed to Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
"He's taken a really good leadership role," Thomas said of Collins.
Senior wide receiver and defensive back Maurice Smith is a potential Division I college player, according to Thomas,
Millville is young but talented at the skill positions. Sophomore Nate Robinson takes over at quarterback.
"He has the ability to break every quarterback record at Millville," Thomas said. "The kids love him. He knows the offense. It's not just his arm strength, it's his quarterback IQ. He just knows what to do."
Sophomore LaQuint Allen steps in at running back. Allen's cousin is former Millville and Temple standout running back Ryquell Armstead.
"He's special," Thomas said of Allen.
Millville won't be able to ease into the season. The Thunderbolts started 0-3 last season, losing to St. Peter's Prep, St. Joseph and Williamstown. Millville faces the same three teams - who were a combined 29-7 last season - to start this year.
"We have a lot of work to do," Thomas said. "We have to really hone in on developing the younger guys and getting these guys ready to play."
Training camp 2019: A quick look at Mainland Regional
The Mainland Regional High School football team finished 8-3 last year for its first winning season since 2008.
The Mustangs hope for more of the same this year.
"We have high expectations," Mainland coach Chuck Smith said. "We have a solid core coming back from last year, a lot of returning starters. The kids have worked hard and had a really good off-season."
Mainland will again rely on a stingy defense. The Mustangs shutout three opponents last year and return six defensive starters.
Senior linebacker Drew DeMorat led the team with 78.5 tackles, 23 of them for losses.
"In all the years I've coached, I think Drew is one of the better high school linebackers I've seen," Smith said. "Those little things you don't coach he just has. He's a very smart player. You notice him on film. you notice him in the games. He's all over the place."
Monmouth University has offered senior defensive end/tight end Brayden Pohlman a scholarship. Pohlman made 12 tackles for losses last season. Amir Vick emerged as a leader in the secondary on last season. he made 22 tackles on offense and also picked off a pass.
Mainland needs to be more consistent on offense. The Mustangs struggled to score at times last season.
Mainland returns some experience on the offensive line in Ben Arena, Pohlman, Bradley and Jack Connolly. But the Mustangs are inexperienced at the skill positions.
Zack Graziotto took over at quarterback toward the end of last season.
"He can throw the ball which is something we were lacking the past couple of seasons," Smith said. "He has the cocky confidence. If he throws an interception it doesn't bother him. It doesn't get in his head. He goes right at and throws the same pass again. He's a gunslinger."
Sophomore wide receiver Mike Ordille saw time last season. Freshman running back Jabriel Mace should make an impact. Senior wide receiver Jake Cook returns to the team after not playing last season. At 6-foot-3 and 210-pounds, Cook is a big target.
"We have some good skill position players out there, but they're just young," Smith said. "They have a lot of potential, so we're really looking forward to that. As the season goes, I think they'll get better and better."
Mainland qualified for the South Jersey Group IV playoffs last season, losing to eventual champion Shawnee 25-7 in the first round.
The Independence Division should be one of the WJFL's most balanced. Mainland is the defending division champion.
"We're expecting to at least do what we did last year, defend the division title and hopefully make some noise in the playoffs," Smith said. "Our defense has to really come and play like it did last year, and our young kids need to grow up fast. We have to put points on the board."
Training Camp 2019: A quick look at Absegami
The Absegami High School football team finished last season with a four-game winning streak.
The Braves will begin this season with plenty of momentum created by those victories.
Absegami began last season 0-4 but its fortunes changed when sophomore Ray Weed took over at quarterback. Weed thrived in Absegami's run/pass option offense. He ran for 427 yards and five touchdowns and completed 84 of 131 passes for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Weed followed up his football success by having a successful wrestling season last winter, winning the District 32 160-pound championship.
"He's a tremendous competitor," Braves coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. said. "You see that in wrestling. You see that in football. he's old-school."
Weed underwent surgery to repair torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder this spring. While he recovered, he spent hours studying film.
"He's become a really polished quarterback," Scuderi said.
Weed should have plenty of help. The Braves return four starters on the offensive line in Sean Steward, Dan Penagos, Dennis Thornton and Devon Andermanis.
"Those kids got a whole of experience," Scuderi said. "They're bigger and stronger."
Jordan Marcucci is a promising junior wide receiver, who caught 26 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Defensive end Isaac Ingram will spark the Braves defense.
"He's just a game changer on that side of the ball," Scuderi said.
Absegami has some experience on defense. Junior defensive tackle Steward and senior defensive linemen Brian Searight and Jayden Hall are three-year starters.
The Braves have the talent to challenge for the division title and a playoff spot. The Independence Division should be one of WJFL's most balanced.
"If the quarterback stays healthy I think we can be pretty good," Scuderi said. "If out front four on defense play the way they're capable of playing, I think we'll be in every game."