Oakcrest has moved down in group and up in stature.
The Falcons were one of the surprise teams of the 2010 season, going 9-3 and reaching the South Jersey Group 4 title game. It was a breakthrough for a program that had been down for years.
This year, Oakcrest has been re-classified in Group 3. The Falcons rank among the favorites in the group, along with Delsea, Moorestown, Hammonton and defending champion Lacey Township.
"The only thing to do this year is to win states in Group 3," said Oakcrest senior cornerback Mark Clements.
Clements has committed to Villanova. He had seven interceptions last season and figures to play a lot on offense this season as a wide receiver.
'He just has that knack," Oakcrest coach Chuck Smith said.
The Falcons have plenty of weapons. They return junior linebacker/running back Brandon Bell, who will be one of South Jersey's top recruits in the class of 2013.
They also return junior quarterback Quaashie Jetter as well as speedy slot receivers Fabian Santiago and Akmed Muhammad, both members of the school's terrific track program.
The key for Oakcrest will be its play along both lines. Smith is counting on returning starters such as Andrew Dodimead and Nick Fursin to lead the way. The Falcons also have a top linebacker in Sidiq Evans-White and a weapon in senior kicker Brian Camey.
Oakcrest won't sneak up on anybody this season. The Falcons hope to make hay in the Cape-Atlantic's loaded National Division, which includes preseason No. 1 Holy Spirit as well as perenniel power Hammonton.
The schedule is front-loaded: Oakcrest opens with Holy Spirit, then plays dangerous Millville, then Hammonton.
If the Falcons qualify for the playoffs, they will be dangerous in Group 3. They proved their chops in Group 4 last season and a lot of those players are back.
Smith and his assistants do a great job. There was a lot of energy and spirited instruction at practice on Saturday morning; it's plain to see how that staff has changed the culture at what many folks believed was a sleeping giant in South Jersey football.
But it gets harder for the Falcons now that they've awoken. They've got to be ready to play every week, especially given their difficult schedule.
-- Phil Anastasia