Before the summer, Holy Spirit coach Chalie Roman raised a few eyebrows by saying that this year's team could be better than last year's team.
Holy Spirit was 12-0 last season. The Spartans won the Non-Public 3 state title. A lot of people believed they were the best team in South Jersey.
The other night, Roman said he wanted to clarify those comments.
Now, he means it more than ever.
"I'm more convinced," Roman said before practice at the school in Absecon, Atlantic County. "I've seen the way these guys have worked this summer. I feel even more strongly."
Roman believes the strength of his team is its offensive line. The Spartans return four starters, led by Villanova-bound tackle Nico D'Angelo. The others are Joe Bodenlos, Dom LaFragola and AJ Thomas.
"They will dominate," Roman said. "These guys are weight-trained. There are no fat guys on our offensive line."
The Spartans miight have the state's best one-two punch at running back in Donta Pollack and Nigel Jones. Pollack ran for 1,878 yards and 29 TDs last season. Jones was the more productive back as a sophomore; he was slowed by an ankle injury last season but still ran for 744 yards and 7 TDs.
Jones, who is the better break-away threat, has offers from Temple, Western Michigan and Miami of Ohio.
"It's smash and dash," Jones said of the two backs' running styles.
The new quarterback is senior Joe Hehre, a good runner who Roman calls, "a blue-collar, nasty kid." The Spartans also have a top wide receiver in Matt Rubino, who has committed to Yale.
The defense needs to be rebuilt a bit, but the Spartans have terrific linebackers in North Carolina-bound Dan Mastromatteo and Ethan Gambale.
Roman was concerned about replacing free safety Joe Sarnese, the Inquirer's Defensive Player of the Year who now is at Villanova.
But the coach thinks Jones, whose college future might be at defensive back, "will be as good if not better" than Sarnese at free safety.
Holy Spirit will be challenged in the Cape-Atlantic National Division by Hammonton and Oakcrest. The Spartans also have a big October test against St. Joseph's of Hammonton, a loaded team determined to avenge last year's 35-0 loss to Holy Spirit.
The Spartans won't get the chance to defend their Non-Public 3 title. The NJSIAA reclassified Holy Spirit to NP-2 this season, which means they will compete with programs such as Camden Catholic, Gloucester Catholic, Bishop Eustace and Holy Cross.
The Spartans' bigger challenges might come in the regular season, especially against Hammonton and St. Joe's. But this program is humming along at a high, high level.
They have to deal with high expectations, with the danger of complacency, and with the bullseye on their backs. But physically, the Spartans are the best team around.
This team looks capable of another undefeated run to another state title -- which would be the third since 2007 for what now stands as the top private-school football program in South Jersey.
-- Phil Anastasia