Hammonton football has a tradition that's about as rich as any program's in South Jersey.
The Blue Devils are in a bit of a unique position this season: a little below the radar as much of the focus in the Cape-Atlantic League is on Holy Spirit and St. Joe's and the hot pick in SJ Group 3 is Delsea.
But watch out for Pete Lancetta's team.
Hammonton isn't loaded with big-time players. The Blue Devils don't have D-I recruits.
But this is a solid, solid team that will contend with Holy Spirit and Oakcrest in the CAL National, battle cross-town rival St. Joe's to the bitter end on Thanksgiving weekend and challenge Delsea, Oakcrest, Moorestown, Lacey Township and the rest of a loaded SJ Group 3 field.
Lancetta loves his sophomore class, so the future looks bright. There's talent in the junior class, too, especially RB David Williams, who might be poised for a break-out season, and emerging QB Christian Mortellite, a 6-3 athlete with a terrific arm.
His passing ability gives the ground-oriented Blue Devils an added element on offense.
But Hammonton is one of those programs that plays through its senior class, dedicated kids who have spent years working their way to this point -- all those practices, all those off-season sessions.
Leading the way this year is senior WR/DB Bobby Barbieri, a natural play-maker. RB/LB Jordan Brown is another leader along with DL Mark Winters, OL Nate Haden, and DE AJ Scibilia.
Hammonton has depth. Lancetta said he's looking at a lot of guys going "one-and-a-half ways," meaning they can play both sides, but not on every possession.
Up front, that group includes Pat Fiorentino, Bob Sparta, Brian Beebe and sophomores Bob Frederico and Brandon Alfonzo, while among RBs, LBs and LBs it includes Dylan Rosu, Dom Williams and senior Russell Forchion, a talented transfer from Overbrook.
Hammonton also will count on senior QB/DB Tyler D'Amelio, who has been battling an injury this summer.
The Blue Devils open at Mainland, which promises to be an emotional event since the Mustangs will be playing their first game since the death of four players in an automobile accident.
Hammonton's schedule is loaded with Group 4 opponents as well as CAL National foes such as Holy Spirit and Oakcrest and traditional rival St. Joseph's.
This team will be dangerous in the tournament. Hammonton lost a tough game at Delsea in last season's playoffs -- Blue Devils fans still lament a long touchdown run called back by a penalty -- and would love nothing better than another shot at the Crusaders.
That could come in the sectional final. This team has a long, hard road before then but they've got the talent, depth, coaching and know-how to make the trip.
-- Phil Anastasia