The 2012 football season is just nine months away. It's not too soon to project the top teams heading into next season.
This is not the preseason Top 10 I'll publish in next season's Football Guide. A lot will happen between now and then.
And don't get caught up in the rankings -- maybe Williamstown should be No. 7 instead of No. 4; maybe Holy Spirit should be No. 5 instead of No. 7; maybe Hammonton should be No. 1 instead of No. 2.
Who could honestly say in December, 2011? This is just a list of 10 teams I suspect will be among the best next season -- or at least will have the potential to be among the best.
2012 PREASEASON TOP 10 IN FOOTBALL
1. Timber Creek (12-0, record in 2011): The Chargers will miss senior linebacker Quanzell Lambert and senior quarterback Calvin Lowe. But coach Rob Hinson thinks junior two-way lineman Gregg Webb might be the best player in the state next season. The Chargers also return junior defensive linemen Dajaun Drennon and Myles Nash, who projects as the quarterback, as well as junior running backs Khalil Pierce and Eric Church. That's a loaded sophomore class, too, with linebacker Isaiah Austin making big plays the last two games.
2. Hammonton (9-3): The Blue Devils return junior quarterback Christian Mortellite and junior fullback David Williams as well as a loaded sophomore class led by running back/linebacker Dylan Rosu and defensive back/kicker Alex Padovani. Three starters on the offensive line return as well. This is another program with a strong sophomore class. These guys have a couple tough losses at the end of this season that they'd like to avenge, too.
3. St. Joseph (10-0): The Wildcats lost a lot in defensive stars Max Valles and Kaiwan Lewis as well as two-way standout Corey Litton and fullback Eli Pogue. But junior quarterback Anthony Giagunto will lead a re-loaded team that will feature experienced linemen Roy Lucas, Kevin Goldsmith and Charles Cade, running back Miles Pease, wide receiver Robert Thompson and re-enforcements from a loaded freshmen class that includes the speedy Destin Davis as well as quarterback Mason Pease. There's little doubt the St. Joseph-Hammonton-Holy Spirit, thee-way battle will a big part of how the final 2012 Top 10 plays out.
4. Williamstown (8-2): The Braves return sophomore running backs John Chamberlin and Marquis Little as well as junior linebackers Buddy Brown, Derek Lauria and Marcus Riley. This team had sophomores and juniors all over the field this season. There's depth in this program. The key will be developing a replacement for senior quarterback Dan Collins, a two-year starter.
5. Washington Township (7-4): The Minutemen gained a lot of confidence in a bounce-back season. Junior quarterback Tom Hildebrand will lead the way in 2012 along with junior wide receiver/defensive back Julian Allen, while running back Andrew O’Neill leads a loaded sophomore class (Man, is that a pattern or what?). Plus, coach Mark Wechter thinks this team will be noticably fitter and more functionally football-strong after a full year of workouts with those Russian Kettle Bells. Hey, he might be on to something.
6. Camden Catholic (10-1): The Irish lose a lot of talent but will reload behind junior running back/linebacker Jarred Alwan, junior linebackers Sean Collins and Will Jackson and junior center Jeff Long. Developing a replacement for senior quarterback Pete Galiano will be a top priority. But this program is pushing for bigger and better things than a runnerup finish in the NP 2 tournament. Gil Brooks and his assistants aren't interested in going 7-4. They're dreaming big, which is the only way to dream. I suspect lot of talent will be making its way to Cuthbert Boulevard.
7. Holy Spirit (8-3): The Spartans also will take a big hit from graduation. This program is set up for a big push in 2013 but next season’s team will feature junior lineman Steve Domonoski and the emergence of a strong sophomore class that includes two-way standouts Jeff Steeb, A.J. Dawson and Tyler Flynn and transfers Ray Ellis and Talib Jared. A lot of those sophomores saw significant playing time this season. Watch out for freshman quarterback Cinjun Erskine and freshman running back Matt Bee.
8. Cherokee (7-3): The Chiefs also have a strong sophomore class, so they could be set for a big push in 2013. But eight sophomores and a freshman started at different times this past season, so they will have some experience in 2012. Leading the way next season will be junior running back/defensive back Zaire Williams, who ran for more than 1,600 yards this season, hitting his stride around the fourth week. I'm thinking he hits the ground running in 2012.
9. West Deptford (11-1): The defending South Jersey Group 2 champions will return sophomore fullback Gerald Towns as well as junior running back/linebacker/kicker Josh Cornelius and standout defensive back Connor Smith. They'll need to rebuild a bit along both lines, but those younger guys are in the weight room right now. There's also rumours the Eagles might be getting a transfer who could step in at quarterback.
10. Delsea (6-4): Look for a big bounce-back season for the Crusaders. Junior running back Tyrone Saud scored 17 touchdowns this season and junior quarterback Josh Awotunde should benefit from a full year of starting experience. There’s a lot of experience along both lines, too -- and those guys are in the weight room as we speak pumping iron and plotting their return to South Jersey prominence in 2012.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically):
Absegami (5-5): QB Rashad Kinlaw is a big-time player and this team had young players all over the field this season. Could be the Cape's top Group 4 team next season.
Burlington Twp.(7-3): RB/DB Mike Thomas leads a talented returning group. Wish these guys were in SJ 3 instead of CJ 3.
Glassboro (9-2): The two-time (and four-time-in-five-years) SJ Group 1 champions return junior RB/DE/K Corey Clement, who set the SJ record for rushing yards with 2,510 this season. And watch out for freshman Jwan Johnson, who had three picks in the SJ title game.
Moorestown (6-5): Drew Pederson should step in QB and will have top weapons in Sidney Ruffin and Anthony Bonnet. Jake Dever will lead a more experienced front line. It will be a different dynamic for this team next season. Expectations were high this season, and maybe that weighed the Quakers down a bit. Next year's team might fly a little under the radar and surprise some people.
-- Phil Anastasia