Football: St. Joseph training camp

Another in a series of early looks at South Jersey football teams

St. Joseph of Hammonton

Last year: 10-0, Non-Public 1 state champions

Coach: Paul Sacco (256-54-5 entering 32nd season)

Conference outlook: One of the favorites (along with Hammonton) in the newly re-aligned Cape-Atlantic American, perhaps South Jersey's deepest division

Playoff outlook: Overwhelming favorite in NP-1

Opener: Sept. 8 at home vs. Absegami

Nobody is going to make any comments about St. Joseph's schedule this season.

The Wildcats represent one of South Jersey's smallest high schools. But because of the success of the program, they will move into perhaps South Jersey's deepest division this season.

After months of wrangling, the Cape-Atlantic re-aligned for football to create a heavyweight American Division and a second-tier National Division, which basically put the conference's nine-strongest football programs in the same division.

"I understand why they did it," said St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco, whose team will now play in a division with Absegami, Atlantic City, Egg Harbor, Hammonton, Holy Spirit, Millville, Oakcrest and Mainland.

It might be South Jersey's best division. It surely is the deepest.

That will test St. Joe's depth after a few years of playing a schedule with a handful of games against teams that couldn't compete against the Wildcats.

"Our numbers will be tested," Sacco said.

St. Joseph's has the starters to win the American title and capture a fourth straight Non-Public state title (that's a given). What will be key in a grueling schedule with week-to-week challenges against Group 5 and Group 4 powers will be the Wildcats' depth.

Sacco is confident that the program's loaded sophomore class will be ready to provide the support the team will need to get through the schedule.

"That's a strong group," Sacco said. "We worked hard all summer with them to get them ready."

St. Joseph returns seven starters from a defense that allowed one rushing TD, one passing TD and a field goal last season.

The Wildcats lost studs Max Valles (Virginia) and Kaiwan Lewis (South Carolina) but return veteran linemen such as Kevin Goldsmith, Charles Cade, Roy Lucas, Mike Vaccarella and Mike Somogy.

Sacco has been impressed with the development of senior TD Luke Ordille and has high hopes for talented senior WR Robert Thompson.

The backfield feastures veterans such as QB/DB Anthony Giagunto and Miles Pease.

"We have a lot of prove to people this season," said Pease, who is healthy after battling injuries for much of his career.

Giagunto is 17-0 as a starter. He threw 11 TD passes without an INT last season. He's just 5-8, 170 but he's one of the most versatile and valuable players in SJ.

"I think he's one of the best players around," Saccco said of Giagunto, who also long-snaps, returns punts and holds for place-kicks.

St. Joseph has won 18 in a row. The seniors are 28-4 over the last three seasons, with three straight state titles.

But this group will be challenged because of the move to the American Division. Nobody will be able to downplay the Wildcats' success as a result of being able to load up for big games because of soft spots in the schedule that often resulted in 50- and 60-point wins.

"We're all excited," Giagunto said. "We can't wait to hit somebody else."

-- Phil Anastasia