By Phil Anastasia
Three years ago, Damon Mitchell was a freshman at Oakcrest.
Gary Melton Jr. was a freshman at St. Augustine Prep.
Cedar Creek was a construction site.
Now, Mitchell and Melton are senior leaders for a Cedar Creek football team that is on the verge of a South Jersey title in just its second season of varsity competition.
Those guys don't just run fast.
They work fast.
"Over the last three years, Coach (Tim) Watson has told us many times to look in our heart and imagine and envision a parade down Philadelphia Avenue after we bring home the state championship," Mitchell said. "Any school can say they are going to do that. But to do this from the ground up, that's truy special."
Mitchell and Melton have led Cedar Creek (10-1) to the South Jersey Group 2 championship game Saturday at 1 p.m. at Rowan University against West Deptford (11-0).
The 6-3, 205-pound Mitchell, who has committed to attend Georgia Tech as a quarterback, has passed for 22 touchdowns and run for 17 touchdowns as the Pirates have averaged 40.2 points.
The 5-10, 180-pound Melton, who has drawn recruiting interest from Iowa, Rutgers and Temple among major programs, has 17 rushing touchdowns and nine receiving touchdowns.
"These guys have laid the foundation for this program," Watson said. "They've been outstanding players and outstanding young men."
Located in Egg Harbor City, Cedar Creek opened in 2010 as part of the same school district as Absegami and Oakcrest.
The Pirates played a junior varsity schedule in 2010. They went 4-5 as an independent program with no seniors in 2011. They joined the Cape Atlantic National Division this season.
"I remember playing our first game," Mitchell said. "We always told ourselves we could do it. We said that once we got going, this train would be unstoppable."
Mitchell was a running back for the Mays Landing Lakers youth program. He didn't switch to quarterback until his sophomore year.
"He's grown so much as a quarterback," Watson said. "His poise, his presence, his ability to deliver the ball. He ran a lot more last year but now he's comfortable sitting in the pocket."
Mitchell and Melton were classmates at William Davies Middle School in Mays Landing. But Melton played youth football for the Egg Harbor City Crusaders.
"We were friendly enemies," said Melton, who father, Gary, was a standout player at Absegami and Rutgers.
Mitchell and Melton joined forces when Cedar Creek opened its doors in September, 2010. A little more than two years later, they have the Pirates on the brink of a South Jersey championship.
"I'm at a loss for words," Melton said. "We always talked about it. We always thought we could do something special. But now that it's here, it's hard to believe that it actually happened."
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.