By Phil Anastasia
Here's the first Top 25 Power Rankings of the South Jersey football season.
The Inquirer is going to a Top 25 this season after years of producing a Top 10. It's a chance to spotlight even more teams (and to inspire even more arguments: What? We're No. 23? No way. We should be No. 21, easy).
To be clear, this is a pre-camp Top 25. This isn't even the preseason Top 25, which won't be the same as the Top 25 after Week 1, which won't be the same as the Top 25 after Week 2 . . . and so on.
This is a Top 25 at the start of camp, as most teams will begin workouts this upcoming week. Some things will change between now and the start of the season, based on scrimmages, injuries, etc.
So here goes:
1. Timber Creek (10-2, SJ 4 champions in 2012): The Chargers get a slight edge in the first ranking of the season. Some team has to be No. 1 and arguments can be made for TC, Williamstown, Holy Spirit, St. Joe and Cherokee (with West Deptford and Delsea not far from the conversation, even as slightly smaller public schools). TC has won two sectional titles in a row. The Chargers won their final 8 games in 2012, and found a dynamic quarterback in senior Dan Williams, who fired five TD passes in the sectional title game against Kingsway. WR Adonis Jennings is a Rutgers recruit. LB Justice Davila is an Old Dominion recruit. Lamont Bradford, Brandon Short and Solomon Potter supply muscle inside. Junior S/RB Kareem Ali is a major recruit who has a Penn State offer. Opener: Sept. 13 at Camden Catholic. Games to watch: Sept. 20 at Eastern, Oct. 4 at Williamstown.
2. Williamstown (12-0, SJ 5 champions): The Braves have a strong case for the No. 1 spot as they ended the season there in 2012. They will have ample opportunity to prove they are the best team in SJ, as their schedule is loaded (especially a treacherous four-week stretch after the opener). Leading the way is the backfield of RB Marques Little (an Old Dominion recruit) and FB John Chamberlin and QB Doug Banks. Two-way lineman Pete Halloran anchors the front lines while senior LB Eric Coney is a hard hitter. Senior DB Mark Ellis could be an impact player after missing last season with an injury. Opener: Sept. 12 at CH East. Games to watch: Check out this stretch: Sept. 20 at Shawnee, Sept. 27 vs. Cherokee, Oct. 4 vs. Timber Creek, Oct. 11 vs. Eastern.
No. 3 Holy Spirit (8-4, Non-Public 2 state champions): The Spartans might have SJ's best defense, led by DT Ray Ellis, LBs Jeff Steeb and Mike Mooney and DB A.J. Dawson. Ellis and Steeb have Villanova offers. QB T.J. Anderson is a top athlete who gained valuable experience last season. RB Taalib Gerald gained 1,068 yards last season. Camp will be crucial for this squad, as the season could turn in the first two weeks. Opener: Sept. 13 vs. Hammonton. Games to watch: Sept. 20 vs. St. Joe, Oct. 18 at Millville.
4. St. Joseph (10-1, Non-Public 1 state champions): The Wildcats will rely on some younger players, so the demands of the Cape American schedule could catch up with them. Or not. This is a program with loaded junior and sophomore classes, and the seniors that have stuck it out have years invested in the Wildcat Way. Sr. RB Cody Sampson and Jr. RB Rocco Ordille will lead the charge. Jr. QB C.J. LaFragola is a player to watch, as are sophomore twin all-purpose players Saleem and A’leem Horne and senior WR/DB Chris Gabor. Opener: Sept. 13 at Absegami. Games to watch: Sept. 20 at Holy Spirit, Sept. 28 vs. Millville, Nov. 30 vs. Hammonton.
5. Cherokee (6-4): The Chiefs have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, after winning the S.J. Group 4 title in 2009 and 2010. This group of seniors is determined to get the program back into the mix among South Jersey's best teams. Leading the way will be QB Trevor Osler and two-way end Jake Powell. This is a deep and talented group that includes DT Marc Adams, DE Troy Domenick, DB Rob Agnoni, RB Matt Stickney and kicker Kenny Ravel. Junior RB Marc Woodard, Jess' younger brother, could be set for a break-out season. Soph Evan Powell is a young player to watch. Opener: Sept. 12 vs. Lenape. Games to watch: Sept. 27 at Williamstown, Oct. 18 vs. Shawnee, Oct. 25 vs. Eastern.
6. West Deptford (12-0): This team could rival those Anthony Scirrotto-Kordell Young squads as the best in program history. As good as Young was, West Deptford has never had an RB as dominant as senior Gerald Owens, a Michigan State recruit who ran for 1,703 yards and 27 TDs. There's a ton of talent around him, too, such as two-way end Nick Pulli and WR/DB Shai Mumford along with senior DB Joe Diaco, senior LB Isaiah Worthy, junior LB Kevin DeCaesar, junior OL/DL Jake Kull and lots more returning veterans. Opener: Sept. 13 at Gateway. Games to watch: Oct. 25 vs. Haddonfield, Nov. 30 at Paulsboro.
7. Delsea (11-1, SJ Group 3 champions): The Crusaders are poised for another run at another sectional title. Senior Rob Rolle, a Villanova recruit, moves to QB. Senior RB Rob Hooks gained 1,268 yards last season. Dakota Bovero leads a typically strong OL and Scott Parker is a top TE-LB. Opener: Sept. 14 at Camden. Games to watch: Sept. 20 vs. Moorestown, Oct. 4 at Kingsway.
8. Millville (6-4): The Thunderbolts return perhaps South Jersey's top defensive lineman in Antoine White, a Penn State recruit. LB Ed Shockley is another top defender. Junior Rob Ennis ran for 1,509 yards as a sophomore and has a serious burst. The schedule is so demanding it's tough to imagine this team not picking up a few bumps along the way. Opener: Sept. 13 at Atlantic City. Games to watch: Sept. 28 at St. Joe, Oct. 18 vs. Holy Spirit.
9. Rancocas Valley (6-4): The Red Devils have a strong senior corps led by RB/LB Isaiah Gibson, WR/DB Alec Finelli and two-way end Tyler Schneider. Junior QB Jordan Sadusky could be poised for a big year. The Red Devils won their last three games in 2012 and hope to carry that momentum into 2013. RV is a bit of a sleeper team with a lot games against Mercer County foes. But the Red Devils will be in SJ 5. Opener: Sept. 12 vs. WWP-North. Games to watch: Oct. 5 vs. Eastern, Oct. 19 at NBC, Nov. 27 at Burlington Twp.
10. Eastern (7-4): The Vikings scored 71 points in their two playoff games last season. They return senior QB Tom Flacco, who passed for 2,957 yards and 25 TDs, along with WR Keshawn Segers and RB T.J. Gardner. Two-way lineman Mike Montemurro and OLB Kingsley Ayeni also are top returners. Opener: Sept. 12 vs. Washington Twp. Games to watch: Sept. 20 at Timber Creek, Oct. 11 at Williamstown, Oct. 25 at Cherokee.
11. Hammonton (5-5): The Blue Devils will be led by senior WR/DB/K Alex Padovani, a Villanova recruit. The OL is experienced and led by Brandon Alphonso, Brandon Beebe, Matt Parker and Bobby Frederico. Senior RB Dylan Rosu is three-year varsity player. This team stunned rival St. Joe at the end of a disappointing 2012 season and could use that experience to springboard into a big 2013 season. Opener: Sept. 13 at Holy Spirit. Games to watch: Nov. 8 at Millville, Nov. 30 at St. Joe.
12. Shawnee (6-5): The Renegades should be in contention for the WJFL National and SJ 4 titles. Senior RB/DB Anthony DiOrio and senior WR/DB Kyle Borbi lead the way. Junior Curtis Corley is a top LB and senior Reece Tursi is an experience lineman. This is a deep, experienced team with a young player to watch in sophomore QB Mike Welsh. Opener: Sept. 12 at Kingsway. Games to watch: Sept. 20 at Williamstown, Oct. 18 at Cherokee.
13. Penns Grove (12-0, SJ 1 champions): The Red Devils set a state record with 621 points last season. They likely won't be quite as prolific this season, but this team has a chance to run the table again in dominant fashion. Senior Anthony Robertson moves to QB after leading SJ in scoring last season. He's a top LB, too. Outside LB Raequan Norman had 22 sacks. DE Isaiah Coppage is a big-time play-maker, and OL Caine Bachman and DB/WR Richard Gray are other players to watch. Opener: Sept. 14 vs. Glassboro. Game to watch: Nov. 27 at Pennsville.
14. Kingsway (8-4): The Dragons made a late surge last season to reach the SJ 4 title game and hope to carry that momentum into 2013. Senior RB Ray Lawry, an Old Dominion recruit, gained 2,225 yards with 28 TDs last season. Senior Rob Green is back at QB. Senior Ron Ippolite leads the line. Watch for senior RB/DB Justin Morrison, an explosive player who missed last season with an injury. Opener: Sept. 12 vs. Shawnee. Games to watch: Oct. 4 vs. Delsea, Nov. 8 at Williamstown.
15. Absegami (6-4): The Cape American is so deep that Gami might be the fifth or sixth-best team. The Braves might be a year away from big thunder as they have a strong sophomore class. But QB Mike Dolan is back along with RB David Hood, a Temple recruit who might be SJ’s fastest player. Roman Rudisill is a top lineman. Opener: Sept. 13 vs. St. Joe. Game to watch: Oct. 4 vs. Millville.
16. Haddonfield (6-4): The Bulldogs took some lumps last season with a lot of young players. That should pay off this season. There are strong sophomore and junior classes and watch for the return of two-way senior lineman Charlie O’Neill. He started as a sophomore for an 11-1 team but missed most of last season with an injury. Among the players to watch are senior QB/DB Mike McLaughlin, junior RB/DB Mike DeFeo, senior WR/DB Teddy Stevetski and junior WR/DB Jake Robinson. Soph QB Tommy Kadar is a young player to watch. Opener: Sept. 12 vs. Audubon. Games to watch: Oct. 25 at West Deptford, Nov. 28 at Haddon Heights.
17. St. Augustine Prep (8-2): Everybody knows that the Hermits belong in the American Division – as a school and as a football program. But they are stuck in the National for another year. They likely will dominate that division again, although Bridgeton will be a threat. Still, it’s hard to get a good read on this team because the Hermits aren’t playing the likes of Millville and Hammonton and Holy Spirit. Leading the way for the Hermits is senior lineman Mike McGrath, senior WR/DB Austin Francisco and senior LB Tim Kennelly. Opener: Sept. 13 at Middle Twp. Games to watch: Oct. 18 at Bridgeton, Nov. 1 vs. St. Joe.
18. NBC (7-5): The Greyhounds made it all the way to the SJ 3 title game last season. They return several standouts, led by senior RB Kenyatta Greene, senior WR/DB Marshe Terry and senior two-way lineman Neal Baranosky. Opener: Sept. 12 vs. Princeton. Games to watch: Oct. 19 vs. RV, Nov. 8 vs. Burlington Twp.
19. Burlington Twp. (8-3): The Falcons were 8-1 last season but lost their last two games. They return senior center Tyler Sylvester along with junior quarterback Khalil Trotman, the triggerman in a wide-open offense, and speedy all-purpose player Jahseim Rover. Opener: Sept. 12 vs. Willingboro. Games to watch: Sept. 20 at Holy Cross, Nov. 8 at NBC, Nov. 27 vs. RV.
20. Paul VI (6-4): The Eagles have lost some talent such as junior all-purpose Sterling Sheffield, who has transferred to Clearview, and senior RB Faheem Boyd, who has landed at Triton. But they still have senior QB Alec Vignola and some strength up front with seniors Keaton Sentak, Kishon Banks, Evan Tootle and Rob Marra. This program got a big boost from its Thanksgiving eve win over rival Camden Catholic and hopes to carry that into this season. Opener: Sept. 12 at CH West. Game to watch: Nov. 28 at Camden Catholic.
21. Camden Catholic (7-4): New coach Dennis Scuderi is back for his second stint with the Irish. This is a team with explosive skill-position players such as sophomore QB Tyree Rodgers and sophomore RB/DB Benny Walls, who has a Temple offer. Seniors Mark Burke and Nick Trevina are top linemen. Opener: Sept. 13 vs. Timber Creek. Games to watch: Sept. 20 at Camden, Nov. 28 vs. PVI.
22. Clearview (5-5): The Pioneers upset Shawnee and captured a share of the WJFL National title last season. They return a top RB/LB in George Kerasinis and will get a big boost after 30 days with the eligibility of all-purpose junior Sterling Sheffield, a transfer from PVI.
23. Woodbury (10-2): New coach Al Mailahn takes over for the retired Zack Valentine. The Herd rate as the favorite in the Colonial Patriot and should be in the SJ 1 mix as well. Senior RB Jeray Demby and senior QB Daevon Ayres lead the way. Opener: Sept. 14 at Haddon Heights. Games to watch: Sept. 20 at Haddonfield, Oct. 12 vs. Paulsboro.
24. Moorestown (6-4): New coach Beau Sherry takes over for Russ Horton. The Quakers have a play-maker at QB in junior Tyreek Robinson, some experience up front in Trevor Allen and Tyreek Smith and a top LB in Shayne Lawless. Senior Dallas Clark is a veteran WR/DB. Opener: Sept. 12 vs. Seneca. Games to watch: Sept. 20 at Delsea, Oct. 11 at Timber Creek.
25. Camden (5-5): The Panthers hope to have a new field at Farnham Park ready for the season. They have an explosive two-way player in WR/DB Sean Chandler, a Temple recruit. Junior twins Khalil and Khalif Williams are three-year starters in the backfield and senior OL Andrew Stevens is a top wrestler. Soph WR/DB Brad Hawkins is another player to watch. Opener: Sept. 14 vs, Delsea. Games to watch: Sept. 20 vs. CC, Nov. 1 vs. Kingsway, Nov. 28 at Woodrow Wilson.
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