By Phil Anastasia
Last season: 10-1 (CAL American champions, Non-Public 1 state champions)
Coach: Paul Sacco (266-55-5 entering 32nd season)
Fast fact: St. Joseph has won 15 state titles since the creation of the NP state playoffs in 1993, including four in a row.
Opener: at Absegami, Sept. 14 at 7.
Player to watch: Junior quarterback/linebacker C.J. LaFragola (pictured). He saw limited action after transferring from Holy Spirit two games into last season. But now he's the hub of the Wildcats' Wing-T offense, replacing three-year starter Anthony Giagunto. A physical player at 5-10, 180 pounds, La Fragola also will play linebacker.
Outlook: St. Joseph will be relatively young this season, with just seven or eight seniors on the roster and just two or three in key roles. Senior RB/DB Cody Sampson ran for 885 yards and scored 11 TDs last season. TE/DE Laquay Brown is another experienced senior. But the key to the season will be the play of the Wildcats' juniors and sophomores. LaFragola and junior RB/DB Rocco Ordille, a top sprinter in track, saw some action last season but now will step into key roles. And sophomores such as twin RB/DBs Saleem and Aleem Horne, DE Chris Carey and C Derek Lomax will be asked to compete against seniors in the rugged Cape Atlantic American. These guys are top players so it's not like it's boys against men. But it will be sophomores against seniors, which sometimes matters in a sport with such as premium on physical maturity. While this team lacks experience, it has a lot of depth and talent. And given their coaching, they will get better during the course of the season. If the Wildcats are 3-0 at the end of September, watch out.
The schedule: The opener is no picnic as Absegami has a true game-breaker in Temple-bound RB David Hood, who had a huge game against St. Joe last season before cramps slowed him down. But Weeks 2 and 3 will be pivotal as St. Joe visits rival Holy Spirit Sept. 21 and hosts Millville Sept. 29 -- two games in eight days against Top 10-caliber opponents and legit CAL American contenders. There's a Nov. 1 visit to St. Augustine in a CAL cross-over game and the annual clash with cross-town rival Hammonton at home on Nov. 30, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Quote: "We're young but these guys have been working hard and they are ready," Sampson said.
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