By Phil Anastasia
Last year: 8-4 (Non-Public 2 state champions)
Countdown to Kickoff: Holy Spirit
Coach: John Iannucci (8-4 entering second season)
Fast fact: Holy Spirit is a three-time defending state champion (NP 3 in 2010; NO 2 in 2011 and 2012).
Opener: Sept. 13 vs. Hammonton
Player to watch: Senior DT Ray Ellis (picured). The 6-2, 250-pounder has great off-the-snap quickness and is a disruptive force in the interior of the line. He's a leader of one of SJ's best defenses. He has offers from Villanova and Delaware, among other programs.
Outlook: The Spartans have a seasoned, talented senior class determined to finish their careers as four-time state champions. There's also a sense that this year could be the end of an era in HS football history. With enrollment down and so much of the strength of the program concentrated in the senior class, it's in doubt whether HS will be able to remain a South Jersey power in the future. But for this season, the Spartans are Top 5 material. The biggest reason is a veteran defense, led by DT Ray Ellis as well as senior LB Jeff Steeb, who also has offers from Villanova and Delaware, and senior DBs Franco Rifici and A.J. Dawson. Senior LB Mike Mooney has battled an illness this summer but is expected back around the season opener. Senior QB T.J Anderson, who doubles as a top LB, has a year of experience running the Spartans' triple option. He's a powerful runner. Senior RB Taalib Gerald gained 1,057 yards last season, and Rifici is a tough ball-carrier as well. Senior FB Deandre Dennis is a burly inside runner. The OL is a bit inexperienced but has a young player to watch in 6-6, 270-pound sophomore Sean Coursey.
Schedule: The biggest challenges (on paper, anyway) come in the first half of the season, so the Spartans need to be ready to play their best football. The opener will be a big game, as Hammonton rates as one of the favorites in the CAL American. The next week, Holy Spirit hosts rival St. Joseph is a game loaded with implications in the CAL American and Top 10 rankings. There also is an Oct. 11 home game with Absegami and an Oct. 18 visit to Millville. The Spartans visit traditional rival Atlantic City Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day. In NP 2, Holy Spirit looms as a favorite, but Camden Catholic and Holy Cross could be a threats and watch out for DePaul, which moves down from NP 3 and will be battle-tested from competiton against Paramus Catholic, Bergen Catholic, St. Joe's Montvale and Don Bosco Prep in the Big North United division.
Quote: "I feel like the sky is the limit for this team. We know the 2007 and 2010 teams both went undefeated and we feel like we can do that, too," senior DT Ray Ellis said.
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