Coach: Paul Sacco
Last season: 11-1, won Non-Public 1 state title
Schedule: St. Augustine Prep, Absegami, at Millville, at Vineland, at Steubensville, Ohio, at Atlantic City, Mainland, at Egg Harbor Township, Ocean City (no Thanksgiving game).
Player to watch: Senior running back/defensive back Rocco Ordille (pictured). The speedy Ordille is a three-year veteran who could be poised for a huge season. He's coming off a strong spring track season in which he won the Non-Public state title in the 100 meters and finished third in the Meet of Champions in a time of 10.71 seconds. Ordille ran for 422 yards and 9 TDs last season. He also is a top tackler and pass defender. He has offers from Bucknell and Penn.
Outlook: This has a chance to be Sacco's best team and that's saying a lot. The reason for that is not just the talent, depth and experience on the squad. It's also a function of the schedule. This year's team will have more opportunities than past St. Joe teams. Start with a scrimmage slate that features state power Don Bosco Prep, defending SJ 4 champion Shawnee and Camden. St. Joe's now plays in the Cape-Atlantic American division, a big change from those years when the Wildcats were overwhelming teams in the National and pulling their starters by halftime. That means games against Millville, Absegami, St. Augustine and Atlantic City instead of Pleasantvile, Lower Cape May and Middle Twp. Finally, this year's team will take a road trip to face Steubensville, Ohio -- a national-caliber program -- on Oct. 11. That trip, which likely will lead to another out-of-state game in 2015, will raise the profile of the program,creating national attention and making the program even more attractive to some top eighth-grade football players and their parents. One of the most interesting things about St. Joe's schedule is that is so front-loaded. While almost every other team will gear its development to be at its best starting in November, St. Joe's likely will face its biggest challenges in an early stretch from Aug. 23 through Oct. 11. That will include the three scrimmages, the opener against St. Augustine Prep, other division games against Absegami and Millville, and the trip to Steubensville. After returning from Ohio, St. Joe's will face rebuilding teams such as Atlantic City, Mainland, EHT and Ocean City, followed by a NP 1 tournament field that likely will offer minimal resistent to their drive to another state title.
Personnel: St. Joe's has talent and experience at every position, starting with offensive and defensive backfields that feature Ordille, plus junior twins Salaam and A'Laam Horne (both 5-11, 170). Salaam passed for more than 500 yards and ran for more than 500 yards last season, for a combined 12 TDs. He also returned three punts for TDs. A'Laam ran for 728 yards and 10 TDs. Both are speedy DBs. Senior FB/LB C.J. LaFragola ran for 1,149 yards and 14 TDs. The offensive and defensive lines are deep and experienced with veterans such as seniors Justin Kennedy (6-4, 250), Knikeen Lewis (6-3, 285) and Joe Greer (6-2, 230) and junior center Derek Lomax (6-2, 260). Junior tight end Chris Carey (6-2, 220) is a top athlete while seniors Mike Merlino (5-8, 215) and Zack McGuckin (5-9, 195) are top program players. Sacco also has high hopes for players such as junior lineman Joe Higbee, junior TE/DE Rashon Tapp and sophomore NG Darius Collins, among others.
Fast fact. St. Joe's is 41-3 over the last four seasons (11-1, 10-1, 10-0 and 10-1) with four state titles.
Quote: "It's our coaches. It's the way they prepare us for everything. It's the time they put in, how much they care," LaFragola said of the secret of St. Joseph's success.
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