Last year inexperience caught up to Eastern’s football team and the Vikings ended up with an uncharacteristic 1-9 season.
It was only the second sub .500 season in 11 seasons under Dan Spittal, whose career record is 65-49.
Now as a new season approaches, the Vikings appear to be improve, but the main question is how far are they realistically expected to move up?
While there is no question this is a more talented team, what may work against the Vikings is simply the schedule, among the toughest in South Jersey if not beyond.
Eastern opens with a game Sept. 9 at Williamstown, a playoff team from last year and considered the biggest threat in the WJFL American Division to Cherokee.
Then in Week 2, Eastern hosts Cherokee, a team that has gone 23-1 the previous two years and has no signs of letting up.
Here is the schedule:
Sept. 9 at Williamstown, 7
Sept. 16 Cherokee, 7
Sept. 23 at Washington Township, 7
Oct. 1 Lenape, 6
Oct. 6 Moorestown, 7
Oct. 14 at Paul VI, 7
Oct. 21 Timber Creek, 7
Oct. 29 at Winslow Township, noon
Nov. 4 Pennsauken, 7
One word for this schedule – OUCH!
It’s strange that Eastern’s first four games are against teams in its division. Washington Township and Lenape appear to be improved from last season. Then the Vikings have to play the two favorites in the WJFL Constitution Division (Moorestown and Paul VI) a major contender in the Royal Division (Timber Creek) before meeting a Winslow Township team that is dangerous, but considered rebuilding.
Then the final regular season game is against Pennsauken, the defending co-champion of the WJFL National Division and considered to have among the best skill-position players in South Jersey.
That said, Eastern has talent, especially in the skill positions. Quarterback Tom Flacco, a sophomore transfer from Camden Catholic who saw varsity action last year, should be a boost to the offense.
Flacco is the youngest brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback and Audubon graduate Joe Flacco.
New Eastern offensive coordinator Rick Brown was Flacco’s head coach last season at Camden Catholic. Being familiar with Brown’s offense will be plus.
Last year’s quarterback, Anthony Gallo, may see some snaps, but he was also an all-conference linebacker and will be the defensive leaders.
Cornerback-wide receiver Eli Woodard has already received four Division I offers – from Purdue, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Rutgers.
Senior receiver-safety Darius Merriweather is among the top two-way players in the American Division.
A key for the Vikings is to find consistency on the offensive and defensive lines, because there are skill position players to match up with defenses in the WJFL.
On paper, the Vikings don’t appear ready to make the leap to playoff contender, but this should be an improved team and one that will have to be taken seriously by every opponent on their highly difficult schedule.