Timber Creek has no shortage of challengers from outside the walls that surround one of South Jersey's premier football programs.
There's new West Jersey Football League Constitution Division rival Camden Catholic in next Friday's season opener. There's emerging South Jersey Group 5 power Williamstown in a crossover clash set for late September. There are Hammonton and Shawnee and maybe Lacey Township in what figures to be a loaded South Jersey Group 4 field.
But Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson worries about what could topple the Chargers from inside the walls: the possibility of complacency and fat-cat-ism creeping into the locker room of a team coming off a 12-0 season and touted as one of the most talented in recent South Jersey history.
"That's something I think about every night," Hinson said the other day at practice.
It's not that Hinson doesn't hold Camden Catholic or Williamstown or Shawnee or Hammonton or some of the other teams on the Chargers' schedule in high regard. But he's a football coach, and football coaches are forever focused on their own teams, especially their mood and make-up.
Timber Creek last season won the South Jersey Group 3 title in dominating fashion. The Chargers lost a standout quarterback in Calvin Lowe and a sensational linebacker in Quanzell Lambert, now a Rutgers freshman.
But most of last year's team is back. Plus, the Chargers added talented transfers such as running back Zaire Williams, a West Virginia recruit who arrived from Cherokee, and wide receiver Adonis Jennings, a Division I prospect who arrived from Paul VI.
On paper, this looks like one of the most imposing teams in recent South Jersey history, with five Division I recruits (although North Carolina-bound DT Greg Webb is likely to miss the first month of the season while rehabilitating after knee surgery) and lots of other big-time players.
Besides Webb and Williams, defensive end/tight end Dajaun Drennon (North Carolina), defensive end/quarterback Myles Nash (Rutgers), and defensive back Eric Church (Kent State) have committed to Division I programs.
Hinson thinks senior defensive back Billy Burton and senior running back/defensive back Khalil Pierce are Division I prospects as well, along with Jennings. In addition, juniors Justice Davila, a linebacker, and Lamont Bradford, a two-way lineman, are drawing major-college interest, and sophomore safety Kareem Ali already is on Ohio State's radar.
"Nothing is guaranteed," Hinson said. "As coaches, we have to make sure these guys realize that. They have to work hard to have success just like any other team."
The Chargers have a big target on their back. And they will get a challenge right out of the gate with that opener against Camden Catholic, which should be one of the top teams in South Jersey this season with Temple-bound running back/linebacker Jarred Alwan and a potentially game-changing new weapon in junior running back/defensive back J.T. Blyden, a transfer from Avon Grove (Pa.).
Williamstown is a gathering storm that will come to Erial for a showdown with Timber Creek on Sept. 28. Hammonton and Shawnee and perennial Shore Conference power Lacey Township look like strong contenders in that revamped South Jersey Group 4 field. The regular-season schedule includes Group 5 programs Eastern and Lenape as well as solid Constitution Division programs Moorestown, Paul VI, and Seneca.
Timber Creek has the talent to run the table again, even with Webb on the sideline until October, if not longer. The defense should be dominant again, with some of those young guys - especially Davila, who is drawing major interest from Rutgers and West Virginia - stepping up to take more prominent roles.
The offense will miss Lowe's run-pass versatility and knack for producing big plays at big times. But Williams and Pierce form an imposing combination, and Nash has the arm and Jennings has the speed to force defenses to respect the pass. Drennon is a top tight end, too.
But Hinson, his assistants, and the team's senior leaders know that the key this season is to make sure all that talent works together, and that the finished product is reflective of all those great ingredients.
"We're not taking anything for granted," Drennon said. "We know people are going to be coming after us. We've got the target on our backs. We have to be ready to play every day in practice and every game when we take the field."