Camden defense will lead way | Training camp preview

Camden players celebrating last season’s 14-0 win over Cedar Creek.

Here’s a look at the Panthers.

Camden

Last season: 8-2.

Coach: Dwayne Savage (44-19 entering his seventh season).

Schedule:

8/31: at Wise, Md.

9/7: Cedar Creek

9/14: at Paul VI

9/21: at Delsea

9/28: Pemberton

10/12: at Pennsauken

10/19: at Camden Catholic

10/26: at Willingboro

11/22: Woodrow Wilson

Camera icon Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer
Dwayne Savage has a 44-19 record in his first six seasons as Camden football coach.

Outlook: The Panthers put together a strong season in 2017, beating S.J. 5 finalist Rancocas Valley but bowing out of the playoffs in a home loss to Cinnaminson in the first round of the S.J. Group 2 tournament. They have the potential to challenge for both the WJFL Constitution and S.J. 2 titles this season, thanks in large part to one of South Jersey’s top defenses. Leading the way is senior DB Donald Williams (6-0, 175), a Rutgers recruit. The defense also features senior lineman Tidaine Bamba (5-11, 275), a first-team all-conference selection last season who registered eight sacks from his tackle position, and senior safety Ramer Nock (6-0, 170), who had 58 tackles. Another key returner is junior LB Emmett Prather (6-1, 190), who had 61 tackles and was first-team all-conference. The Panthers defense also should get a big boost from the addition of junior LB Tirek Austin-Cave (6-1, 200), a transfer from Camden Catholic. Austin-Cave is one of South Jersey’s top linebackers and has a Rutgers offer. Other veterans on the defensive side include junior DT Ken Smith (5-11, 285), senior FS Nick Cataldo (5-10, 165) and senior LB Zakere Neal (5-11, 205).

The offensive line should be strong. The Panthers return starting linemen Khalil Phillips (6-3, 315) and Hiram Castro (5-10, 225) as well as senior TE Shawn Patterson (6-2, 225). The group should get a lift from the return of senior Kyle Brown (6-0, 250), who started as a sophomore but sat out last season with an injury, and the addition of senior Ronald Custis (6-4, 265), a transfer from Winslow Township. Three other transfers are likely to make an impact: senior QB Monte Williams (5-10, 165), who was a two-year starter at Cherry Hill West; senior WR/DB Brian Whitmore (5-10, 175), who previously played at St. Joseph’s Prep; and sophomore all-purpose Alijah Clark (6-2, 185), a varsity player as a freshman at Gloucester Catholic.

Schedule analysis: In the revamped WJFL Constitution, the Panthers will face division rivals such as Camden Catholic, Cedar Creek, Willingboro, Delsea and Woodrow Wilson. The schedule will open with a challenge as Camden visits Wise (Md.), the three-time defending 4A champion, on Aug. 31. Wise was 14-0 last season. The Panthers will make a Sept. 21 visit to Delsea, the defending S.J. 3 champion. There will be crossover games with Pemberton on Sept. 28 and, after a bye, a visit to rival Pennsauken on Oct. 12. The regular season will end with the traditional Thanksgiving Day battle with cross-town rival Woodrow Wilson, a game that could have added intrigue this season as both squads project as Top 10 teams and one or both could still be alive in their respective state tournaments.

Player to watch: Bamba is the anchor of the Panthers’ defensive front. He made 59 tackles last season, regularly tied up two blockers and worked loose to register eight sacks. His ability to be disruptive along the interior of the line could work wonders to free up Prather, Nock and Austin-Cave.