Here is a look at the Wildcats:
Last season: 12-0, won Non-Public 2 state title.
Coach: Paul Sacco (317-62-5 in his 37th season).
9/1: at Hamden Hall, Conn. (at University of New Haven).
9/14: at St. Augustine
9/21: at Atlantic City
10/13: West Deptford
10/19: at Timber Creek
10/26: at Holy Spirit.
The Wildcats are coming off the first 12-0 season in program history and their eighth state title in the last nine years. They look capable of running the table again, although they face a daunting schedule and already have been dealt some adversity as standout sophomore FB/LB Angelo Vokolos has been lost for most if not all of the season with a dislocated ankle and other lower-leg injuries. Vokolos was hurt in a recent 7-on-7 event. St. Joseph’s strength is up front along the offensive line and in the dynamic play-making abilities of junior all-purpose standout Jada Byers (5-foot-7, 165 pounds). Splitting ball-carrying duries with graduated FB Qwahsin Townsel, Byers ran for 1,554 yards and 20 TDs last season. He also returned four punts for TDs. “He’s so elusive,” Sacco said of Byers. The Wildcats could feature one of the better offensive lines in program history, which is saying something. LT Wisdom Quarshie (6-3, 305) and LG Brad Lomax (6-1, 220) are three-year starters. C Tucker Monico (6-0, 26) and RG Bobby Hyndman (6-0, 195) are two-year starters. And RG Sean Morris (6-2, 285) played plenty last season in “heavy” packages and combines with Quarshie to give the Wildcats a potentially dominant pair of bookend tackles. Sophomore Chase Lomax (6-0, 185), Brad’s brother, projects as the starting TE and could develop into a top player, according to Sacco. Byers and senior Nate Johnson (5-9, 165), who ran for 534 yards and 6 TDs, are returning starters at running back. Senior QB Mitchell Donovan (5-9, 185), is another returning starter, and unbeaten in his career. He will be challenged for playing time by sophomore Jayden Shertel (5-10, 170), who also doubles as a top DB.
The defensive line should be strong, with Quarshie and Morris manning the tackle positions and Lomax and sophomore Keyshon Griffin (6-3, 215) on the outside. Sophomore Ahmad Ross (5-11, 175) is a top DB and also should see action at RB. Sophomore OL/DL Ethan Hunt (6-0, 250) is another young player to watch. The defense will miss Vokolos, an instinctive and hard-hitting inside LB. But the Wildcats should get a lift in four weeks from junior LB Naim El (5-7, 195), a transfer from Winslow Township, who will sit out the first month under NJSIAA eligibility rules.
The Wildcats have moved to the WJFL Continental and will face a challenging slate of division games against Timber Creek, Millville, Vineland and Atlantic City. The Oct. 19 game at Timber Creek will match two of South Jersey’s most successful programs in recent years. There are other intriguing matchups as well. The season starts with a visit to the University of New Haven for a matchup with Hamden (Conn.) Hall, a prestigious prep school program that has cranked out several Division I athletes over the last few years. St. Joseph also will match up with SJ 2 Group 2 powers Haddonfield and West Deptford, perhaps for the first time ever. Haddonfield, the defending SJ 2 champion and favorite to capture the crown again, visits Bill Bendig Field on Sept. 29, and St. Joseph will travel to perennial power West Deptford on Oct. 13. The cross-over schedule also includes battles with long-time Cape-Atlantic League non-public rivals St. Augustine and Holy Spirit. St. Joseph visits the Prep on Sept. 14 in a likely clash of SJ Top 5 teams and visits Holy Spirit Oct. 26 in the regular-season finale. Those teams could meet again in subsequent weeks.
After losing to Mater Dei in the NP 2 semifinals in 2016, the Wildcats brought the championship trophy back to Hammonton last season, manhandling the Seraphs in a rematch in the state finals. Mater Dei this year has moved to NP 3, so St. Joseph has, on paper, an easier road to repeat. Holy Spirit, a fierce rival, looms as one of the Wildcats’ top challengers.
Player to watch
Brad Lomax might be the best player you don’t know about. He’s a three-year starter at left guard and a top defensive end as well. He excels at pulling and blocking in space for the Wildcats’ sweeps. He also is a productive pass rusher. Lomax is a mainstay on a veteran offensive line that sets the tone for the program, both on the field and in the weight room.
“Coach always says, ‘We only go as far as the seniors take us,’ ” Lomax said. “We take that seriously. We want to set an example for the younger guys. show them that you have to give your all on every rep.”
Lomax has drawn preferred walk-on offers and interest from numerous NEC and CAA programs. His older brother, Derek, is a former St. Joseph star lineman and a current sophomore center for Lehigh. His younger brother, Chase, is a St. Joseph sophomore who could start at both TE and LB.