Eastern football set to take next step | Training camp preview

Andrew Heck (left) will compete at the quarterback spot again this season. Here, he is pursued last season by Cherry Hill East’s Sean Coen.

Here is a look at the Vikings:

Eastern

Last season: 5-5.

Coach: John Doherty (5-5 at Eastern; 75-56 at Paul VI).

Schedule

9/7: Holy Spirit

9/15: at Cherry Hill East

9/21: Washington Twp.

9/28: Paul VI

10/5: at Atlantic City

10/12: Trenton Central

10/19: at Hammonton

10/26: at Kingsway

Camera icon Phil Anastasia/Staff photographer
Eastern football coach John Doherty, the long-time boss at Paul VI, begins his second season in charge of the Vikings’ program.

Outlook

The Vikings started fast in 2017, breaking to marks of 4-0 and 5-1 in their first season under former Paul VI coach John Doherty. Eastern finished at the .500 and qualified for the SJ 5 tournament, losing to eventual finalist Rancocas Valley in the first round. The Vikings will look to take another step forward in their second season under Doherty, who turned Paul VI into a South Jersey power. The coaching staff is experienced and accomplished as former Camden Catholic head coach Nick Strom is the new offensive coordinator, and former Cherry Hill East head coach Tom Coen is a new offensive assistant.

The Vikings have some offensive weapons, led by a dominant big man in senior tackle Jermaine Donaldson (6-foot-4, 320 pounds), a Temple recruit. Senior RB/LB T.J. Franden (5-11, 190) is a three-year starter and team leader. Other veterans include seniors RB/LB Umar Davis (5-10, 180), RB/LB Manny Azuonwu (6-0, 195) and WR/DB Dom Harris (5-11, 175). Senior two-way lineman Ben Sperling (5-11, 240) is another veteran along with senior linemen Rocco Tursi (5011, 230) and Matt Chavey (6-0, 275), senior WR Steve Benson (5-10, 180) and senior TE Ryan Lombardi (5-11, 190).

In Strom’s fast-paced, no-huddle, spread offense, a key will be the play of the quarterback. The Vikings have two top candidates in seniors Chase Stafford (6-3 185) and Andrew Heck (5-11, 175). Both are capable of also contributing as wide receivers. Donaldson is likely to see more action on the defensive side this season and could be a force on that side of the football. Junior LB Moe Howard (5-11, 190) is another player to watch on defense.

Schedule analysis

The Vikings moved to the revamped WJFL Royal in an interesting group that includes new division rivals Kingsway, Hammonton and Holy Spirit as well as old rival Washington Twp. The schedule opens with the challenge in a home game against Holy Spirit, a Non-Public 2 power and a non-traditional opponent for Eastern. The Vikings then visit old rival Cherry Hill East in a cross-over game. Another intriguing cross-over is a Sept. 8 visit from Paul VI, a special game for Doherty since he spent 13 seasons with the Eagles and coached some of that team’s upperclassmen. There also are cross-over games with Group 5 opponents Atlantic City and Trenton Central .

Playoff prospects

The Vikings made the S.J. 5 field last season and have the potential to make the tournament again. If the offense develops under Strom, the defense holds up, they avoid injuries and the breaks go the Vikings’ way, they could challenge for a higher seed and home playoff game.

Player to watch

Franden is a versatile, experienced athlete who could flourish in Strom’s offensive system — as a runner, receiver and blocker — and should serve as the leader of the Vikings’ defense.

Camera icon PHIL ANASTASIA / Staff
TJ Franden

A top light-heavyweight wrestler, Franden brings toughness to the table, an important factor in Doherty’s quest to rebuild the program.