Training camp 101: Highland

Highland linebacker Devon Starks, center, will be one of the teams leaders.

Coach: Brian Leary (14-7 entering third season).

Last season: 9-2 overall, 5-0 in WJFL Royal Division, reached SJ 4 semifinals.

Camera icon CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Brian Leary, 47, the football coach at Highland High School, Blackwood, NJ, in the stands for a portrait for being named The Inquirer’s football coach of the year 2016. Photo taken December 7, 2016. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

 

Last five seasons: 9-2, 5-5, 2-8, 4-6, 4-6.

Schedule:

9/8: Woodrow Wilson

9/15 Cherry Hill West

9/22: at Moorestown

10/6: Buena

10/13: Sterling

10/20: at Cumberland

10/28: at Oakcrest

11/3: Bishop Eustace

11/23: at Triton

Outlook: Highland put together the best season in school history in 2016, winning nine games including the SJ 4 tournament opener against CH West. The Tartans lost more than 20 seniors including some top athletes and leaders. But this group has a chance to maintain the momentum from last season, with a small but extremely talented group of seniors plus some potential impact players in the junior and sophomore classes. Leading the way will be seniors such as OL/LB Devon Starks (5-11, 240), RB DaeJuan Sanders (6-0, 205) and RB/LB Naeim Furlow (5-11, 200). Sanders ran for 1,114 yards and 8 TDs. When healthy, he’s one of SJ’s top RBs. Furlow is an explosive pass rusher who registered 16 sacks last season. Other key seniors include RB/LB Jared Colbert (5-10, 190), OL/DL Jimmy Pryor (5-10, 245) and OL/DL Liam Flite (6-5, 270), a top student who has drawn recruiting interest from Patriot League and Ivy League programs. Highland has a talented and experienced QB in junior Brian Cooey (6-2, 185), who passed for 933 yards and 5 TDs last season. Cooey also is a top punter and place-kicker, with field-goal range to 50-plus yards. Juniors to watch include WR/DB Brandon Williams (5-9, 175), WR/DB TJ Randall (6-3, 185) WR/DB Dahmir Barefield (6-3, 180) and TE/DE John Peoples (6-1, 185). Highland also has a “loaded” sophomore class, according to Leary, and a promising freshmen group as well, boding well for the future of the resurgent program.

Postseason prospects: The Tartans won a playoff game by stunning CH West in the first round and fell to undefeated Lenape in the sectional semifinals.That post-season experience could come in handy this November, as the Tartans loom as a serious contender in SJ 4. With two-time defending champion Timber Creek re-classified to SJ 3, and 2016 finalist Lenape bumped up to SJ 5, the road to Rowan look a lot different in 2017. Perennial powerhouse Shawnee rates as the preseason favorite on paper to win this sectional but Highland is one of several teams — such as Burlington Twp., CH West and Hammonton, among others — that can project itself into December if things fall right in November.

Schedule analysis: The Tartans probably play their biggest regular-season game in Week 1, hosting Woodrow Wilson. The Tartans and Tigers loom as the top contenders for the WJFL Royal crown, and Highland’s close win in Week 1 last season set the stage for the program’s breakthrough season. This isn’t a killer schedule. If the Tartans stay healthy and play to their potential, they can win a lot of games.

Player to watch: Furlow doesn’t look like one of SJ’s top pass rushers. He stands just 5-foot-11 and weighs 200 pounds. But few players around have his knack for coming around the corner and closing on the quarterback. He had 16 sacks last season and was a first-team ASJ selection by the Inquirer. “I just like to be that guy, that is there for my team when the time is needed,” Furlow said.

Fast fact: Leary was the Inquirer’s South Jersey Football Coach of the Year in 2016.

Last word: “We got a lot of momentum from that,” Starks said of the 2016 season. “Especially what those seniors last year, what they put on us, and now we’ve got to keep rolling from that.”