Pennsauken looks to push back to prominence | Training camp preview

Pennsauken coach Clint Tabb is entering his 10th season in charge of the program at his alma mater.

Here’s a closer look at the Indians:

Pennsauken

Last season: 3-7.

Camera icon Elizabeth Robertson/Staff photographer
Then-sophomore Nahzir Russell (right) closes on Cherry Hill West’s Harrison Hand, now a Baylor player, during a 2016 game.

Coach: Clint Tabb (40-51 entering 10th season).

Schedule

8/30: at Paul VI

9/7: at Cherry Hill West

9/14: at Cumberland

9/22: at Cherry Hill East

9/28: at Kingsway

10/5: at Seneca

10/12: Camden

10/26: at Triton

11/21: Bishop Eustace

Outlook

The Indians have a chance to push back into the mix of the Top 15 or 20 teams in South Jersey this season. They have a strong group of returning seniors, many of whom will be playing varsity for the third straight season and are battled-tested from two tough seasons against top competition. In addition, the Indians’ schedule is a little less challenging — on paper, anyway — than it has been recently.

Leading the way will be senior RB Nahzir Russell (5-10, 180), a track and football star, and senior LB Claudy Vasquez (5-10, 180), a second-team all-conference selection as a junior. Russell has the speed to go the distance on every play. Senior WR/DB Donte Jamison (5-19, 165) is another play-maker to watch. Jamison was a second-team all-conference selection last season after making 37 tackles and lifting three interceptions, one a pick-six. The front lines should be sturdy with seniors such as Jalen Brady (5-10, 230), Jordan Collins (6-3, 310), Kenny Corbin (6-1, 225) and Anthony Carter (6-0, 220) and junior Teddy Johnson (5-10, 250).

Camera icon FILE
Pennsauken coach Clint Tabb led the Indians to the South Jersey Group 4 title in 2011.

Junior Deswa Evans (6-2, 175) is a promising talent at quarterback. He started four games last season and showed flashes of potential.  Senior WR/DB Waylen Brady (5-11, 180) and senior WR/LB Nihad McCoy (6-0, 175) should be among Evans’ top outside targets.

Schedule analysis

Like most South Jersey teams this season, the Indians will open early with a “Zero Week” game before Labor Day or the first day of school. Pennsauken will visit Paul VI on Aug. 30 for the kickoff to the season. In the revamped WJFL National, the Indians have a chance to challenge for the division crown in a grouping that includes Cherry Hill East, Cherry Hill West, Cumberland, Seneca and Triton. None of those teams reached .500 last season, and every one likely is looking at the new division as an opportunity to make some hay against opponents that also have struggled a bit in the win-loss column in recent seasons. Pennsauken will have tough cross-over games at Kingsway on Sept. 28 and at home vs. rival Camden on Oct. 12. The Indians will close the regular season with their traditional Thanksgiving game vs. Bishop Eustace. This year, the game is scheduled for Wednesday night, Nov. 21.

Playoff prospects

The Indians will be in the South Group 4 pool under the NJSIAA new playoff system. They could be in South Jersey Group 4 or, given their location, they could be placed in Central Jersey Group 4. That will be determined by the location of the Top 16 teams in the South Group 4 pool at the playoff cutoff in late October. Pennsauken has a chance to be a contender in either section, if the Indians can stay healthy and build some momentum and confidence through the regular season.

Player to watch

Russell ran for 1,405 yards and 19 TDs last season and also returned a kickoff for a TD. He has his sights set on bigger numbers this season and could generate some big statistics, assuming he avoids injury. With a veteran offensive line in front of him, Russell has a chance to be one of the top rushers in the state.

“This is it, senior year, last chance,” Russell said recently before a Pennsauken practice. Russell and many of the other Pennsauken seniors are determined to bring the proud program back to prominence. “I know I’m very determined to help my team win some games and get people talking about Pennsauken again,” Russell said.