Williamstown ready for return to prominence | Training camp preview

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Williamstown senior all-purpose player Wade Inge Jr. leads the Braves in pursuit of their first sectional title since 2012.

Here’s a look at the Braves:

Williamstown

Last season: 5-5.

Coach: Frank Fucetola (158-97 overall; 139-85 at Williamstown; 19-12 at St. Augustine).

Schedule:

8/31: at Vineland

9/7: at Rancocas Valley

9/14: Millville

9/21: at Lenape

9/28: at Atlantic City

10/6: Cherokee

10/12: at Washington Twp.

10/19: Shawnee

10/26: St. Augustine

Outlook: The Braves made steady progress last season, improving from 3-7 to 5-5 while playing a demanding schedule. They beat S.J. 4 champion Shawnee in the regular season and took Millville to OT in a loss in the S.J. 5 tournament. They will look to take that next step this season behind a senior class that took its share of lumps as sophomores and juniors. Leading the way will be senior QB/DB J.C. Collins and senior all-purpose player Wade Inge Jr., both three-year starters. Collins (6-1, 180) completed 81 of 129 passes for 1,055 yards and 7 TDs and also ran for 598 yards and 5 TDs. He’s one of South Jersey’s top dual-threat QBs and also a top DB. He’s a UMass recruit. Inge Jr. (5-10, 180) is a versatile athlete who can make an impact on offense as a runner and receiver, on defense as a heavy-hitting back, and on special teams as a return man. He had 298 rushing yards and 264 receiving yards last season. He is a Delaware State recruit. Two top juniors also should play prominent roles: OT/DE Aaron Lewis (6-5, 230) is a top pass rusher who had 7 sacks last season, and TE/LB Brandon Perkins (6-1, 220) is another player to watch.

The Braves should be strong on special teams as they return senior K Nick Pomerleau, who made 5 FGs and was 24 for 26 in PATs, and senior P Chris Palazzo, who averaged 31.5 yards. The offensive line should be anchored by seniors Trevor Brown (6-3, 270) and Sam Ray (6-2, 280). Other key veterans include junior WR/DB Jon Woods (5-10, 160), senior DB Damonte Campbell (5-9, 165), senior TE Ben Dembo (6-1, 190), and junior all-purpose Quinn Hart (5-10, 180), among others.

Schedule analysis: The Braves remain in a revamped WJFL American along with rivals Lenape, Cherokee and Shawnee as well as newcomers St. Augustine and Rancocas Valley. The season will open early with an Aug. 31 visit to fellow S.J. 5 contender Vineland. Other crossover games include a Sept. 28 visit to Atlantic City and a Oct. 12 visit to former Thanksgiving rival Washington Twp. The regular season will end with key home division games Oct. 19 vs. Shawnee and Oct. 26 vs. St. Augustine. Those last two matchups likely will go a long way toward determining the Braves’ playoff position.

Playoff prospects: The Braves have the potential to challenge for the S.J. 5 title, although it’s a big jump from 5-5 to 9-3 or 10-2 or 11-1, which is probably what it would take to capture the crown in a group that could include a traditional Central Jersey power in the NJSIAA’s new playoff format. Still, they took a positive step last season and look poised to continue moving forward. A lot will depend on health, as is the case with most teams.

Fucetola believes the Braves have plenty of depth at RB and WR and DB, but a couple of injuries along the front line could undermine this team’s ability to match up against high-level Group 5 competition. Given the strength of schedule, Williamstown has the opportunity to command a big power rating and earn a high seed and a home game or two.

Player to watch: Collins is a run-pass threat and one of South Jersey’s most seasoned quarterbacks as a three-year starter who has competed at the WJFL American and S.J. 5 level. In a way, he also is the personification of the state of the Braves program. He took some lumps as a sophomore starter for a 3-7 team but showed flashes of great potential. He helped the Braves to a .500 record as a junior. He believes he’s ready to lead the way to a return to glory in 2018, as Williamstown seeks its first sectional title since the 2012 team went 12-0.

“When we were little, playing on the midgets, we used to go to Williamstown football games all the time,” Collins said. “Coach would let us out of practice early, and we would run on the field. Williamstown football would blow people out, 42-0, 42-6, 44-8, like that. When we got here, we thought it was going to be the same and it wasn’t. But we’ve got to get back to that.”