Jim Raso shook his head.

Clint Tabb shrugged.

Dom Tomeo did both.

Those South Jersey football coaches weren't alone. Most of their colleagues had the same reaction to questions about the major changes to their sport for the 2018 season.

"It's the uncertainty," Raso, the coach at Hammonton, said last week during the West Jersey Football League's annual media day. "That's the biggest thing. The uncertainty of it all."

Some things never seem to change. St. Joseph ended 2017 as the No. 1 team in South Jersey after the first 12-0 campaign in that program's rich history, and the Wildcats will start 2018 at the top of the preseason rankings.

Other familiar names are at the top of everybody's list of contenders for division and sectional championships: Delsea, Haddonfield, West Deptford, Timber Creek, Shawnee, Paulsboro, Penns Grove, and Williamstown, among others.

But the overarching theme for the 2018 South Jersey football season is a sport in transition. Consider:

1. Early starts

In the past, a handful of South Jersey schools have played on "Zero Week," which is the weekend before Labor Day. This year, 26 games will be played either Aug. 30 or Aug. 31.

The games on Aug. 30 are believed to be the earliest kickoffs to the regular season in South Jersey history.

"We did it last year, and I like it," said Raso, whose team will host Central Jersey power Long Branch on Aug. 31. "It makes things speed up. It helps move camp along. You get right into it."

Said Tabb, whose team will open Aug. 30 at Paul VI: "There's no 'I'll install this in next week.' No, no, no. It forces you to do things now."

Tomeo's Triton team will host Sterling on Aug. 30.

"It's a trial run" Tomeo said of the early start. "We'll see if we like it. Nobody knows for sure."

2. New coaches

There are changes every year among the ranks of head coaches. That's nothing new.

What's different this season is the number of new coaches — 16, with nearly a fifth of South Jersey teams under the direction of a new boss — and the status of the men who stepped away from the sideline after last season.

Jason Morrell takes over at West Deptford for Clyde Folsom, who resigned after 33 seasons and 261 victories.

Brian Glatz becomes just the fourth coach in Cherokee history, replacing P.J. Mehigan, who led the Chiefs to five sectional titles in 13 seasons.

Joe Wojceichowski is the new coach at Lenape. He succeeds Tim McAneney, who transformed the Indians into one of South Jersey's premier programs and led them to their first sectional title in last season's South Jersey Group 5 title game.

At Camden Catholic, Cody Hall takes over for Nick Strom, who went 34-6 in four seasons but clashed with the school administration and was asked to resign  in May.

Longtime coaches such as Dave Ellen at Bridgeton and Pete Miles at Delran have resigned, replaced by Steve Lane and Garrett Lucas, respectively. Mike Schatzman takes over at Washington Township for Lamont Robinson, who resigned after one season, and Jeff Lake was elevated to head coach at Winslow Township in July after prominent coach Kemp Carr stepped down.

West Deptford coach Clyde Folsom resigned after 33 seasons.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
West Deptford coach Clyde Folsom resigned after 33 seasons.

3. New divisions

The WJFL restructures every two seasons, but the league will have a dramatically new look with teams from the Cape-Atlantic League and Colonial Conference — both of whom joined the WJFL before the 2016 season — fully integrated into new divisions.

The league also took a big step toward creating divisions with an emphasis on strength of program, with an American Division loaded with power teams such as Cherokee, Lenape, Shawnee, Rancocas Valley, Williamstown, and St. Augustine; a Continental Division with Millville, Vineland, Timber Creek, Atlantic City, and St. Joseph; and a Constitution Division with Camden, Camden Catholic, Cedar Creek, Willingboro, and Woodrow Wilson.

"Every week, tough game," Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola said of the Braves' slate. "We have to be ready to play our best every week."

4. New playoff system

For starters, the sport will have a new power-ranking system with two components: Sixty percent based on a computer algorithm developed by the Born Power Index and 40 percent based on the traditional power-point system.

"It seems like everybody is unclear on how that will work," Woodrow Wilson coach Preston Brown said.

In addition, public school teams will be split into South and North regions with the five enrollment groups. The top 16 teams in each group will qualify for the playoffs, with the traditional eight-team "sections" — South and Central as well as North 1 and North 2 — created by geography.

That means some teams — especially schools in the northern edges of South Jersey — such as Rancocas Valley, Moorestown, Pennsauken, Lenape, Florence, and Burlington Township, among others — will not know for sure until the playoff fields are set whether they will be in the South or Central sections for the postseason tournament.

Another change: The public-school sectional championships will be held the weekend before Thanksgiving, with the higher-seeded team serving as the host.

Also, the state this year will unveil "bowl games"  that will match the the public-school sectional champions, with the South Jersey Group 1 winner playing the Central Jersey Group 1 winner, the South Jersey Group 2 winner playing the Central Jersey Group 2 winner, and so on.

Those games, along with the three non-public state finals, will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, either Thanksgiving weekend or the first weekend of December.

The creation of the bowl games moves New Jersey one step away from true public-school state championship games, which many football people expect to happen when the sport's playoff structure is changed again in two seasons.

"So many other states have state championships," Brown said. "It looks like that's coming for us as well."

That's a big change for another season. As it is, 2018 has more change than any season in recent history.