HAMMONTON The St. Joseph High School football team needed to travel west to Ohio to find a close game last year, as they rolled to an undefeated season, capped off by the program’s sixth straight state championship.
No team in New Jersey got within 30 points of the Wildcats in the regular season, and St. Joseph outscored its two playoffs opponents 96-18.
However, the Wildcats did suffer some turnover in its starting lineup this year. Despite the new faces, St. Joseph, which has a 21-game winning streak, is still the preseason favorite in the last year of Cape-Atlantic League football, as well as Non-Public II.
Two reasons why the Wildcats are still the favorite are senior quarterback Salaam Horne and senior running back A’Laam Horne, two of the most dynamic players in South Jersey, if not the state.
Salaam Horne threw for 14 touchdowns and ran for eight more last season, and that’s with many games already over by halftime. A’Laam Horne found the end zone 22 times.
“We were hit pretty hard by graduation. We have three or four kids from last year’s team,” said long-time St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco, who has 288 career wins. “(We have) the twins, and of course everyone knows they are going to have to carry us.”
He added: “There’s no secret we are leaning on those two. It’s a unique gift for us. For many, many years we were a firm believer to spread it around and keep people off balance. I don’t know how much we will be able to do that this year because we don’t have those type of skill kids. Some of the kids will get their carries, but for most of the time they will be role players.”
Sacco believes in his seniors taking the lead on and off the field. Players like linemen Chris Carey, Rha-Sun Tapp and Eddie Testa along with the twins will be asked to fill that role.
Their play on both sides of the ball will have to help carry the young Wildcats.
“I say it every year that the group will only go as far as the seniors take you,” Sacco said. “They have to be your leadership. Last year we had so many, it wasn’t just one or two. We had seven or eight guys take the bull by the horns.”
Having the Horne brothers is certainly a strength, but the Wildcats need to come together.
It remains to be seen how good the Wildcats will be this season, especially with so many new players.
However, St. Joseph will find out right away as it opens with a game at St. Augustine Prep on Sept. 11. St. Joseph also has key games at Mount St. Joseph (Md.) on Oct. 10 followed by a home game against Atlantic City on Oct. 17.
“Our coaching staff has worked ridiculously hard with this group like they always do,” Sacco said. “We are just trying to stay healthy, get better, and be ready for opening day.”