The names like Milza, Burrell, Pitale, Moran, Chapman, Gulig and Melton are starting to fade a little bit from the present collective conscience of Cedar Creek football fans (well, maybe not Melton just yet), but there is a whole new crop of players looking to make a name for themselves in the Pirates tradition.
Cedar Creek will have 10 new starters on defense this year — an unusually high turnover rate for one of South Jersey's most solid programs the past five years or so — but head coach Tim Watson said there is no shortage of guys who are salivating to get varsity game action and prove there will be no dropoff this year despite heavy losses from graduation.
"That's what this camp has been about and that's what we'll find out the first couple weeks of the season, who's ready to step up and be a leader and start to assert themselves. Overall, the vibe has been good, we have a bunch of kids who know what our standards are, but in camp you want to start to see some guys emerge," Watson said. "We're trying to get as much experience as we can defensively because we lost a lot of starters. Offensively, we return a lot of our skill guys. I think the guys who didn't get a ton of playing time last year are eager to prove themselves, so we feel good about our skill positions and our ability to make plays, but defensively we're going to need some guys to grow up in a hurry."
Defensively, the Pirates will be a work in progress early on, but certainly have some talent. Linebacker Joe Curry is the lone returning starter, but George Ramp, who was a receiver last year, has moved to the other side of the ball to become an outside linebacker. One of the big projects so far in preseason training camp has been shoring up the offensive and defensive lines.
"You just go to work. Guys know what we've had. Whether or not we're the biggest or the fastest, we want guys to play smart and play hard. If they can do that, we feel like we can coach them up. That's the standard," Watson said. "Joe Curry actually asked to play (offensive) guard because he knows we need some guys at those positions, and he's been dominating in the preseason. He's only 5-11, 215 pounds, but he probably has more pancake (blocks) than anybody we've ever had and that inspires the rest of the guys."
Offensively, Cedar Creek should be pretty solid. Kamal Reed is a bruising, 205-pound running back and quarterback Louie Barrios is a junior with a year of varsity experience under his belt. The Pirates will have to overcome a season-ending preseason ankle injury to running back Rosco Davis, but they have a talented receiving corps led by junior Malachi "Max" Melton, younger brother of Gary and Bo. Bo Melton is entering his sophomore year at Rutgers and was an all-state talent in high school, and Watson believes Max — who also is garnering a lot of attention from Rutgers — could be just as good in his final two high school seasons.
"It's night and day from last year (with Louie). He's still young, relatively speaking. We have a new offensive coordinator so he kind of had to learn a new system, but we know what Louie has now and we like his arm strength. He's a very mobile quarterback and somebody who helped us win a lot of games last year, so we're excited about Louie," Watson said. "The biggest thing is, we have the ability this year with the amount of skill guys we have to kind of spread the wealth if teams try to double cover and bracket Malachi. We have some guys we can count on, but I know he's eager. This was kind of Bo's breakout year — junior year — and Max has been a two-year starter for us, so he has a ton of experience and we consider him somebody who is a leader, so we're expecting big things from him."
Cedar Creek, which went 8-3 last year and lost 28-20 to West Deptford in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals, has a brutal schedule this year. It will face teams such as a Camden, Delsea Regional, Woodrow Wilson, Willingboro and Camden Catholic — a combined 40-14 last year — in the West Jersey Football League's Constitution Division, and has non-divisional matchups with Absegami, Pleasantville and Oakcrest. Watson said his Pirates won't be shying away from anybody on their schedule.
"It's playoff football in September, and it's exciting to know you're going to play some of those teams. This is one of the best conferences — you have three teams who, rightfully so, are preseason top 10 (in South Jersey) in Delsea, Woodrow Wilson and Camden, and there are some other teams knocking on the door. We're familiar with a lot of those teams and we know what they bring out of you as a staff and as a team. There are no days off and you have to be on point," he said. "We have a challenge this year with a new conference and we want to do well. We don't want to go into it like, hey, maybe we hope to go .500. No, we hope to win every game in this conference and we feel like we are capable of doing that. If we do it, great, but if we don't, we still feel like we'll be good enough to be in the (playoff) mix at the end of the season because of our strength of schedule, and we'll be a better team for it."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays