By NICK KOSKO
As head coach Kevin Stetser blew his whistle to start practice on a humid afternoon recently, the players at Egg Harbor Township let out a yell of excitement as they lined up for stretches.
There were smiles all around, a few jokes being cracked, and the Eagles seemed loose and ready to go. The seriousness and focus set in just seconds later as they divided into their individual workouts with their position coaches.
Stetser yelled instructions and then sat back and watched what was forming — a football team with a fair amount of talented players trying to realize its potential to be a playoff contender.
Stetser, who is entering his third year as head coach of the Eagles, is looking to guide his young, inexperienced team back to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
With the disbandment of the Cape-Atlantic League, those teams, including EHT, have moved on to the West Jersey Football League — where the competition only gets tougher. Stetser, however, said he believes the Eagles are ready for the challenge this year’s schedule brings.
“The offseason has been great. We’ve had a tough camp and always make sure to schedule tough scrimmages throughout the month (of August),” Stetser said. “We have some pretty good size this year, especially up front. This is big-time football and it’s a tough brand and we have to make sure we are ready. The challenges we’ve gone through during camp are definitely preparing us for the regular season.”
With a light senior class, the Eagles are striving to perform as one unit and not have any individuals become a distraction.
Senior offensive lineman and linebacker Dan Wollermann preaches hard work and togetherness for this junior-heavy Eagles squad. Wollermann, who is one of those old-school, blue-collar type guys, certainly is the man for the job.
“We have all been working hard and it’s been fun out here,” Wollermann said. “I am trying to do my best out here and do everything right. I want to lead by example and help every one of teammates in any way possible.”
With teams such as Millville, Bridgeton and St. Augustine Prep now in the division, Eagles players say are just fine being under the radar.
Senior guard and inside linebacker Steven Lasewicz is a quiet player, but does not let that affect his play on the field. He leads by example with his attitude. The hard-hitting Lasewicz believes this team can get it done, even up against high quality competition.
“My favorite part about playing football is just working hard with this team and this group of guys,” Lasewicz said. “We all have goals for ourselves but there is a team goal involved, too. We want to win every game possible and make a name for ourselves.”
While the Eagles bring new faces to the forefront, they feature key returning senior Connor Agostino, who will be anchoring the fullback position and multiple positions on defense.
The man they call “Moose” said he thinks the Eagles are ready to surprise a lot of people in 2016. He added that he believes the playoffs are a very realistic goal.
“I think we are ready. Better teams equal better competition and that is something we embrace,” Agostino said. “We just want to be a tight-knit unit. There’s no talking back, individual stuff or any other distractions out here. We strive to be the best we can be together because we know that is the best way to be successful, and hopefully get back into the playoffs.”
Confidence is always important, and coach Stetser certainly believes that is true. While he said he knows his team will be going up against some very tough opponents and tough losses might be on the horizon, the “buying in” from all of the players has created a positive attitude and buzz around training camp heading into the season.
“There is no set leader on this team yet, but these seniors are leading the way together. Even our juniors are being leaders out here,” Stetser said. “We feel like we have kids in this program who are going to do this the right way. It’s all confidence. These guys know we have good players. Now, that doesn’t mean we are going to get to the playoffs. But these guys have the confidence and it will be up to them to take ownership of this thing, and that is possibly where we will find ourselves.”
With the playoff drought at five years and counting, the Eagles know they have nothing to lose. However, for all of the high school football fans out there in South Jersey, don’t be surprised if the Eagles put all of the pieces together and punch their ticket to the South Group 5 playoffs.
“We’ve just been trying to build together,” Wollermann said. “It’s all about being a team and not building up a few guys here and there. We all want to go up in skill and talent. By working together, we can definitely get to that point and can be successful this season.”
By NICK KOSKO