By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Holy Spirit is used to competing for state championships. So, last year’s 4-6 record was a little bit of an anomaly, and a large group of returning seniors want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
There were some growing pains under first-year coach A.J. Russo a year ago, and a complete change in the offense during summer camp, but now things are running much more smoothly and the Spartans believe they can get back to their winning ways.
“We have to continued to work and get better. By no means are we going to walk out onto the field and other teams are going to fold. We’re a work in progress. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there,” Russo said. “We are where we thought we were going to be, so we’re happy with where we have progressed to. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. We have kids who are competing every day on the field, and that’s where we wanted to get to. Regardless whether it’s a practice situation or a game situation, everybody is competing, every day, every drill, and that’s what is important. If that continues to happen, we will continue to grow as a team and the individuals will get better. So, we’re happy with where we are as far as that is concerned.”
Offensively, the Spartans have plenty of firepower. Quarterback Mike Costabile returns as a junior with a year of varsity experience under his belt, and senior running back Reggie Jean-Charles added 25 pounds to his frame during the offseason and should be one of the best backs in South Jersey this year after gaining more than 1,000 yards as a junior.
Holy Spirit also has Justin Figueroa to take some of the load off of Jean-Charles’ shoulders, and freshman E’lijah Gray looked impressive during a scrimmage against Absegami this week. Former quarterback Danny Tarsitano provides a threat on the outside after switching to wide receiver last season, and the line is starting to come together.
“We’re looking for an intense season. We have 16 returning seniors, so it can only get better than last year. It makes everything go faster. Last year, we were running the double wing, but we realized that wasn’t working so we went to the pistol. That set us back a little bit when we changed the offense, but now we’re comfortable with this offense,” Jean-Charles said. “I think we can do great things.”
“As far as the offense, we switched offenses last summer and we’re more comfortable with the one-back pistol set that we’re running, both from a coaching perspective as well as a player perspective,” Russo said. “Our defense was solid all last year and I think it will be solid again this year. And if you look at our kicking game, with Cade Antonucci, I don’t think there’s a better kicker in South Jersey.”
Defensively, the Spartans should be pretty good. Mason Murphy and Owen Kramer are back, as is James Marcheski, a hard-hitting linebacker. Holy Spirit also has Dante Daniel back at linebacker, and the Spartans should have a very tough front seven.
The Spartans are going to need to play tough defense as they move into the West Jersey Football League’s United Division. While the division isn’t necessarily loaded, aside from Buena Regional, Holy Spirit has some very tough crossover games.
“We’re very excited. There’s a lot of great matchups. If you look at the crossover games outside of our division, we have St. Joe’s, St. Augustine, Delsea and Camden Catholic. But that’s what we want. Those are some of the top teams in South Jersey, and we want to be one of the top teams. In order to be the best, you have to compete against the best,” Russo said. “And our other crossover game is against Atlantic City on Thanksgiving, and that’s a battle every year regardless of records. We’re very happy with the schedule. Late nights studying football, that’s a coach’s dream.”
Russo knows there is going to be a lot of late-night film work to prepare for those types of teams, but he welcomes the challenge, he said. And although he likes what he has seen so far in training camp, there’s no time to let up. Holy Spirit opens up with Middle Township on Sept. 9, and also will face St. Joseph and Delsea Regional in the first four weeks.
“As a coach, you’re never satisfied. You want to continue to get better,” Russo said.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN