Besides being among the best football coaches in South Jersey, Delsea's Sal Marchese Jr. is known as a disciplinarian. Marchese has brought a no-nonsense approach to the job and the players have surely bought into his way of operating.

But recently a number of Delsea players went against Marchese's wishes and the veteran coach didn't even roll his eyes.

After Delsea had beaten West Deptford, 17-14, in a dramatic South Jersey Group 2 championship game on Dec. 5, Marchese conceded he was wiped out.

So after all the congratulatory speeches, Marchese ended matters by giving his team a week off from the weight room before beginning preparations for next season.

"I definitely needed the week off," he said, after Delsea completed its 8-3 season.

On the Tuesday after the Friday night championship game, Marchese could only shake his head when he saw that a number of players had disobeyed his orders.

There in the weight room was about half the team, working out by themselves, getting ready for the 2009 season. With less than nine months until next football season, the Crusaders didn't want to waste any time.

"That is the type of group they are," said Marchese, who has a 117-46-1 record in 16 seasons at Delsea. "They are a hard-working group."

Delsea is surely not the only team that works hard in South Jersey. In fact, if any football team wants to compete at the highest level, there has to be a year-round commitment.

That doesn't mean just lifting weights. Many football players benefit from participating in other sports.

Just staying active is important.

It would be easy for the coaches and players at Delsea and other schools to shut things down until after the holidays. That isn't the mind-set for winning programs.

Marchese knows that with his team losing just three seniors who were starters, the expectations will be high next season. (Just check Phil Anastasia's list of top teams for next year and Delsea is listed prominently.)

The wing-T rushing attack will again be among the best in South Jersey. Current juniors Austin Medley and Sean McPherson combined to rush for 1,953 yards and 24 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Chris Jackson, one of the stars in Delsea's win over West Deptford with 110 yards rushing and 69 yards passing, will again be back to run the offense

At Delsea, the juniors who will be seniors know enough not to get complacent.

"Our freshman team was loaded and we feel we have a couple of those kids who can step up right away and contribute," Marchese said.

This season, Delsea moved down to Group 2, and while Marchese acknowledges the difficult competition the Crusaders faced in the playoffs against Haddonfield and West Deptford, he is hoping to move back to Group 3.

Marchese wants to face the best possible competition, and it's not as if the Crusaders wouldn't be able to handle the move up. Under Marchese, Delsea won the South Jersey Group 3 title in 2000 and in 2005. The 2005 team went 12-0 and was The Inquirer's No. 1-ranked team.

It's likely that the 1999 Delsea team didn't have much time off to prepare for that 2000 season. Or the 2004 squad probably was back in the weight room almost immediately preparing for that unbeaten 2005 campaign.

Those who win in football must pay a severe price, simply because the sport is so demanding physically.

The teams that dodge weight-room sessions are usually the ones collecting their gear after the final game on Thanksgiving.

Teams that occasionally disobey their coach and sneak into the weight room, such as Delsea, are usually stronger for the extra games that they expect to play the next season.