Call it "The Year of the Quarterback."
The 2009 football season is nearly nine months away, but it's already looking like a big year for passers who also run, runners who also pass, and a couple of guys who fit the classic mold of dropback quarterbacks.
Camden Catholic's Joe Brennan fits the latter category and could be poised for a spectacular senior season. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Brennan passed for 2,074 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2008 as the Irish went 9-2 with losses to South Jersey Group 3 champion Shawnee and state Non-Public 3 champion St. Joseph of Montvale.
Audubon's Brandon Hill battled some injuries this past season but compares with Brennan as a pure passer. The 6-5 Hill, who has drawn interest from schools such as Rutgers and Boston College, has a big-time arm and likely will put up some big-time numbers if the Green Wave develop receiving threats to replace their graduating seniors.
St. Augustine's Dustin Thomas led the Hermits to a 10-1 record this season, with the lone loss to North Jersey powerhouse Bergen Catholic in the Non-Public 4 tournament. The 6-1, 195-pound Thomas will be the most experienced quarterback in South Jersey next season: He will be starting for the fourth year in a row.
Thomas is a threat as a runner and passer. He entered the off-season on a high note, running for 139 yards and passing for 307 in a victory over Buena on Thanksgiving weekend.
For the season, Thomas passed for 1,419 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for 505 yards and four touchdowns.
Haddonfield's Philip Bhaya will be back for his third season as a starting quarterback. Like Thomas, the 5-11, 180-pound Bhaya excels as a runner and passer. He also makes lots of big plays as a defensive back.
With Haddonfield returning top lineman Nick Conquest as well as fullback J.P. Marquess and blossoming skill-position players Kevin Davis and Chris Davis, the Bulldogs are poised to challenge for the Colonial Liberty title as well as the South Jersey Group 2 crown.
Bhaya ran for 878 yards and 15 touchdowns and passed for 1,460 yards and 14 touchdowns this past season. He could put up some imposing numbers in his third season at the controls of the Haddonfield offense.
Holy Cross' Austin Stein already has an impressive resume: He was the starting quarterback as the Lancers won the Non-Public 2 state titles in 2007 and 2008.
Stein replaced injured starter Tommy Reilly in the title game in 2007. But this season, Stein was the Lancers' starter from day one and led the team to an 8-3 record and another state title.
More shifty runner than downfield passer, the 5-9, 160-pound Stein could have a big season in Holy Cross' ground-oriented offense in 2009.
Delsea's Chris Jackson is coming off the best game of his career. The 5-9, 170-pound Jackson ran for 110 yards and made a couple of big plays with his arm in the Crusaders' victory over West Deptford in the South Jersey Group 2 championship game.
Delsea should be loaded next season as the Crusaders lose just four seniors from this year's sectional champions. Whether they are classified again in Group 2 or move back up to Group 3, the Crusaders should contend for another title.
Jackson will spend a lot of time handing off to Austin Medley and Sean McPherson. But the quarterback also can make plays in the passing game. He was 5 for 7 passing for 69 yards in this year's sectional title game, including a touchdown pass in the first half and a 21-yard strike to the 6-yard line with five seconds on the clock that set up the game-winning field goal.
Williamstown's Billy McCarty helped the Braves to a 9-1 record this season and outright possession of the Tri-County Royal crown.
Williamstown returns top running backs Marcus Hampton and Ron Gordon next season, but the 6-foot, 180-pound McCarty should benefit from a year of starting experience. With teams geared up to stop Hampton and Gordon, McCarty's accurate passing could be more of a factor for the Braves in 2009.
Hammonton's Nick Crescenzo should be back after leading the Blue Devils to a 9-3 record and a berth in the South Jersey Group 3 title game. The 5-10, 170-pound Crescenzo is another multitalented quarterback who makes plays with his feet as well as his arm.
Middle Township struggles for victories but the Panthers have one of the best all-around players in the Cape-Atlantic League in quarterback Nolan Quinn.
The 6-1, 180-pound Quinn should be back for his third season as Middle Township's starting quarterback. He passed for 1,313 yards and 13 touchdowns this past season.
Here's a look at some of the projected top football teams in South Jersey in 2009:
The Braves return running backs Marcus Hampton and Ron Gordon, quarterback Billy McCarty and several other key players from a 9-1 team.
2. Camden Catholic:
Quarterback Joe Brennan and defensive end/tight end Sherard Cadogan form a strong foundation.
3. St. Augustine:
Quarterback Dustin Thomas will be back for a fourth season as starter and several other key players return from a 10-1 team.
Running backs Austin Medley and Sean McPherson, quarterback Chris Jackson and most of both lines return from the Group 2 champions.
Tyler Powell and Sean Farrell are among the top returnees for a team that will reload.
Running backs Talir Satterfield-Rowe and Harry Williams will be back along with promising wide receiver Marcus Jones.
Four offensive linemen will return for a team with a 24-game winning streak. Watch out for sophomore twins P.J. and Christian James.
Linebackers Zach Greenwald and Marcus Lee and defensive tackle Nick Curl will make the Red Raiders tough on defense.
Quarterback Nick Crescenzo and his cousin, running back David Crescenzo, along with running back Joshua Baez return from the Group 3 finalists.
Quarterback Phil Bhaya, lineman Nick Conquest, fullback J.P. Marquess, wide receiver Kevin Davis and wingback Chris Davis are among the returners for a team that might be on the verge of South Jersey prominence.
- Phil Anastasia