Timber Creek junior linebacker Quanzell Lambert might be South Jersey's No. 1 football recruit in the Class of 2012.
Camden Catholic sophomore linebacker Jared Alwan might be South Jersey's No. 1 football recruit in the Class of 2013.
But that doesn't mean we're entering an era of defensive dominance.
The best teams still will play the best defense. That has been true in the past. That will be true in the future.
But from the vantage point of December 2010, the 2011 season looks a lot like the 2010 season looked from December 2009: another big year for quarterbacks.
Have we gotten pass-happy? More and more teams are running the spread offense. More and more quarterbacks and wide receivers are benefiting from camps and showcases and seven-on-seven leagues.
The best teams in 2010 were Cherokee and Holy Spirit. Both went 12-0. Both featured terrific defenses and powerful ground games.
The next-best team was St. Joseph of Hammonton. The Wildcats were 10-1. They also featured an outstanding defense and a relentless rushing attack.
Maybe there's a lesson in there. But it has become increasingly clear that even the biggest, strongest, and toughest teams need to be able to throw the football, at least a little bit, when they get to late November and early December.
Cherokee and Holy Spirit were capable of throwing the football. They just picked their spots, as on Saturday, when Cherokee quarterback Andy Martin threw three touchdown passes in a 33-6 victory over Oakcrest in the South Jersey Group 4 title game.
But not everybody can line up and play Cherokee's style. Or Holy Spirit's style. Or St. Joe's style.
More and more teams seemed to be looking to spread the field, taking advantage of strong-armed quarterbacks, speedy receivers, and - let's be honest - high school defenses that aren't very sophisticated when it comes to pass coverage.
Five quarterbacks threw 20 or more touchdown passes in 2010: Martin, Winslow Township's Bill Belton, Holy Cross' Mark Zagunis, Penns Grove's Nick Elmer, and Moorestown's Andrew Lisa.
That's a big number.
Plus, guys such as Woodrow Wilson's Aaron Spencer, Gloucester Catholic's Cody Brown, and Paul VI's Khaaliq Burroughs passed for more than 1,500 yards.
That's another big number.
Expect more of the same in 2011.
Lisa, a junior, will return to lead a Moorestown team that should be among the best in South Jersey. He passed for 2,240 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Top targets Zac Frantz and Delaney Wallace will be back, too.
Elmer threw for 22 touchdowns, more than any sophomore in South Jersey history. He's not suddenly going to start handing it off every down.
Spencer, a junior, passed for 1,661 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. His top receiver, T.J. Chambliss, will return as well.
Other top returning quarterbacks include Pennsauken's Manny Cortez, Triton's Brian Keller, Williamstown's Dan Collins, Oakcrest's Quaashie Jetter, and Delsea's Josh Awotunde, among others.
Expect a few more to make their way into prominence. After all, they'll get plenty of chances to pass the football.
It's only nine months before the start of another South Jersey football season, so here's a forecast of the 2011 preseason Top 10:
1. Holy Spirit (12-0 in 2010): The Spartans will lose a ton of talent from this year's Non-Public Group 3 state champions. But RBs Donta Pollock and Nigel Jones will return along with defensive standouts Dan Mastromatteo, Rocky Figueroa, and Ethan Gambale. This program is humming with power.
2. Moorestown (7-3): The Quakers need to tighten up defensively, but this team won seven games playing a difficult schedule with a lot of young athletes on the field. QB Andrew Lisa will return with offensive standouts Zac Frantz and Delaney Wallace. Tim Mahaney, Brent Ogle, and Alex Martinelli are among other key returnees.
3. Delsea (10-2): The wheels came off against Lacey Township in the Group 3 title game, but the Crusaders won 10 games and made the sectional final in a rebuilding year. RB Marshall Brooks and QB Josh Awotunde should lead the way.
4. St. Joseph (10-1): Rutgers recruit Kaiwan Lewis, a two-way lineman, will return with RB Kaheem Reynolds, DE Max Valles, LB Corey Litton, and several others.
5. Cherokee (12-0): The Chiefs will lose a terrific senior class, which led the way to the program's first 12-win season. But they will reload behind linemen Tyler Hartman and Quinn Mehigan, RBs Nick Follet and Zaire Williams, and LB Casey Farah.
6. Paul VI (8-2): RB Johnell Anderson, FB Matt Barnett, DT Greb Webb, and WR Ron Curry are among the top returnees for another program that is rolling along at a high level.
7. Haddonfield (11-1): The Bulldogs will miss a special senior class, but the newly crowned Group 2 champions will return a lot of top players, including RB Chris Dengler; FB Rob Perkins; linemen Jim Cashman, Jack Knecht, and Carson Stack; and all-purpose standout Matt Bhaya.
8. Oakcrest (9-3): RB/LB Brandon Bell, DB/WR Mark Clements, QB Quaashie Jetter, and RB Steve Adkisson are among the returnees for the Group 4 finalist.
9. Camden Catholic (5-5): The Irish showed some grit this season and could take the next step in 2011 behind star LB Jared Alwan, along with RB Mike Blandon, TE Andrew Racobaldo, and WRs Pete Galiano and Anthony Sweet.
10. Shawnee (6-4): The Renegades will reload behind OL Tom Smith, DB Kyle Wigley, and emerging RB Rob DiOrio.
Under consideration: St. Augustine (4-6), West Deptford (11-1), Hammonton (7-4).
- Phil Anastasia