It's easy to overlook Jesse Streb.

It's easy to underrate Cherokee.

The versatile senior might be the perfect symbol for his football team. He's one of those solid but unspectacular players, and the Chiefs - this season, anyway - are one of those solid but unspectacular teams.

Sometimes, sure and steady wins the race. Streb might not have stunning statistics, and the Chiefs might not have a remarkable record.

But that won't matter much when fourth-seeded Cherokee (8-3), the defending champion, meets second-seeded Rancocas Valley (9-2) in the South Jersey Group 5 title game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Rowan University.

"He is the epitome of a program guy," Cherokee coach P.J. Mehigan said of Streb.

That's high praise. There's a reason that programs such as Cherokee and Shawnee and Delsea and West Deptford and Haddonfield always seem to strike deep in the postseason tournament, always seem to be playing on the big stage in early December.

And it's not because their rosters are loaded with star athletes.

It's the culture within the program. It's the 12 or 15 or 20 kids who make the commitment as freshmen, who pay their dues at the sub-varsity level, who spend the time in the weight room and on the practice field during offseason workouts.

Sure, teams need talent to win. Sure, speed and strength and skill tend to make a big difference in a football game, and football season.

But teams don't rise back to the Top 10 and survive deep in the tournament, year after year, strictly because of an abundance of talent. That's cyclical, even at the largest schools.

What sustains these top programs is the infusion, every August, of dedicated kids who tend to get bigger and stronger and better during their careers.

That's Streb.

That's not to say Streb lacks natural ability. He has plenty. Mehigan says Streb has "incredible hands" and could be one of South Jersey's leading receivers if he played for a team that threw the football.

Streb has 16 catches for 333 yards and four touchdowns. He also is a top safety and a dependable kicker, having made 29 of 31 extra points and 4 of 5 field-goal attempts.

"I play three sports, so I feel like I'm pretty versatile," Streb said. "I don't care where I play. I'll play wherever the team needs me."

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Streb is a good high school football player. He just isn't likely to sign with Penn State on a scholarship.

In fact, he might end up playing lacrosse in college.

But Cherokee football has become one of South Jersey's best programs, in any sport, because of guys such as Streb and fellow seniors Marc Woodard and Dan Iannone and Jordan Krug, among others.

They were part of a dominant team in 2013, when a loaded senior class led the Chiefs to an 11-1 record, the program's ninth sectional title, and the No. 1 spot in The Inquirer Top 25.

But 2014 was supposed to be different, a rebuilding year for a team that lost 18 starters.

For the longest while, it looked that way. Cherokee was 3-3 after losing to rival Shawnee on Oct. 24.

"I knew we could turn it around," Streb said. "We needed to step up. We needed to keep working, keep believing in ourselves."

Cherokee has won five games in a row to reach the sectional final in South Jersey's largest group for the seventh time since 2001.

Streb and his fellow seniors have led the way.

"He's been outstanding," Mehigan said of Streb. "He's a wideout and we're asking him to block all game, and he never says a word. He only cares about winning."

In the sectional semifinals, Streb was placed on the kickoff-return team for the first time this season because Mehigan knew Toms River North liked to squib kicks to avoid the deep return men.

Streb picked up a bouncing football on the opening kickoff and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown to send the Chiefs on their way to a 37-14 victory.

For a solid guy, that was a pretty spectacular play.

panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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