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Quarterbacks still on the rise in So. Jersey football

Timber Creek junior linebacker Quanzell Lambert might be South Jersey's No. 1 football recruit in the class of 2012.

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 of 2010, the 2011 season looks a lot like the 2010 season looked from December of 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 benefitting from camps and showcases and 7-on-7 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's 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's 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, like 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. Jose'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 different 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 all 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. Lisa passed for 2,240 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Top targets Zac Frantz and Delaney Wallace are back, too.

Elmer threw for 22 touchdowns, more than any sophomore in South Jersey history. He's not going to suddenly 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.