Before his sophomore year at St. Augustine Prep, some of Dante Enos' football-playing buddies were lobbying for him to return to the sport.
Enos quit football when he was 9. He was more of a "baseball-basketball guy," he said, with a fierce focus on his academics.
Something special is happening with the Hermits' football program, his friends told him. You don't want to miss this, they said.
"It was the best decision I ever made," Enos said after helping St. Augustine to an imposing, 46-6 victory over Cedar Creek in his final game for the Hermits on Thanksgiving morning. "I would make the same decision 1,000 times over again."
St. Augustine is No. 1 in The Inquirer Top 25 rankings and clearly the best team in South Jersey for a lot of reasons.
The Hermits have some dynamic young playmakers such as sophomores Kyle Dobbins and Shamere Collins and junior Zeke Ennis, all of whom showcased their speed and skill before a large crowd on a warm, sunny Thursday at LaRosa Field on the St. Augustine campus.
But the foundation for this team's success rests with its senior class, a lunch-pail crew of 12 guys who have set the standard for the program in terms of offseason work ethic, in-season focus, and game-day intensity.
"It doesn't work without those guys," St. Augustine coach Mark Reardon said after his team finished with a 9-1 record. "Those guys, that's what we're all about here."
Dobbins ran for 172 yards and a touchdown - in the first quarter.
Ennis ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns - in the third quarter.
Collins made a spectacular interception and appeared one block away from breaking a pair of punt returns.
Those guys - and there are a few others on the roster, including some freshmen - are among the most explosive football athletes in South Jersey.
Enos represents the other half of the St. Augustine success story. He's 5-foot-8, 210 pounds, a spark plug of a guy who relies on his strength and his savvy as an outside linebacker.
Enos is part of a senior class that's filled with those kinds of guys.
Linebacker Jim Brady and defensive back A.J. Baxter might be future NCAA Division I players at the Football Championship Subdivision level. But they are blue-collar guys, just like the rest of the Hermits' seniors.
"The talent we're bringing in with some of these young guys, it's absurd," Enos said. "But the heart of this team is the senior class. We're hard-nosed, and we're physical.
"We might not have great size and speed, but nobody plays harder."
Enos nearly didn't play at all. He said he participated in youth football in his hometown of Monroe Township until age 9, when he decided the sport wasn't for him.
He didn't play football as a freshman at St. Augustine, although some of his closer classmates were determined to get him to join the program.
"Baxter, Brady, Jose [Tabora]," Enos said. "Those guys were in my ear. I'm so happy I listened to them. They gave me an opportunity to fall back in love with the sport."
Reardon said Enos is "No. 1" when it comes to upholding the standards of the Hermits' special senior class.
"He's a great kid and a great leader," Reardon said. "He's what we're all about. He's what we want to be all about."
Reardon understands the Hermits need topline talent to compete at the highest levels. He understands the Hermits have to have big-time playmakers if they hope to seriously contend for the state title in the future.
But as does legendary St. Augustine basketball coach Paul Rodio, Reardon also understands that the roster needs to include "program players" who pay their dues over four years in the weight room, on the practice field, in sub-varsity games.
That's been the secret of St. Augustine basketball's success for years, a mix of great individual players as well as those complementary guys who do all the dirty work and play with such enthusiasm and responsibility.
That's Enos on the football field. He was all over the turf on Thursday, turning back sweeps by holding the edge, jamming Cedar Creek's speedy receivers at the line, making plays in space against the Pirates' potent passing game.
Enos was nearly overcome with emotion after the game, knowing he had walked off the field with his classmates for the final time.
"There's no real words for me to describe what kind of team this is," Enos said. "I'm as close to these other seniors as I'll probably be with anybody else in my entire life.
"I thought I was coming out to join a football team, but I really was joining a family."
Cedar Creek 0 6 0 0 - 6
St. Augustine 16 9 15 6 - 46
SA: Kyle Dobbins 53 run (Dan Pavlik pass from Jose Tabora)
SA: Zeke Ennis 1 run (Ennis run)
SA: Jaylan DeCoteau 9 pass from Tabora (kick fail)
SA: FG Nate Fondacaro 32
CC: Malachi Timberlake 23 pass from Jesse Milza (pass failed)
SA: Ennis 19 run (Ennis run)
SA: Ennis 37 run (Fondacaro kick)
SA: True Robinson 7 run (kick failed)