By CAMERON CARMEN

Correspondent

With a new head coach who comes into the Egg Harbor Township High football program with a ton of experience and a track record of success, there seems to be an air of optimism in Eagles training camp this year.

The words “this year is going to be special”, “I’m so excited for this year”, and “I like this new coach” were bandied about during the first week of official team workouts earlier this month.

Practices this time of year can sometimes be bland, as coaches have to keep going over the same plays time after time to make sure everybody is on the same page. But there’s a lot of enthusiasm at EHT this preseason, and whenever somebody made a nice play during 7-on-7 drills the rest of the players got loud. One of the biggest things new coach Rob Davis — who had a nearly 20-year career with Barnegat and had the Bengals as an annual playoff contender in Group 2 — is focusing on is making sure players can recognize play calls quickly, and understand what their job is on each play.

The Eagles, who play in the West Jersey Football League’s United Division along with Mainland, Atlantic City, Oakcrest, Absegami and Bridgeton, went 4-6 a year ago under former coach Kevin Stetser, but are only two years removed from a 7-4 season that saw them make the South Jersey Group 5 state playoffs before a first-round loss to Cherokee.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Like most Group 5 schools, Egg Harbor Township is not short on numbers and that means there is plenty of talent on the roster. The Eagles lost a four-year starter at quarterback and team captain in Christian Rando, and a guy who has a chance to replace him is senior Bradley Smith. Smith is 6-foot-3, 185 pounds and saw limited action last year, but Davis said “It’s his time.” Davis said he likes not only Smith’s physical skill, but his potential to be a leader in the locker room.

“Our focus is mostly paying attention to coach and our offense. We are putting in a new offense, so that’s been a really big focus during these practices,” Smith said. “I have been focusing a lot on mechanics with our new quarterbacks coach. He’s been helping me a lot with my mechanics and footwork.”

Mike Simeon is one of the top linebackers in South Jersey and will be a key piece to Egg Harbor Township’s defense this season. (South Jersey Glory Days file photo/Sully)

A couple other guys to keep an eye on are senior wide receiver Bryce Jackson (6-3/210 pounds) and senior running back Kemun Council, who led the Eagles with 485 rushing yards a year ago.

On the defensive side, senior linebacker/edge Mike Simeon is an absolute beast at 6-foot, 225 pounds, and Evan Mensh is a sturdy linebacker.

COACH SPEAK: “I know some people in the community, they asked me to apply because they knew I had been open the past two years and I was getting the itch to come back to coaching. I believe that EHT can be a sleeping giant,” Davis said about his return to the sidelines.

“The relationships and the program, my coaches, the players, the faculty, the community — the whole thing, I missed it.”

Having coached high school football for a couple of decades, Davis — also a former baseball coach at Lacey Township — has picked up a thing or two, and what he brings to this program, he said, are “excitement, college connections, and I like to bring a program together with families and our rules.”

So what has been the big focus so far in training camp?

“Team bonding, communication and accountability. I believe all of those things are very important,” Davis said. “EHT is a very special place and I am making all of the players believe that.”

THE SCHEDULE (all games 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted): August 25 at Kingsway; Sept. 1 vs. Holy Spirit; Sept. 8 at Bridgeton; Sept. 14 (Thursday) vs. Absegami; Sept. 22 at Clearview; Sept. 30 (Saturday) vs. Atlantic City; Oct. 7 (Saturday, noon start) at Oakcrest; Oct. 14 (Saturday, 1 p.m. start) at Vineland; Oct. 20 vs. Mainland Regional.

Davis and the Eagles don’t get any cupcakes to start the season. Going to Kingsway is going to be a bear of a season opener, then the Eagles have to turn right around and face Holy Spirit, one of the top parochial programs in South Jersey. EHT’s playoff hopes could be decided pretty early, as they play five times in September. They also play three of their first five games on the road. Last season, the Eagles went 2-2 in their first four, but then a three-game losing streak in that stretch against Clearview, Atlantic City and Oakcrest kept them out of the state playoffs. After a couple seasons of opening up against former tradition Thanksgiving Day rival Mainland, the Eagles now finish up the regular season against the Stangs, a team that was one win away from playing for a state championship last year.