New era begins at St. Joe
HAMMONTON—Perhaps the most common word being thrown used by the St. Joseph Academy football team this summer is “new.”
There’s a lot that’s new for the Wildcats.
For starters, the Wildcats have switched from silver helmets to white ones, with the logo changing from a red paw print to a cat’s head. The practice field has shifted to a far corner of the St. Joe campus. Later this fall, the Wildcats will play their home games on a new, artificial surface field at the Moss Mill Road complex.
The roster, which lost several of last season’s top players to either graduation or transfer, is almost entirely new, with most of it inexperienced sophomore and freshmen.
Top to bottom, this will be a season of change for St. Joe, with the biggest change coming at head coach, where Ron Dorsey takes over a program that is rebuilding for the first time on almost four decades.
“It’s a challenge, no doubt about that,” Dorsey said prior to a preseason practice session last week.
Dorsey knew things would be tough when he chose to take over the program last winter following the departure of Paul Sacco, who guided the Wildcats to 27 state and sectional titles in 41 seasons as the head coach at St. Joseph High School and St. Joseph Academy.
Sacco parted ways with the school following last season, and a few weeks after St. Joe dropped its 2022 finale to Winslow, Dorsey accepted the position.
The 1997 Hammonton High School grad has put together a solid coaching staff, led by a few St. Joe grads and several of his old Blue Devils teammates.
“The staff is strong. I’m confident that we can teach our players the things we need to do to be successful,” Dorsey said.
“We’re excited. The guys on this staff are all friends and we’ve known each other since we were kids,” Bobby Templeton, who played with Dorsey at Hammonton, said.
For more than 20 years, St. Joseph has almost always put championship-caliber teams on the field. Dorsey knows that won’t be the case this season, as the Wildcats are in a full rebuilding mode.
“I’d like to see us go at least .500, but I’m realistic. We have a very, very young team and we play one of the toughest schedules in South Jersey. So, can we go .500? I like to think we can, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work,” Dorsey said.
Much of practice in August 10 was spent working on fundamentals. Learning where to line up in each formation, working on blocking techniques and pass routes were a large part of the workout.
“Right now, it’s about fundamentals. Teaching our guys where they need to be and what they need to do on every play. We can teach them, but it’s up to them to execute on the field,” Dorsey said.
If nothing else, Dorsey has brought a positive attitude to the Wildcats this summer.
“There are a lot of challenges, but I’m really excited to get started. There are going to be some really tough times ahead, that’s for sure, but I like the group of young players we have here. I see a lot of potential on our team, guys that can develop into impact players. They just have to put in the work,” Dorsey said.
Many people outside the St. Joseph program are curious to see just what kind of team Dorsey will be able to put on the field this fall, with some anticipating a disappointing season for the Wildcats.
“We’re aware of what we’re up against. People are doubting us, and it’s up to us to change those minds,” Dorsey said.
A huge concern for St. Joe is its small, inexperienced roster. The Wildcats saw some talented players opt to transfer to other schools for this season and have been left with just a handful of varsity veterans.
“We have two or three guys who saw varsity time last year. Others made the choice to leave. We just have to work with the kids we have and make them better players,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey said his team has shown a strong work ethic and continues to improve each day.
“A few weeks ago, we went to Vineland for a 7-on-7 and they [Vineland] just tore us apart. We looked awful. Then about a week later, we went up against them again, and the improvement was incredible, even some of the Vineland coaches were impressed with how much better we were. That’s encouraging because it shows me that our kids are learning, working hard and getting better,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey will see his entire team in action for the first time on August 17, when St. Joe visits Woodstown for its only preseason scrimmage before opening its season on August 25 against Carteret.
“I’m sure I’ll be a little bit nervous, but I’m looking forward to it and getting our season started,” Dorsey said.