NJ football rankings: Preseason Top 25 for 2022 season – NorthJersey.com

Who’s No. 1?
Every year, hundreds of high school football teams in New Jersey compete for conference titles, sectional championships and the right to claim the No. 1 ranking in the Garden State.
Some teams kick off their schedules this weekend, the start of a season that will end with the NJSIAA crowning true state champions for the first time.
Every week, voters from across USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey will rank the Top 25 teams in the state. The rankings will be posted every Tuesday morning.
Here, the Network ranks New Jersey’s preseason Top 25:
The Bulldogs bring back two of the most talented players in North Jersey in twins Trashon and Travon Dye. Passaic Tech expects to be physical up front and ready for a rough Group 5 schedule.
The Pioneers have a new head coach in Ian Pace, who spent the last 12 years coaching on the college level. He’ll inherit senior quarterback Mike Miller (1,295 passing yards, 16 TDs) and running back Hashem Hobbs, who had a breakout second half last fall. Somerville must replace All-New Jersey receiver Jaimen Bryant and top rusher Ethan MacNair. 
The Stateliners have some questions, namely at quarterback, but they return 11 starting players with good balance throughout the lineup, including three in the secondary. Phillipsburg is always one of those teams in the conversation and the newcomers are expected to be ready.
The Wolfpack are coming off a North Group 3 championship at MetLife Stadium to end last season. Senior Stefano Montella, a Brown commit, returns after rushing for a school-record 1,793 yards and 19 touchdowns while also setting a school record in tackles with 152. Coach Kevin Hennelly looks to retool a West Morris offense that scored at least 21 points in all 10 victories last season.
The Griffins, who were defeated by Bergen Catholic in the Non-Public A semifinals last year, must find replacements at quarterback and running back and at four of the five offensive line spots. But they do return linebacker Dante Verniei, who returned four interceptions for TDs last year, sophomore receiver Michael Thomas III, junior linebacker/tight end Hunter Johnson and two-way lineman Elijah Smith. 
The Mustangs are the North Jersey anaconda of football programs; they use their size and bulk to just slowly squeeze opponents to death. Clifton will be big and strong, led by two-way All-New Jersey performer Joe Abill up front. Sophomore Romelo Tables takes over at quarterback and brings a lot of talent.
Cherokee brings back 12 starters, none bigger than two-time All-New Jersey running back Brandon “Bam” Boria, a Stony Brook commit who’s averaged more than 8 yards per carry each of the past two campaigns. The Chiefs also have dual-threat quarterback Ryan Bender behind center again, a strong core of receivers and some key leaders back on defense. If a young offensive line can develop quickly, Cherokee will challenge for a sectional title.
The Comets return a pair of 1,000-yard, Division I rushers in Muwaffaq Parkman (Syracuse commit, 1,303 yards, 14 TDs) and Kyon Simonson (Army commit, 1,257, 13 TDs). They also have DT Zaimir Hawk (55 tackles, offers from Marshall, Temple, FCS schools), OL Charles Allen (Kent State and FCS offers) and QB Caleb Salters (1,386 passing yards). Hillside has become a power under coach Barris Grant and finished No. 6 in 2019. Will that continue after moving up to Group 3 from Group 2?
With 15 straight wins dating back to the 2020 season, the Chiefs share the state’s longest active winning streak with Cedar Creek. Coach Tom Lamont left the program, but not much else has changed for Caldwell. Quarterback Luke Kurzum returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,812 yards and 19 touchdowns. Julian Casale is back for a junior season after leading the Chiefs with 106 tackles and nine sacks. Harry Boland returns as a senior to follow up on 24 total touchdowns and more than 1,100 yards from scrimmage.
Last year’s South Group 5 runner-up returns 10 starters on both sides of the ball, including junior quarterback/defensive back Micah Ford, senior tight end/linebacker Ty Kazanowsky, junior wide receiver/defensive backs Jermaine Pruitt and Tareq Council and sophomore lineman Ja’elyne Matthews. 
The defending South Jersey Group 5 champions should be even better in 2022 as they return 19 of 22 starters, including four-year starter Nate Maiers at quarterback, a pair of threats in receivers Darrell Brown an Benny Liles, and a physical, experienced defense featuring standouts Carter Williams and Brady Whitzell on the line and Luke Van Brill at linebacker, who’s looking like a breakout candidate as a junior.
A Group 1 school in the Top 20? The Rams deserve to be here as the reigning South/Central regional champions are stacked from top to bottom. They’re led by four-year starting quarterback Jahki Coates, who holds an offer from Temple, and brothers Amare and Cam Smith, both of whom have Division I offers, leading the way at linebacker and Monmouth commit Emmanuel Lane manning the outside at corner.
The Hermits lost an impressive senior class, leaving them searching for a new quarterback and sorting out a host of potential playmakers in the backfield and on the outside. St. Augustine will still be a handful, though, thanks to an impressive offensive line anchored by Vincent Isom, Noah Cressman and Kevin Quinn, a deep defensive front led by Rob Adamson, and a talented back seven featuring lockdown corner Na’Cire Christmas and safety Tristan McLeer.
St. Joe’s changed offensive philosophies this offseason, moving to more of a passing/spread style. Whether it succeeds is one of the biggest questions of the 2022 season. Quarterback Luke Henrich is under center for the second year and the defense is anchored by two-time state wrestling champ Jimmy Mullen.
The Jaguars completed their first 13-0 season in school history last year, capped off by a controversial win in the North Group 5 title game against Clifton. East Orange loses several impactful players from last year’s team, but still returns great talent like Maryland commit Josh Richards, who led the Jaguars with nine receiving touchdowns last season. Senior defensive back BJ Covington leads a secondary that allowed fewer than eight points per game last season.
Patrick Grusser takes over at quarterback for the Spartans, and he’ll be surrounded by some talented skill-position players, particularly wide receiver Dez Jones. The defense has to replace some production that graduated. No one says uses the word “rebuilding” anymore about any Big Six programs, but this is a transition year.
The defending Non-Public B champion Caseys return six starters on both offense and defense, including running back/strong safety Sabino Portella, linebacker Davin Brewton, wide receiver Najih Rahmann, running back/defensive back Torin Harmon and lineman Lorenzo Portella. Quarterback is a major question mark.
The South Jersey Group 3 runner-up last season brings back 15 returning starters, including quarterback Zach Maxwell, more than 2,500 rushing yards between Luke Maxwell, Wayne Adair, Jared Schoppe and Zach Maxwell, their leading sacker (Ashton Blose), tackler (Dan DiGiovacchino), and interceptor (Dom Teti). The Crusaders are chasing their first championship since 2017.
The Panthers are now under the leadership of Rob Hinson, who won four sectional championships in his last stint at Timber Creek before spending the past two years on Rutgers’ staff. Camden adds a load of talented transfers, including sophomore quarterback Deante Ruffin, West Virginia commits James Heard and Richard James on the defensive front, and junior receiver Jaylan Hornsby, who boasts offers from Georgia, Michigan and a host of others. Combine them with a strong returning core and Camden is positioned to capture its first sectional title since 1976.
The Pirates went 7-4 last year, but showed they can play with the best teams in New Jersey. Their biggest win came against Don Bosco, the first win over the Ironmen since 1976. Quarterback Liam Londergan moves well and shows poise, and junior wide receiver Jaylen McClain has a boatload of serious Division I offers.
After 102 seasons of football, the Blue Knights finally hoisted a sectional championship trophy last year, following it with a North Group 4 regional title win over previously-unbeaten Northern Highlands. Rutgers commit Famah Toure leads a talented receiving group offensively, while Notre Dame commit Adon Shuler is the most decorated college prospect in New Jersey at safety.
After starting last year 5-0, the Marauders came back down to Earth and finished 8-4. But no one should take St. Peter’s Prep lightly. The Marauders have skill and talent back at quarterback in Champ Long (a Maryland commit) and only lost one starter on the offensive line.
The reigning South/Central Group 4 regional champions bring back six starters on both sides of the ball. They have to replace their quarterback, but junior Jacob Zamot is well regarded and should slide seamlessly into the role. He’s aided by a bevy of young playmakers, headlined by standout sophomore Lotzeir Brooks and a talented line that featured two freshmen last year in Marcus Offer and Darian Blachewicz. The defense is fast and aggressive too.
With 32 seniors, this is the year this program has been building towards. Don Bosco has a veteran quarterback in Nick Minicucci and an offense with a powerful running game led by tackle Chase Bisontis and running back Ronnie Heath. The defense is loaded too. On paper, the Ironmen could be New Jersey’s best team, but they’ll have to beat No. 1.
We pick up right where we left off in 2021. Coming off a season in which the Crusaders finished No. 3 in the nation, Bergen Catholic has to retool its offense with a new starter taking over for quarterback Steve Angeli. But this Crusaders defense is a monster, led by DJ Samuels (Maryland commit) and Sydir Mitchell (Texas) up front and Malachi Mercer at linebacker.


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