The three-time defending sectional champions, who jump to Central Group V, enter this year with a 15-game winning streak. Sayreville will rely on converted split end Malik Pressley to replace graduated quarterback Isaiah Cureton (1,348 yards from scrimmage last season). Running backs Deion Miller and Myles Hartsfield, whose first scholarship offer came from Rutgers University, combined for 980 rushing yards a year ago. They will ease Pressley’s transition. Guards Dan Greco and Dylan Thillet join center Brian McDonough on a veteran offensive line. Miller, with 75 tackles a year ago, is among the state’s best linebackers. Sayreville is as strong up front defensively as it is in the secondary. Seven of Sayreville’s opponents were limited to a touchdown or less last season, a trend that could continue.
The Chiefs, who were decimated by graduation, return just 128 yards from scrimmage. Justin Strother, who transferred two years ago from Plainfield, succeeds signal caller Nadir Barnwell (1,211 yards passing and rushing). Kyren Nash, whose older brother, Cameron, rushed for 1,230 yards and 18 touchdowns at Piscataway last season, transferred from Smyrna (Del.) High School. He will join Barnwell’s younger brother, Elijah, a freshman, at running back. Wideout Oladiran Isijola is expected to have a breakout year. Piscataway’s strength on defense will be in the backfield and on the line with Dajon Foat, Charles Mitchell, Elorn Lumor (four sacks), Darren Felton and newcomer Malicah Bobbitt. Despite its losses, Piscataway still has the talent and depth to make a fourth consecutive sectional final appearance.
3. SOUTH BRUNSWICK
The defending Central Group V champions graduated Home News Tribune Offensive Player of the Year T.J. Perkowski (quarterback) and first-team All-Area selection T.J. Taylor (wideout/defensive back). Bruising fullback Dahrae Ford, who carried much of the offensive load during South Brunswick’s brilliant playoff run, is back along with backfield mate Dontae Strickland, who has offers pouring in from major college programs including Georgia Tech and Rutgers. The development of quarterbacks Dylan Olsson and Amir Johnson is paramount to South Brunswick’s triple-option success. Lineman Rashaan Baker (25 tackles) is among the top returners to a defense that limited four opponents to a touchdown or less last season.
The Ramblers graduated quarterback Tyler Rodriguez and tailback Jerod Johnson, who set many school passing and rushing records, respectively. In their absence, expect Carteret to become a more defensive-minded club. Lineman Cody Baccarella (86 tackles) and linebacker Charles Faulkner (112 tackles) anchor what could prove to be the best defense eighth-year mentor Matt Yascko has fielded. Junior Brandon Gilder is among the state’s top free safeties. The Ramblers will need tailback Terell Merricks, who rushed just 13 times last year, to develop quickly.
The Tigers will challenge Immaculata and Montgomery for the Mid-State 38 Watchung Division title and could make a run at a sectional crown. Juwan Dolbrice, who rushed for 1,021 yards last season, will be reunited in the backfield with his cousin, Kyle Phipps, a promising running back who transferred back to Linden from Don Bosco Prep. Shaquan Champagne, one of the state’s best linebackers who registered 110 tackles and eight sacks last season, anchors the defense.
The Falcons finished with a deceptive 3-7 record last season. Having a year to master a complicated offensive scheme, junior quarterback Stephen Karoly (910 yards) is much improved. Running back Akeer Franklin (1,350 all-purpose yards) is also back. Russell Clayton is one of the state’s top offensive linemen. Monroe, however, may prove to be only as good as its defense.
The Patriots won nine games for the first time since 1985 and posted the second highest number of victories in school history last season. Junior running back Sam Pero (716 yards) returns along with four starters on the offensive line. The Barneys twins, Chase and Bryce, are among the White Division’s most talented rookies. Look for wideout/defensive back Pharoah Napolean to have a breakout year.
8. OLD BRIDGE
Old Bridge qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs last fall for the first time since 2005. The Knights graduated quarterback Vin Gargano, halfback Aaron Ford and fullback Chris Middleton. The trio combined for 2,852 yards from scrimmage. Old Bridge does return 20 players who combined for 414 of the team’s 588 tackles. The defense may have to hold the fort while offensive newcomers develop.
Quarterback I’Zjaier Sanders has transferred to Immaculata, record-setting receiver Eddie Lee has moved on to college and two key players (wrestlers Ralph Normandia and Mike Fagg-Daves) opted not to rejoin the team. The Warriors, who advanced to a sectional semifinal last year, are solid in the trenches. Jameer Outsey has moved from the line to outside linebacker.
The Eagles ended a 12-year NJSIAA playoff drought last year. A lack of depth is all that prevented Edison from posting its first winning season since 2007. Quarterback James Waldron (930 passing yards) and running back Aqeel Daniels (597 rushing yards) return along with linebacker Kyle Boyer-Tucker (81 tackles) and heavily recruited lineman Derek Allen (56 tackles).