PLEASANTVILLE – The Pleasantville High School football team ended a recent practice with a series of wind sprints. Nothing unusual about that, but the Greyhounds were actually having a lot of fun, laughing and whooping it up and challenging the coaches to participate.
Afterwards, head coach Chris Sacco treated the entire team to ice cream.
Football is fun again in Pleasantville. That's what a few wins will do for a program that has seen more than its fair share of losing over the past decade.
"There's a whole different energy from last year to this year," said senior quarterback Le'quai Athill, a three-year starter. “We finally got the feeling of winning, so it makes everyone around here more hungry to get more wins and be more successful as a program.”
Pleasantville won four games last year after suffering through winless seasons in five of the previous six.
Though they lost their last four games and failed to secure a playoff berth in the highly competitive South Jersey Group II tournament, the Greyhounds were 4-2 at one point, their first time above the .500 mark in 13 years, and snapped a 21-game losing streak in the process.
Clearly, third-year coach Sacco has the program heading in the right direction.
“It was a really good offseason in the weight room,” said Sacco, a Hammonton native and former St. Joseph assistant. “We didn't finish the way we wanted to do last year. We're hopeful that this year we can compete again and hopefully finish the deal … and get into the playoffs. That's definitely a goal for us. These guys are working for that and hopefully we can get it this year.”
Besides Athill, other key returning players include junior lineman Edward Sierra, senior brothers Daniel and David Samuel, junior running back/linebacker Mohamed Toure, junior wide receiver/safety Elijah Glover and two-year starter Ackey Goddard, a tight end/linebacker.
The Greyhounds also have some solid transfers, including Sahmir Jones from Mainland and Jabril Shakur and Sincere Worthy from Atlantic City.
"Practices are much better, more consistent,” Athill said. “Everybody's working hard. Every day we've just got to get better, and we just improve day-in and day-out and then we can compete with the teams that we play."
Sacco said the “culture” has changed in Pleasantville. The numbers are up, the support from the community and the school system is genuine, and the off-season work in the weight room was consistent.
“We want to be tough, we want to be strong, and every year it's gotten better,” Sacco said. “Every year the players are holding themselves and each other more accountable, and that's what we want. We want them to take ownership. This is their team. We want them to have the successful year. They're working hard and having fun doing it.”
Sacco can also present evidence that the program is moving football players to the next level: four of his former players, Josue Valerius (Wesley), Tayshon Evans (Alderson Broaddus), Andre Haynes (Rowan) and Jean Brevil (Montclair State) are playing college football this fall.
“It gives us motivation to try harder and succeed more, to not just stop playing football at this level but to keep going,” said Sierra. “It motivates us to do more as a team and as individuals. It can better us as people and as a team.”
The Greyhounds will open the season at home against Buena Regional on Friday, Sept. 8.
Coach: Chris Sacco (4-16, two seasons)
League/group: West Jersey Football League United Division/state Group II
Last season’s record: 4-6
Playoff appearances: 8
Playoff record: 5-8
2017 prediction: Contender – Pleasantville is no longer an easy mark, and with the possible exception of always-formidable neighbor Holy Spirit, the Greyhounds can contend with anyone on their schedule.
Key players: Le’quai Athill, Sr., QB, 5-8, 175; Elijah Glover, Jr., WR/SS, 6-1, 181; Mohammed Toure, Jr., RB/LB, 6-2, 210; Daniel Samuel, Sr., WR/CB, 5-11, 190; David Samuel, Sr., TE/LB, 5-8, 200; Edward Sierra, Jr., OL/DL, 6-2, 255; Acky Goddard, Sr., TE/LB, 6-0, 185; Armando Alcantar, Jr., OL/DL, 5-10, 260; Robert Jefferson, Sr., OL/DL, 5-10, 295; Quanief Colbert, Sr., OL/DL, 5-9, 155.
Top newcomers: Jabril Shakur, Jr., WR/FS, 6-0, 175; Sahmir Jones, Jr., QB, 6-1, 163; Sincere Worthy, Sr., OL/DL, 5-10, 230; Rodney Akins, Jr., WR/DB, 5-3, 126.
Key game: vs. Buena Regional, Sept. 8 in Pleasantville. The opener is a big test for the Greyhounds, who gave the Chiefs all they could handle in a 14-7 loss at Buena last year. “They're a tough team, good program,” Sacco said of Buena. “There should be a lot of energy here for that one. We're hoping they come out and respond to what we've been doing.”