A.J. Russo’s mood was decidedly overcast after a recent scrimmage against Egg Harbor Township – and it had nothing to do with the sudden rainstorm that soaked everything in its path.
Russo, third-year head coach of the Holy Spirit High School varsity football team, didn’t care for the way his team performed in its final scrimmage, one week before the season opener Sept. 8 against Middle Township.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Russo said. “Middle’s going to be tough. We’ve got to be able to run the ball, we’ve got to be able to throw, and we’ve got to tackle and not have penalties. We didn’t do any of that tonight.”
The bar has been set high for the Spartans, who reached the Non-Public B state championship game last year before losing to Mater Dei on a hook-and-lateral play in the final seconds. Though they lost several top players to graduation, they gained a dynamic playmaker in quarterback Josh Zamot, who transferred in from St. Augustine Prep.
Zamot passed for nearly 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, and also added 549 yards rushing and 11 scores.
“He’s extremely comfortable,” Russo said of Zamot. “We’re fortunate that we’re running the same offense that he ran at St. Augustine. For him to just jump in and fit worked out well for him and for us, and obviously having coach (Charlie) Roman come over as the offensive coordinator and call the plays is another thing to help him with his familiarity.”
Roman, a former Holy Spirit head coach who led the Spartans to state titles in 2011 and 2010, returns to Holy Spirit after serving as a St. Augustine assistant the past five years.
Zamot said the transition has been remarkably smooth.
“I love it here,” he said. “I love coming here every day for practice and working out with these guys and getting better with them every day. It’s almost like I’ve been here all four years. I’m definitely looking forward to what we can put together this year.”
Russo said he expects leadership from his four captains: Zamot; linemen Dimitris Pali and Owen Kramer; and junior linebacker Azim Baker-Coley. He also expects big things from sophomore running back Elijah Gray and offensive lineman Anthony Lord.
Senior wide receiver Dan Tarsitano had 29 catches for 386 yards last season, and talented two-way player Lee Dawson is a four-year starter at wide receiver and defensive back.
“Those kids will all have to step up and make us better,” Russo said.
Holy Spirit should dominate the West Jersey Football League United Division, but they have a tough crossover schedule that includes St. Joseph on Sept. 15, Delsea Regional, Camden Catholic and a much-anticipated matchup with St. Augustine Oct. 13 in Richland.
“Every football team in South Jersey has high expectations,” Zamot said, “and I think we’ll be able to fulfill those expectations and show South Jersey what we’re really about. Hopefully we come away with an undefeated season, 12-0, and win the state title.”