St. Augustine Prep is used to being considered one of the top football teams in South Jersey, and if the Hermits want to continue to gain notoriety and accolades, they’re going to have to earn it every step of the way.

The Hermits will have a new quarterback this year and a bunch of young guys trying to fill the holes that graduation left on defense, and for those young players it’s going to be trial by fire as St. Augustine has a very tough schedule that begins on Friday night with a trip to State College, Pa., one of the best teams in all of Pennsylvania. Prep finished 7-4 and in second place behind Williamstown in the West Jersey Football League’s American Conference a year ago, and the Hermits will be tested again this year, each and every week.

“We’re excited, but we are playing a lot of young guys. At times, we’ll have four sophomores and a freshman on defense. They are good, they’re just not varsity experienced. But we do have a good nucleus of seniors on the line and that’s important. We do have some guys who won’t be eligible in the beginning because of transfer issues,” said head coach Pete Lancetta. “The coaches drove three-plus hours last Friday night to go see State College because they already started their season. They’re every bit as good as they were last year.”

Last year, State College beat Prep 19-7 in the season opener, but then the Hermits won six of their next seven games before a 14-7 loss to Williamstown in late October. TThe Hermits will get a bye in Week Zero after the Week Double Zero matchup with State College, then go on the road to face Lenape, St. Joseph and Shawnee before the home opener against Ocean City. October also features matchups against Rancocas Valley, Holy Spirit and Cherokee, and the Hermits will end the regular season in early November against Williamstown.

It will certainly be a challenging road for the seniors, led by Texas A&M recruit Isaiah Raikes as well as guys like Bryce Eimer, Adam Heston, Logan Hone, Angelo Fodera, Chandler Bird and Dylan McNally. Raikes is an absolute monster on the defensive line and certainly will draw double teams throughout the season. He’s 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds, and last year Lancetta started using him as a running back in short yardage and goal-line situations. Prep also has a couple of big-name transfers it’s hoping to get eligible after the 30-day waiting period, including receiver Carnell Davis (formerly at Absegami) and linebacker Angelo Vokolos (St. Joseph).

“The whole senior class works hard, and Isaiah has a great work ethic. It’s not so much that he’s going to Texas A&M, it’s the way that he works — and the other guys work like that, and then the young guys see all that,” Lancetta said. “It’s just the work ethic. I think the guys have bought into the weight room in the offseason the way I like it to be done. The younger kids see that, and that’s how you create a culture. That’s the key, the work ethic.”

Prep also returns Nasir Hill, one of South Jersey’s top running backs a year ago as a freshman, but he may not get quite as many touches this year because he’ll be needed as one of the team’s top two-way players. He’s also an outstanding cornerback.

“He’s not going to come off the field unless he absolutely has to. He’ll be on defense and on offense in various places. He’s a big key for us,” Lancetta said of Hill, the 6-foot, 180-pounder who rushed for nearly 900 yards last year as a rookie.

Prep also will have a new face at quarterback in sophomore Austin Leyman.

“Austin Lehman will be our quarterback, we made that call last week,” Lancetta said. “The other guys weren’t far off, but, ultimately, we felt that was the best way to go. He’s not going to play defense. The other guys are still working hard and they’ll play other positions while still working at quarterback.”

The Hermits will rely on the leadership and strength of their offensive line, as guys such as Eimer, Bird and Fodero are multiple-year starters, and Hone and McNally will be a big key in helping to replace outstanding linebackers like Joe Bonczek and Joey Kolonich from last year’s squad. The Hermits should have a big advantage in the kicking game with Heston as punter and place kicker Luke Snyder, one of the best in South Jersey.

Lancetta — longtime head coach at Hammonton — said he has just as much fire in his belly as he’s ever had, and is eager to make the trip up to State College tonight to get this season underway.

“I’m just as nervous as I ever was, and I guess that’s a good thing,” he said. “We have a tough schedule, but I’m excited to get started. We’ll find out right away what we’re all about with this team. State College is in the top five in Pennsylvania.”

St. AUGUSTINE PREP SCHEDULE

(all games at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

August 30 at State College (Pa.)

Sept. 6 BYE

Sept. 13 at Lenape (7 p.m.)

Sept. 21 at St. Joseph (Noon)

Sept. 27 at Shawnee (7 p.m.)

Oct. 4 vs. Ocean City

Oct. 11 vs. Rancocas Valley

Oct. 18 at Holy Spirit

Oct. 25 vs. Cherokee

Nov. 1 vs. Williamstown

Sign up for the WPG Talk Radio 95.5 Newsletter

Get South Jersey news and information e-mailed to you every week.