The Millville High School football team carried a chip on its shoulder through last year’s playoffs.
Viewed as an underdog by many in all three of their playoff games, the third-seeded Thunderbolts ran through Cherokee, Rancocas Valley and Toms River North to capture the South Jersey Group 5 title and cap a 10-2 season.
But you won’t find many people sleeping on Millville this season as it returns a solid nucleus from its championship team and looks like the favorite to defend its crown.
“Honestly it changes the way outsiders look at it but doesn’t change us, we have the same goal,” said senior wide receiver Marcial Ramos. “Whether people think we’re going to win or lose, we don’t listen. That chip is always there as a Millville football player. Our goal is to go 12-0 and win another championship and we’ve been looking that at since January.”
Asked if he had the mindset the team was going to win the title last year, Ramos said he expected a championship his sophomore year – when Millville finished 6-4 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Cherokee.
“Every year it’s been championship or bust,” he said.
Millville lost some talent, headlined by second-team all-state linebacker Zack Douglas and also saw some coaching staff changes with defensive coordinator Lamont Robinson leaving to become the head coach at Washington Township.
Gerald Ortiz and Taron Gray replace Robinson as defensive coordinator.
“I tell you what, you can never replace Lamont Robinson,” said Millville coach Dennis Thomas. “You can just try to duplicate some of the success he had.”
Among the returners are Clayton Scott, who ran for over 1,700 yards and produced 16 sacks last season, Ramos, wide receiver Carlton Lawrence and quarterback Tristan Harris. Thomas admitted with so much talent coming back, he did want to guard against complacency.
And Thomas also knows South Jersey Group 5 is loaded with the addition of Lenape to a group that includes Vineland, Howell, Toms River North, Cherokee and Rancocas Valley.
“It’s a challenge because the kids feel they won and they have the majority of the team back and so they should win again,” said Thomas. “But I tell you, it’s going to be a lot tougher this year. You talk about Lenape, that’s a really good team that came into our group. We have to get better as a team because anybody can stop us if we don’t play the right way.
“The way we feel is the Class of 2017 was the team that won that championship, and now we’re trying to be better than those guys. The real question is can we duplicate or do better than last year’s team? And there’s only two ways to do that and that’s to go 11-1 and win the championship or go 12-0 and win the championship. So really the focal point is just on us getting better.”
Millville opens the 2017 season Friday at Egg Harbor Township.
Bill Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a note in the comments below. Follow him on Twitter @BEvansSports. Find the NJ.com High School Football page on Facebook by following this link.