Before the regular season starts every September, Central New Jersey high school football coaches are always hesitant to call their teams great.
But in 2019, no one is hesitating about calling one team great: North Brunswick Township High School.
This summer, the Raiders have racked up more unsolicited mentions than any other team in the region.
“North Brunswick has that great defensive end,” said one coach.
“North Brunswick returns a ton of talent,” said another coach.
“And we know North Brunswick will be great,” stated yet another sideline boss.
They were hardly the only rivals to laud the Raiders, either.
There seems to be a clear consensus about the 2019 North Brunswick football team: It is a prime contender, and perhaps even the favorite, to win the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional playoff championship.
North Brunswick will open its regular season on Sept. 6 at home against rival South Brunswick High School. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. under the lights.
“We’ll just take it a day at a time,” said North Brunswick’s head coach, Mike Cipot. “We’re worried about South Brunswick on Sept. 6 and I’m not going any further than that.”
“It looks nice on paper but we have to be tough in terms of discipline and conditioning,” he added.
North Brunswick has high expectations because it returns a slew of talent, nine starters on both sides of the ball, from a great 2018 team.
Last year, North Brunswick went 10-2 and advanced to the Central Jersey, Group 5 state sectional playoff championship game. But the Raiders fell in the championship matchup to Sayreville War Memorial High School, 6-0.
That loss is all the motivation these Raiders need. Cipot has even hung a picture of the scoreboard from that day in North Brunswick’s weight room.
“We’re hungry to get back,” the coach said.
The Raiders have a loaded starting 11 on defense, led by a trio of Division 1 prospects in defensive end Samod Wingo, defensive end Leon Lowery and inside linebacker Chris Arnold.
Lowery, who racked up 13 sacks in 2018, and Wingo, who recorded nine, combined for 22 sacks last fall. When that rival coach mentioned North Brunswick’s “great defensive end,” he could have been talking about either guy.
Arnold did literally everything for the Raiders a season ago, posting 65 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions, a safety, a fumble recovery and a fumble forced.
“They are all very good,” Cipot said.
North Brunswick’s offense is also headlined by a Division 1 college prospect, running back Myles Bailey, who accumulated 1,462 running yards and 16 rushing touchdowns last year. Behind him, Cipot even returns his second leading rusher in Arnold, who recorded 567 yards and five scores in 2018.
With their offensive line back as well, the Raiders have only one glaring hole going into the season: At quarterback, where starter Christian Petrillo graduated after last season. Cipot is not sure who will take over yet, but whoever does will have plenty of help.
The coach may claim to be taking the season one game at a time, but not even he can ignore the larger goal.
“Everyone’s expectations are to win a state title,” Cipot said. “I’d be lying if that wasn’t the goal.”