The 2020 high school football season was a weird one for Kevin Stetser and the Egg Harbor Township football team. The Covid-19 pandemic was wrecking havoc on the schedule last fall and on top of that the Eagles had to play every game on the road, as Silver Eagle Stadium was being outfitted with new turf.

The Eagles went 3-3, beating Atlantic City twice and Bridgeton once, losing to Mainland, Absegami and Millville. It was hard to get any kind of read on what EHT was last year with just six games, five of which were played in a single month, October.

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This year, the Eagles are back home as the brand new turf field is ready for use, and there’s confidence that EHT can once again become a state playoff team — something that hasn’t been done 2010, when the Eagles made it to the sectional semifinals before losing to Cherokee. What’s giving the Eagles confidence is the fact that they have a third-year quarterback in junior Christian Rando, a senior-heavy offensive line and a returning running back in Rondell Vaughan Jr., who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season. Rando split time last year with then-junior Aaron Bullock, who has since transferred to Oakcrest, and he completed 50 percent of his passes and threw for three scores.

“He’s looking better. I think it’s all a confidence thing with him, he’s older now and he’s been playing with the same line the past two years,” said senior guard James Mahana. “I think he’s going to feel more comfortable in the pocket and make better reads. And I think he’ll get better protection than he’s been used to, and that makes any quarterback better.”

“I just had to go through that,” Rando said of getting significant playing time — and getting knocked around a bit — as a freshman and sophomore. “Being the quarterback, everyone looks up to you, so if you mess up you just have to go to the next play. It was hard, the first week of my career I came in here and was like, ‘what is this?’ In less than a week I had to learn every single play. I messed up some, but I started to get it. I feel a lot more confident now. I feel like my skill set has improved, my throws are more efficient and my runs are faster and stronger.

“I’ve learned that it’s a quick game (on varsity) and I’ve learned to make quicker throws and smarter throws. You can’t lob the ball, you have to throw it hard because (defenders) are going to get there.”

Vaughan Jr. could turn out to be a nice weapon for the Eagles. He’s only 5-foot-6 and about 150 pounds, but is quick and has a lot of strength for a guy his size. He said he has some lofty goals for his senior season.

“I just have to keep pushing these guys. We want to compete for a playoff spot. Like coach (Stetser) says, we want to be a South Jersey Group 5 contender, so we have to come to practice every day and work hard. Everything starts in practice. Whatever you do in practice transfers over to the game,” he said. “This is my senior year, so my goal is 1,000 rushing yards. But I can’t do it without my offensive line. Their chemistry is pretty good and I have a lot of confidence in them this year. I’d love to have 1,000 rushing yards and a winning season.”

“I think our team looks pretty good this year and I’m excited about this season. We have a whole senior group of offensive linemen who have been playing together since we’ve been little kids, we’ve all been in the weight room and on the field getting better all the time. I think the offensive line is going to be the strong point of this team,” Mahana added. “Our entire offensive line was on the track team, so we were together all spring, lifting, talking about football and track. We were always together and there wasn’t a time when we weren’t working out or preparing for this season. We’re looking to be a good team. We want to go to the playoffs, maybe make a run there, and just have a good season.”

EHT will find out right away if it can be a state playoff contender this season. The Eagles open up with former Thanksgiving Day rival Mainland Regional then take on a Washington Township team that has one of the top running backs in South Jersey in Jo’Nathan Silver. They also square off with the likes of Cherry Hill West, Oakcrest, Absegami, Ocean City and Vineland.

Much of the Eagles’ success could depend on what Rando can do now that he’s the starting quarterback and not splitting time with anybody else. This is his time to shine, and he said he’s ready.

“(Earlier in my career) it was a lot, but this is my third year in the system and things have settled down. As a quarterback, you have to keep your composure all the time. Everything has settled down a lot and things are coming more naturally for me now. My confidence level is way up,” Rando said. “We just want to win every game, and we have to take it one game at a time. We have to have that focus where we’re thinking about the next game, and what we can do to win that game. You have to play every play like it’s your last because you never know if someone is going to get Covid and everything gets shut down. You really have to play every play like it’s your last.”

Egg Harbor Township has been either at .500 or just below for several seasons now, and the Eagles players know that fans will want to see it before they believe this team can be a playoff contender. Rando said that’s just fine with him. He and his teammates are eager to prove doubters wrong.

“We’re used to people not believing in us, but we just have to use that as motivation to try to go out and win every game.”

2021 EHT Schedule (Home games in BOLD)

August 27 vs. Mainland, 7

Sept. 2 at Washington Township, 7

Sept. 10 at Oakcrest, 6

Sept. 17 vs. Cherry Hill West, 7

Sept. 24 at Absegami, 6

October 1 vs. Ocean City, 7

October 8 vs. Atlantic City, 7

October 15 at Seneca, 6

October 22 vs. Pemberton, 7

October 29 at Vineland, 6

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