For the first couple of years that Kevin Stetser was the head coach at Egg Harbor Township High he talked about changing the culture and building the Eagles’ football program from the ground up. It’s a process that has taken longer than perhaps he anticipated, but the former All-State player has continued to grind to build up his alma mater, even when the Eagles faced some tough seasons in the win-loss column.

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The 2020 season will be an abbreviated one with just six regular-season games, but the Eagles are already in game mode with the opener at Mainland scheduled for Oct. 3. They are raring to get after it following a strong finish to 2019 that saw them win four of their last five games to finish the season 5-5.

“We’re feeling good. We have a lot of young guys stepping up. We lost some good seniors from last year, some starters, but a lot of guys are stepping up. And we’re blessed to even have a season. There are states out there that aren’t having seasons and those players can’t get scouts out to recruit them, so we’re blessed to have our team out here and be able to get going with a season. We’re very excited. We feel like we have some unfinished business to take care of, so we’re excited to have that first game. When we heard there was going to be competition, we knew we were ready for the dogfight,” said senior linebacker and receiver Amir Dunn. “We just want to treat it like there will be playoffs. We don’t know if there officially will be playoffs, but we want to go into it like we’re aiming for the playoffs. That’s our goal.”

“I think the program is in a good place. The last two years we’ve definitely made strides. We didn’t win as many games as we wanted to but you’re definitely seeing us getting there. There were seasons where games got away from us early, but now we’re getting ourselves into games where maybe one or two key plays and maybe it’s a different story. Last year there were one or two games where we felt like we flat out gave away. If we handle those games we have a 7-win season,” Stetser said. “We have a lot of returners and it’s been a different vibe in that way. We return a significant amount of our starters and the guys who weren’t starters got a lot of playing time. It’s the first year where we feel like we’re adding on to last year as opposed to having to restart at different positions. We had some very good seniors last year and we lost some guys off the offensive line, but we have some young, talented guys behind them. But that’s been the difference this year, we really feel like it’s an extension of last year.”

This season, EHT will take on Mainland, Atlantic City, Absegami, Bridgeton, Hammonton and Oakcrest, and all six games will be on the road as EHT won’t be able to use its turf field this year. The artifical turf is about a dozen years old and has been deemed unsafe to play on. Stetser said he wasn’t surprised that 2020 provided one more twist, considering everything that has gone on so far this year.

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“To be honest, that kind of fits with 2020. That’s the situation we’re in, but we’re just going to come out and play,” he said. “We have all away games this year but our schedule is all local as well. Before Covid-19 we had some games scheduled that were going to be about an hour away, but now the only significant ride is to Bridgeton, but we’re used to going there. So it’s not that big of a deal. This is 2020, it is what it is.”

The Eagles will have their share of talent and are led by Dunn, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound menace on both sides of the ball who is starting to garner some college offers, as he now has four offers in tow. They’ll also have a returner at quarterback in sophomore Christian Rando, whose older brother, Anthony, should be one of his main targets at wide receiver. And Chris Decker is a tough customer on both sides of the ball as a linebacker and running back. Stetser said he has seen some great leadership so far in practices, and that’s something that has continued to build the past couple of years.

“The leadership has been great. We have a good group and a good culture right now. The kids have been working together and we’ve seen that in things like the physically cleared to play list, any type of fundraiser. Those things do show that they are listening, they are following the ideas of this program and they are pulling together. We feel really good about this team. This is the third year where we feel like we have strong leadership and a good culture, and we expect that to show this year,” coach Stetser said. “If you have one good year of culture that doesn’t mean it stuck, it could have just been one good group, but now we’re seeing the third year of it where guys are really getting it. And throughout my years here we’ve had good leadership, you just need more of them. We’ve always had a good core of three of four guys, then as you build the culture that gets up to seven or eight, and now when we look around our team we trust our guys and if we tell them something they’ll do their best to do it. And if they don’t, one of their teammates is going to step up to help them do what is needed to get them on track. We feel great about that.”

What also helps is having a coaching staff that has remained largely intact the past four years.

“This staff has been together. This is going to be our fourth year together and that’s been a significant difference. We had a lot of change my first three years in the program, and you need consistency in your staff in order to create consistency with your kids, and we have that now. Everybody is pulling in the same direction and we really enjoy being around each other, we like the work we’re doing,” Stetser said.

Egg Harbor Township 2020 Schedule

October 3 at Mainland, noon

(The skinny: Mainland is coming off back-to-back 9-1 seasons and returns standout sophomore RB Ja’briel Mace. Eagles can expect a heavy dose of #4.)

October 9 at Atlantic City, 7 p.m.

(The skinny: A.C. rallied for a 21-13 win with a big second half in last year’s season opener. EHT will certainly be out for some revenge.)

October 16 at Absegami, 6 p.m.

(The skinny: EHT will have its hands full with the Braves, who are now guided by Chris Sacco, who had Pleasantville in the sectional semifinals last fall.)

October 23 at Bridgeton, 7 p.m.

(The skinny: Bridgeton always has a lot of speed but low numbers. EHT will be looking to wear the Bulldogs down in the second half.)

October 30 at Hammonton, 7 p.m.

(The skinny: The Blue Devils went 10-3 last year, losing to Shawnee in the sectional title game. Oh, and they just happen to return RB Jaiden Abrams, who rushed for better than 1,800 yards and 21 TDs a year ago.)

November 16 at Oakcrest, 5 p.m.

(The skinny: EHT will most certainly be banged up good after facing Hammonton, so the Eagles will have to stay focused to win a road game against the Falcons.)

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays