CHATHAM, NJ - It's not like Chatham can simply forget about the 2015 football season and move on.
That's because Cougar opponents are likely to provide a constant reminder of how good last season was for Chatham, which won nine games and reached the Group 3 sectional championship game.
One of those reminders will come 7 p.m. Friday night when Chatham opens the 2016 season against Barringer at Schools Stadium in Newark.
"We realize a lot of people will want to knock off the state sectional runner-up," Chatham head coach Jason Izsa said. "I told the team we're not the 2015 Cougars, we're the 2016 Cougars."
Barringer is sure to remember that Chatham ended the Newark school's undefeated season last year in the opening round of the state playoffs.
Not only did the Cougars meet Barringer a year ago in the playoffs, the Newark School represents Chatham's inauguration to the North Jersey Super Football Conference, Patriot White Division, where the opponents include Parsippany Hills, West Essex, Nutley, Orange, Barringer and Ferris.
A year ago, Chatham defeated Parsippany Hills to earn a playoff spot and then met and defeated Barringer and West Essex in the state playoffs. Nutley also made the playoffs.
"It's a competitive league," Izsa said. "It's sad to see some of those old rivalries go, but with the new league we build new traditions against new teams."
The challenge for Chatham is the loss of nine starters on each side of the ball, with 18 of the 22 spots filled by first-time varsity starters. The veterans include multi-talented senior Timmy Adams, who will play quarterback, punt and place kick, among other things; senior two-way back Pat Cosgrove, who will also return kicks and punts and play some wildcat quarterback, and two-way tackle Graham LeMon (6-6, 300).
"We're getting there," Izsa said. "We have 48 kids on the roster, which is more than we had last year. We're going to take one game at a time. We don't have the luxury of looking ahead. Right now, our focus is on Barringer."
Ryan Ness, a junior two-way lineman, wasn't a starter, but he saw plenty of action and will join LeMon as one of the anchors of the offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line, one of the biggest strengths last season, is filled with "puppies" according to offensive coordinator Steve Trivino. Joining Ness (6-0, 270) and LeMon are junior right tackle Patrick O'Malley (6-2, 220), sophomore right guard Luke Agnew (6-1, 205) and sophomore center Nick Vivona (6-1, 273).
Juniors Christian Cuttita and Max Schelling, and Delbarton transfer Chris Francesco could be impact newcomers for Chatham. Cuttita is a wide receiver/cornerback whom Izsa praised for his great work ethic and Schelling, who plays two ways at receiver and linebacker. Francesco already appears to be Adams' favored receiver and he'll quarterback the secondary from the safety position.
"Chris Francesco is doing tremendous things for us," Izsa said. "He's a very good athlete."
On defense, Chatham is returning to the 3-5 alignment that made use of its team speed a year ago. The front three are Ness, LeMon and O'Malley with linebackers Agnew, Ben Herbert, Jack Griner, Schelling and Thomas Lofaro behind them.
Sophomore Jake Wingate is the newcomer to the backfield with Adams and Cosgrove.