After going 11-4 over the past two years, Justice High coach T.J. Cole figures his team might have made some enemies.
So he’s well aware that a rebuilding year in 2011 could bring with it some foes who are licking their chops.
“All these teams we’ve been torturing are going to be saying, ‘Payback,'” Cole said recently.
After sporting a roster of 25 players last fall, the 8-man Phoenix will barely have enough to field a team this year, much less be able to practice 8-on-8. Graduation and other attrition have taken their toll at the small charter school in Lafayette.
But with the top four squads from the six-team Central Division reaching the North Conference crossover games for a shot at the playoffs, there is still plenty of reason for hope if Justice can keep enough bodies on the field.
“We’re excited and enthusiastic about the young kids,” Cole said.
Gone are longtime starters like Hasan Alday and running backs Iaian McGhee and Esteban Cevallos who led the Phoenix to a Central Division crown in 2009 and a runner-up finish last season.
Defense figures to be the strength early with three returning starters — sophomore linebacker Carlos Escorza and junior defensive backs Kiko Bautista and Alexis Alday.
The 5-foot-5, 140-pound Alday, who has started on defense since his freshman year, will also take over for his older brother at quarterback and will be the centerpiece of the offense as the Phoenix try to find playmakers around him.
“It’s just a matter of building around him,” Cole said. “It’s just going to be different.”
One plus for the Phoenix is the fact that they have some time to get all of their youngsters ready to go. The team has no non-league games this fall. They open Central Division play with a Sept. 24 home game against North Park.
Justice at a glance
Coach: T.J. Cole (10th year).
Last year: 5-2.
Returning starters: Kiko Bautista (Jr., DB/WR, 5-6, 135), Alexis Alday (Jr., DB/QB, 5-5, 140), Carlos Escorza (So., LB/FB, 5-4, 165).
Others to watch: Zach Ferguson (Jr., DL, 5-0, 100).
Strengths: Three starters return on defense.
Weaknesses: The Phoenix are young and have few players on the roster.
Must-see game: SOROCO, Sept. 30.
Sept. 24 — NORTH PARK*, 2 p.m.
Sept. 30 — SOROCO*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at West Grand*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — at Vail Christian*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 — GILPIN COUNTY*, 1 p.m.
Note: Home games upper case and at Recht Field. Asterisk indicates Central Division game.