The St. Joseph High football team swept its way past Ledyard High, Joel Barlow from Redding and Brookfield High to earn the Class M state title in 2013.

Head coach Joe Della Vecchia lost a lot of players from that 13-2 team, but the veteran mentor, entering his 17th season at the helm, likes his chances.

“Our returning players know how to make plays and our unproven kids are stepping up,” Della Vecchia said of his Cadets, who were runners-up a year ago in the FCIAC.

“Everything I’ve heard is that Mufasha (Abdul Basir) will have to carry us. He certainly is capable. I know every play, every day, he’s going to give all that he’s got. Mufasha has his time (in the 40-yard dash) down to 4.5, so he is certainly a gamechanger.”

Abdul Basir averaged 165 yards rushing per game, and 9.2 yards per carry, to collect 33 total touchdowns and 2,481 yards on the ground.

“I like our other players too. Lars Pedersen is back and he is as good as it gets. We lost two really great receivers, but we have three coming back and I have the same feeling about them.”

Pedersen caught 60 passes good for 1,059 yards and 16 scores as junior. He is also a dangerous runner on the jet sweep.

“Lars runs 4.5 like Mufasha, maybe a step behind him, and I think this season (as a team) we are faster across the board,” Della Vecchia said.

“Seamus Keating, is in the 4.5 range, Christian Trefz is fast and Richie Brown and Patrick Battista will get open for us.”

Jordan Vazzano and his 3,065 passing yards and 41 touchdowns have graduated. Stepping in at quarterback is junior Kevin Trefz.

“Kevin has a good arm,” Della Vecchia said. “He’s not going to sling it as far as Jordan, but he runs with the ball and can pick up the yards we’ll need with his legs.”

The Cadets will feature Chris Taylor, Troy Vazzano, Marc Bernatchez, Jack Ganser and Conrad Piszczatowski on the offensive line.

“Chris and Troy are very good, they were overshadowed a bit last year,” Della Vecchia said. “Marc, Jack and Conrad are talented players.”

Linebackers will be a team strength on defense.

“Cameron Ryan is one of the top kids around and Nick Colucci and Vazzano also started last season and are very good at getting off their blocks.

“Experience and strength is a concern up front for us. Conrad is back, but we’ll have to see guys going both ways and rotate a lot of players in and out.

“Lars and Mufasha will be at the corners and K’tory Cobb and Matt Laveneziana are the safeties, plus we’ll bring other guys in depending on the defensive package.”

St. Joseph visits Veteran Field in West Haven tonight (Thursday, Sept. 11) at 7 to play Notre Dame in the SCC-FCIAC Football Challenge.

“Notre Dame is always a tough physical football team,” Della Vecchia said. “They were last year and we expect the same.

“We need to take care of our stuff and hopefully get them to chase (the scoreboard). We have the potential to score points, get the ball back, and score some more.

“It’s up to us coaches to game plan the best plays to attack them and then let our players get after it.”