By Joseph Santoliquito

PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — For the second-straight year, Southeastern Pennsylvania produced the large-school state champions in 2014, when St. Joe’s Prep and Archbishop Wood repeated as PIAA Class AAAA and AAA state titlists, respectively.

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This year, expect the Philadelphia area to take a slight plunge. Wood took the harder graduation hit of the two defending state champions, but Prep lost quite a bit, too.

There is a Philadelphia team emerging that could make history this season and that’s Imhotep Charter. The Panthers return almost their whole team back from a squad that finished 11-2 last year and lost to Wood in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA state playoffs.

Imhotep’s history quest is becoming the first Philadelphia Public League team to win a state title in football.

“We have a lot of talent back and some good big guys up front, but we’re still getting to know each other and learning some new things,” Panthers’ coach Albie Crosby said. “We know the things said about us, but we still have to play the games and I’m excited about the journey ahead and see how things play out.

“This team has a shot at making history. It has a lot of good pieces, but we have to put them together and go through the process. It’s a challenge for me and this coaching staff. I want to win every rep in practice, every 7-on-7. We have a team that’s earned this position. We have some dudes that can do some things.”

Here’s a thumbnail look at the top 10 teams in Southeastern Pennsylvania this coming season:

1. Imhotep Charter. The Panthers, who are a combined 23-5 over the last two years, could be the team to beat statewide in PIAA Class AAA—and could arguably be the best team in the state. The Panthers have the talent to finally break through the threshold in becoming the first Philadelphia Public League team to win a state title in football.

Imhotep had the misfortune of running into Wood in the Class AAA City Championship game, losing 42-34. The Panthers return two of the better skill players in the state in senior tailback Tyliek Raynor, who rushed for 1,327 yards and 16 TDs and big-time tight end Naseir Upshur, who caught 19 passes for 525 yards, averaging 27.6 yards a catch. Upshur also hauled in nine touchdowns. Every major school in the country wants him.

Add in that mix mammoth all-everything 6-foot-5, 340-pound guard Johncarlo Valentin and 6-7, 330-pound tackle Yasir Durant and there aren’t many teams across the state that will be able to hang with the Panthers.

Not only do the Panthers have a star-studded team, they have a star-studded coaching staff. Crosby has added former La Salle offensive coordinator Brett Gordon and legendary former Neshaminy coach Mark Schmidt, whose team won a state title in 2001, to his staff.

2. St. Joe’s Prep. Gone is the nucleus of the most successful teams in Prep’s history in John Reid, Jon Daniel Runyan, Olamide Zaccheaus, Tom Johnson and Shawn Harris. But the Hawks do return arguably one of the country’s best players for the two-time defending Class AAAA champs in junior tailback D’Andre Swift, who scored four TDs and rushed for 220 yards in the state title game.

Swift will be joined by three-year starting linebacker Nick Vandevere, four-year starter Joe DuMond and a massive offensive line that will feature seniors Charlie Holsopple and Ed Mooney, and three massive juniors, 6-6, 305-pound Carter Lynch, 6-1, 180-pound Mack grey and 6-4, 290-pound Jackson Evans, the son of former Strath Haven star Pat Evans.

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The Hawks finished 2014 by going 11-3, starting the season 1-3. Expect the same slow start this year, since Prep coach Gabe Infante looks for the best teams in the country to play. The Prep opens in Louisiana against Evangel Christian Academy, and then the Hawks follow that with games against Don Bosco, Ohio powerhouse St. Ignatius, Malvern Prep and St. Joseph’s Regional (NJ).

It will be interesting to see how fast this team grows up. Infante likes this team’s athleticism. It’s just a matter of how fast it translates at the upper-end high school varsity level.

3. Upper Dublin. This is the year Cardinals coach Bret Stover had been aiming for the last two years when the nucleus of this team were sophomores. The Cardinals are a combined 20-4 over the last two years, and reached the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA semifinals last year, losing to eventual District 1 champion Pennsbury, 25-14.

Headlining the returning players is 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior quarterback Ryan Stover, the son of Bret who is one of the top quarterbacks in the area. Ryan completed 161 of 244 passes for 2,187 yards and 21 TDs. He also rushed for 218 yards and 3 TDs. Senior inside linebackers Jack Rapine and Henry Winebrake are a pair of three-year starters who know the system and want to see the time commitment translate into something this year. A District 1 Class AAAA championship is very possible—if the Cardinals can stay healthy.

4. Archbishop Wood. The Vikings have come to earth—a little. But there is still a large divide between Wood and every other Catholic League Class AAA team. Wood went 14-1 and won its third PIAA Class AAA state championship in the last four years, winning for the second-straight time. Rutgers-bound quarterback Anthony Russo tops the list of returning players for the Vikings, who also have back deep-threat receiver Mark Webb and 6-4, 265-pound offensive lineman Kurt Stengel.

Wood’s stumbling block for reaching the state finals a fifth-straight year and a threepeat will be Imhotep Charter.

5. Coatesville. The Red Raiders went 13-1 overall and reached the District 1 Class AAAA finals. They’ll be led by senior quarterback Jordan Young, who threw for 2,720 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 669 yards and 21 touchdowns, according to EasternPAFootball.com. Three other starters return on offense in linemen Nate Luvice and Christian Bermudez and receiver Kevin Kirk. The defensive line, featuring Jelil Norman, Isaiah Hall and Javon Sampson, will be a strength.

6. Pennsbury. The Falcons finished 13-2 and are the defending PIAA District 1 Class AAAA champions, before losing in the state semifinals to eventual two-time defending champ St. Joe’s Prep. It is a team that returns a good nucleus in quarterback Mike Alley and offensive linemen Jack Kenney and Maurice Stukes. But making up for the 2,700 yards of offense left by the graduation of Charles Snorweah, a Rutgers commit, will be hard to do. Coach Galen Snyder will be relying fullbacks Chris Rupprecht and Luke Snyder and halfback Daulton Hose to make up for a good chunk of that offense.

7. Downingtown East. USC commit Cary Angeline, a projected college tight end who caught 66 passes for 1,015 yards and 10 TDs last year, according to EasternPAFootball.com, tops the list of returning players for the Cougars. Downingtown East finished 9-4 overall and lost to Coatesville in the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA semifinals last to Coatesville.

Sophomore Bryce Lauletta comes from a good family tree. His older brother, Kyle, now at Richmond, was a standout quarterback for the Cougars. Bryce will be protected by returning offensive linemen Mike Clark, a Maryland commit, Tyler Beasley and Jay Ingram.

8. La Salle. This will be a new version of the Explorers, who finished 8-3 overall last year, with two of those three losses coming to eventual two-time state champ St. Joe’s Prep. A team noted for its high powered offense under previous coach Drew Gordon, La Salle could lean more to a defensive team, under new head coach John Steinmetz. The defensive line of Matt McDermott, Ryan Schutta and Anthony Piscopo could be a team strength.

9. Haverford School. The Fords, who went 9-1 overall and are the defending Inter-Ac League champs, return five starters on offense and defense, beginning with senior quarterback Kevin Carter, wide receiver Dox Aitken, a national level lacrosse player committed to Virginia, 6-3, 270-pound tackle Brian Denoncour and linebacker Mickey Kober.

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10. North Penn. The Knights, who finished 7-4 overall and in a first-place tie with Pennsbury at 6-1 in the always tough Suburban One National, return 1,000-yard rusher Nyfease West, a Delaware State commit. The three-year starter will be getting help from quarterback Jake Bevan, receiver Ricky Johns and tight end Keith Earle to carry some of the offensive burden. The Knights were knocked out of the first round of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs last year by West Chester Henderson.