The focus of high school football in Sayreville, New Jersey, turns back to the gridiron next week, nearly a year after a locker room hazing scandal forced school officials to cancel the season and reassign the program's longtime head coach.
The Sayreville War Memorial High School bombers are set to have their first official practice Monday under new head coach Chris Beagan. They've been in weight training since July.
"We want to help the kids become champions in the game of life," Beagan told NBC 4 New York Wednesday.
Beagan, a Sayreville alumnus, takes over after the scandal last fall prematurely ended the 2015 season and shined national spotlight on the Middlesex County town.
Prosecutors at the time said that some of the hazing incidents in September amounted to sexual assaults, and the New York Times later reported on witness' accounts, describing attacks where older players punched, kicked and groped younger teammates.
Seven players were charged with crimes after news of the hazing surfaced; two were found not guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated sexual contact, aggravated sexual contact and aggravated assault on Friday. Two other players saw their charges downgraded this week.
Winning head coach George Najjar was stripped of his title and reassigned as a physical education position at a local elementary school and several other coaches were also suspended.
It wasn't clear at first if football would ever come back to Sayreville, but district Superintendent Richard Labbe announced the team would return fo the 2015 season earlier this year and named Beagan the team's new head coach.
Beagan said the 2015 team will be a new one, with clear guidelines for players and constant supervision.
Many players never knew what happened last season; all suffered when the season was canceled. But they hung together.
"We bonded a lot through weight lifting in the school after the season ended," said senior fullback James Lopez, 16.
Other players, meanwhile, are looking forward to taking the field again on Sept. 11, when the Bombers will play J.P. Stevens High School in the team's first game in more than 11 months.
"People, they know what's going on and everyone still loves football and I don't think that will ever die in Sayreville," said senior linebacker Tyler Lewis.