"We've lost some key players like Kyle Horner (his son), Dave Pitchko and Charlie Dragun," said Horner, whose team finished with an 11-0 record last year. "They all played well last season. We couldn't have won anything without them.
"We should be able to contend for the league championship. We do have some fine players coming back. We had a very successful JV team (8-1 record), too.
"It's just that we'll have to do a little rebuilding this year."
Offensively, Cherokee will be depending on quarterback John Evans, running backs Scott Goehringer, Joe Quinn and Frank Branciforte to light up the scoreboard.
"We're going to use the Power-I formation," Horner said. "We should be able to move the ball on the ground. John Evans is a good leader. He stepped in for Kyle (Horner) when his lung collapsed and led us to three straight victories. He has a lot of poise.
"Scott Goehringer averaged 4.6 yards a carry. He was used mostly as a blocker. He'll definitely carry the ball more this season. Frank Branciforte is on the verge of becoming a fine player.
"He's going to see a lot of playing time. Joe Quinn is a player who has looked pretty good in a few scrimmages. Joe's a hard working kid. He's going to play some quality downs for us."
Cherokee has a good number of returning players on the offensive line. The Chiefs will be looking for tackles Chris Tonczyczyn and Frank Bracchi, center Dan Clemens, guards Mike Devlin and Rich Hearn to open up some holes for the running backs.
"We should be in good shape," Horner said. "We have some great blockers. Chris Tonczyczyn had some outstanding games last year. He has the size (6-3, 255 pounds) and quickness to play Division I football.
"Frank Bracchi is an excellent blocker in short-yardage situations. If we need some crucial yards we'll go right over his side. Dan Clemens was one of our best reserves a year ago.
"He's an intelligent player. He's been a part of the program for three years. Dan should be ready to step into the starting lineup. Rich Hearn and Mike Devlin have developed into fine offensive linemen, too."
Evans, a magnificent passing quarterback, has some good targets in tight end Brian Mattioni and wide receivers Ralph Schiavo, Kevin Craig and Jim Ceffaratti.
"John can really throw the ball," Horner said. "He'll be hooking up with Brian Mattioni on the short routes. He should be one of the best tight ends in the league. Our wide receivers have good speed.
"Ralph Schiavo and Kevin Craig will probably run the deep patterns. Jim Ceffaratti will occasionally go long, but he'll work mostly underneath the zone defenses."
On defense, Cherokee has a massive line that includes guards Mike Devlin and Bill Westerby and ends Jim Cutullo, John Moore and Bracchi.
"These guys shouldn't give up many yards on the ground," Horner said. ''They play the run extremely well. Bill Westerby has come a long way since his sophomore year. He had a very serious leg injury.
"Nevertheless, he kept right on working to get in good shape. Bill should be heard from this year. Mike Devlin is a transfer from Houston, Texas. He has all the skills to be one of the top players in the area.
''He's going to be a good player. Jim Cutullo really played last year, recording 63 tackles and six quarterback sacks. There's no question about it, he's going to have a good season.
"Frank Bracchi is one of our two-way starters. He's a tough player. He has good quickness off the ball. John Moore will be used in a variety of situations. He's a good pass rusher. It's always nice to have another linemen around like him."
The Chiefs' linebacking crew has a host of terrific players such as Brian Mattioni, Joe Quinn, Mike Patino and Chris Illconich.
"These guys know how to read different formations," Horner said. ''They're an experienced group that plays an aggressive brand of football. Brian Mattioni is one of the best tacklers on the team. He's a real hitter.
"Joe Quinn will play on the outside. He got his chance to play linebacker last year. We had a lot of injuries at this position. Joe did a nice job for us as a reserve. Chris Illconich is our most versatile linebacker. He can play just about anywhere."
In the secondary, Cherokee has a lot of speed. It's not easy to sneak past strong safety Jim Deiter, free safety Frank Branciforte and cornerbacks A.J. Cooper and Lorenzo Bivens.
"They all run very well," Horner said. "Jim Deiter plays his position like a centerfielder. He can really drop back and make it difficult to get the long bomb.
"Frank Branciforte is a good open field tackler. He's really valuable once a man gets by the linebackers. A.J. Cooper and Lorenzo Bivens have the speed to run stride for stride with most receivers in the league."
John O'Neill will be Cherokee's placekicker. He has the leg to hit from 30 yards out. Ralph Schiavo will be the Chiefs' punter.
"He can get the ball down field," Horner said. "He has good hang time too."
Cherokee has won six consecutive Burlco Liberty Division titles. The Chiefs have also won three state championships in the last five years.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Brian Mattioni, Cherokee's sure-handed tight end, didn't catch many passes last year. Mattioni, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 215-pound senior, wasn't an integral part of the Chiefs' passing game.
However, Jim Horner, the Cherokee head coach, plans to get Mattioni more involved this season.
"Brian is going to catch some balls for us," Horner said. "He's a fine receiver. He's one of the fastest players on the team. He runs a 4.6 in the 40. I realize Brian caught only one touchdown pass last year.
"This had nothing to do with his pass-catching ability. He did a great job of blocking for us. But he's going to have some balls thrown to him. Brian could definitely surprise a few teams as a receiver. There's not too many people, who know how well he can catch."
Mattioni's offensive talents may be a well-kept secret, but his sensational play at linebacker is widely known throughout the Burlington County Liberty Division.
"I really enjoyed playing linebacker," Mattioni said. "There's never a
dull moment at this position. I like the fact that you have an opportunity to anticipate what's going to happen next.
"As an inside linebacker, I have to take care of the middle. I've got to be able to shut down the run. I have to play the backs coming out of the backfield as receivers. I think playing linebacker is a very challenging position. I made a lot of tackles last year. I'm looking forward to having an even better season."
Mattioni wouldn't mind playing either tight end or linebacker.
"I'm capable of playing both positions," he said. "It really doesn't matter to me. I'm being recruited by Clemson, Virginia, Duke, Temple and Penn. Wherever I decide to go to school next year, I would be willing to play any position that can help the team. I really don't have any preference."