"When I came in, we had kids who came up through the community program," he said. "But that program was stopped a few years ago. While we were going to the playoffs in 1983 and 1984 and 1985, I saw that we'd have problems later in the '80s.
"Even after we got back to the playoffs in 1987, I knew we'd have a ways to go to get back again. We saw the bottom of the barrel, but we were able to do something about it."
What he is referring to is a Police Athletic League program in Willingboro that is now serving as a feeder system for the high school program.
"We're now experiencing the fruits of that labor from the PAL program on the varsity," Belford said. "In the next year we'll look to that program to help us rebuild the junior varsity and sophomore squads."
But after that 1-8 record, and with a sophomore starting at quarterback, the Chimeras are probably at least a year away from contending again.
COACHING. Belford is in his eighth year as head coach at the school, with a 41-29-1 record. He is assisted by offensive coordinator Paul Collins; defensive coordinator Bob Szeliga; line coach Chuck Gillis, and defensive back coach Bob Mailer.
LAST YEAR. The Chimeras were 1-8 overall, 1-5 and in seventh and last place in the Liberty Division of the Burlington County Conference.
LETTERMEN LOST (21). Two-way lineman Gil Winters is the key departure; he is now attending Duke University.
LETTERMEN RETURNING (8). That's not much to start over with, but the returnees include important skill position players, headed by sophomore quarterback Craig Robbins, who started the last five games of last season. Senior Howard Bishop and junior Mike Coleman return at tailback, with senior Virgil Moore back at wide receiver.
NEW PLAYERS. Two players who should fit into the lineup from the outset are defensive end Shon Brown and defensive back Jermaine Brown. Even though both have transferred from Rahway (N.J.) they are not related.
SPECIAL TEAMS. DeAndre Ford will do the punting; Belford is looking for a placekicker.
OUTLOOK. Robbins will be the key to the rebuilding project. The 5-foot, 10-inch, 185-pound sophomore started five games (all victories) for the freshman team last year before Belford realized that the varsity's fortunes would depend on him.
"I didn't want to take him away from the freshmen while they were undefeated," Belford said. "But when it was obvious that that program was safe (finishing 9-0), we brought in Craig.
"We didn't want to throw him to the wolves right away. But he did an execllent job for us."
Despite the offensive returnees, Belford thinks it will be the defense that keys this season.
"We're going to build around the defense," he said. "We want to be more aggressive this year."
Robbins will also start at safety on defense, but a good-sized defensive line will probably be the Chimeras' strength.
Ford (6-0, 235) is the middle guard. Dennis Anderson (5-10, 240), Shannon Bogan (5-10, 225) and Lamont Spruill (5-10, 250) are tackle candidates, with Telange Lloyd (6-0, 225) one of the ends.
"We're optimistic," Belford said. "The young kids have enthusiasm, but there's a lot of kids on the offensive line. How quickly they mature will say how well we'll be."
SEASON OPENER. Willingboro hosts North Bergen Saturday at 4 p.m. in a nonleague game.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Craig Robbins remembers his first varsity game for Willingboro. It was against Pemberton last year.
"I saw those big guys up there and knew this would be different than playing in a freshman game," he said. "But after a few plays, I felt confident that I could do the job."
Those players looked big to Robbins because he was just a freshman. He enters this season, coming off a 1-8 record, as the sophomore around whom coach Ty Belford hopes to rebuild the Chimeras.
"We wanted to give Robbins a chance to play freshman football," Belford said. "And when the freshmen were undefeated, we didn't want to take him away
"In the years we were good, we had great quarterbacks. Our offense is based on having a great athlete under center, and we think we have him now."
"The coach told me last year that I might get some playing time," Robbins remembered. "He said I should keep my mind straight."
Robbins, currently at 5 feet, 10 inches, 185 pounds, didn't lead the Chimeras to any stirring victories last year, but he realizes that he is the person expected to make things happen for the next three years.
"I'm confident in myself," he said. "I don't want to get too high above myself. My parents help me stay modest."
Robbins is an option quarterback, but expects that eventually he will be able to throw as often as he runs.
"I feel I can do both (run and pass)," he said. "The coaches will help me turn into a better passer.
"I think I can be 70 percent better this year. I have more confidence. My arm's stronger. I'm maturing."
Robbins now has three years to become the quarterback Belford thinks he can be.
"If I had to compare him to anybody," Belford said, "I'd say maybe Major Harris," formerly of West Virginia University, now with the British Columbia Lions in the Canadian Football League.