Hungry for More: 2022 Toms River North High School Football Preview
This time last year, Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz knew he had a very talented roster. The issue was inexperience. He and his coaching staff were excited at the possibilities but also wary of the uncertainty and the potential for growing pains.
The Mariners lost their first four games on the field (a loss to Donovan Catholic was later changed to a win by forfeit) and weren't particularly competitive in three of those four losses. But beginning with a Week 5 victory over Toms River East, the young and talented Mariners found their stride and rode the wave all the way to the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 5 sectional championship game. With nearly the entire team back, the Mariners are set to build on last season's success now that expectations have grown considerably.
"I don't want to go off what we did last year," said standout junior quarterback Micah Ford. "We want to build off it but not think too much about it. The level of excitement is pretty high. Hard work every day is all we need, that mindset to compete every day."
The Mariners finished last season 7-4 and lost a heartbreaker to Kingsway, 21-14 on a last-second touchdown, in the sectional final. Getting to the brink of a championship and coming up short has fueled the entire roster throughout the offseason and helped them remain focused amid rising expectations.
"It definitely hurt losing that game, it sticks with you," said senior linebacker/tight end Ty Kazanowsky, a three-year starter. "Coming into the season we're returning a lot of guys and everyone remembers the feeling of losing in that state championship game. All throughout the offseason, if there's a time you don't want to train, don't want to go to the weight room or practice, you think about that feeling. It's constantly in the back of our minds and we know we need to get better every day. We're just doing anything we can to get back and conquer that state championship game."
The Mariners are loaded entering the 2022 season with a total of 19 returning starters, including four SSN All-Shore selections from a season ago. Leading the way in Toms River North's power spread offense is Ford, who had a tremendous sophomore season as the team's quarterback to earn First Team All-Shore honors. Ford was the starting running back as a freshman when two-time First Team All-Shore quarterback Jake Kazanowsky was leading the offense and then made the move to quarterback last season. He finished as the Shore's fifth-leading rusher with 1,451 yards and 17 touchdowns and threw for 944 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also a valuable defensive player and finished with 82 tackles playing safety.
"This offseason I dedicated most of my time to working on my speed and side-to-side movements, lateral quickness," Ford said. "Staying in the weight room, no distractions, just focusing on how I can make me and my teammates better."
"He's one of the hardest workers on our team," Kazanowsky said. "He's been amazing to watch. I'm blocking a dude and I look up and he's breaking four tackles and then on the next play he'll throw a dime to the end zone. He's a different type of player."
Ford may be the headliner, but the Mariners' talent on offense runs deep. Junior running back Josh Moore ran for 714 yards and two touchdowns last season. Junior wide receiver Tareq Council is a three-year starter who led the team with 20 receptions for 420 yards and five touchdowns and fellow junior wideout Jeremiah Pruitt caught 19 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. At tight end, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Kazanowsky will be entering his third year as a starter. The fullback is senior Nick Walano, who is also a returning starter.
Bringing it all together is an offensive line that is big, physical, and experienced. Ja'elyne Matthews played his way into the starting lineup as a freshman thanks to his 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame and undeniable talent. He still has three years left of high school football and has already received multiple FBS scholarship offers, including from defending NCAA champion Georgia, Ohio State, Penn State, and Texas A&M. Senior Josh Kaye (6-0, 245) is the center after earning a Third Team All-Shore selection last year, senior Nick Baiocco (6-5, 240) will be entering his third year as a starter and will line up at right guard, and junior Justin Kaye (6-6, 285) will line up at right tackle to give North two towering bookends to the offensive line. The only player on offense who didn't see time last year is sophomore right guard Hatham Hooranyi (6-3, 250).
Many of the same names will start on defense in the Mariners' 3-4 base alignment. Baiocco (67 tackles) and senior Nasir McDougald are the defensive ends with Matthews slated to start at nose guard. Kazanowsky is a three-year returning starter at outside linebacker where he was a Third Team All-Shore selection last season. He recorded 84 tackles, 5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 32 hurries. Senior Cody VanderVliet is also a returning starter at outside linebacker. Senior Ty Boland, a three-year starter at inside linebacker, is the team's leading returning tackler (105) and junior Anthony Rodriguez also returns after making 90 tackles last season.
All four players return in the secondary, as well, with Council and Moore as the cornerbacks, Pruitt at strong safety, and Ford at free safety. Pruitt had 89 tackles and two interceptions last year as a Third Team All-Shore selection and Council also had two interceptions.
Other returners include senior defensive back Jameel Matthews and sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Nasir Jackson.
Newcomers not already named include junior receiver Trey Rinella, junior defensive back Luke Oizerowitz, junior linebacker/running back Christian Oliveri, junior linebacker Ryan Warner, sophomore receiver Cameron Thomas, sophomore quarterback/defensive back TJ Valerio, sophomore receiver Mordecai Ford, sophomore defensive back Ja'Quez Hunter, and sophomore kicker/offensive lineman Yianni Papanikolas.
Toms River North's division opponents have changed for this season. After competing in the American Division with Rumson-Fair Haven, Donovan Catholic, Wall, and Colts Neck, the Mariners will now play in the Colonial Division with Central Regional, Lacey, Long Branch, Middletown North, and Southern Regional.
The ingredients are certainly there for Toms River North to be among the Shore's elite teams and compete for a sectional title. Last year's run to the title game gave them a taste of success, and now they want more.
"It's more about staying hungry," Kazanowsky said. "We know where we were last year but we haven't done anything yet this year. It's not automatically going to send us back to the playoffs."
"Dedication and putting the time in, no shortcuts. If anything, take the harder way," Ford said. "Just keeping our minds on a straight path and not worrying about what's said, just what goes on in the TR North locker room and on the field."
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Offense: Power Spread
Returning starters: 9
QB: Micah Ford, Jr., 3RS
RB: Josh Moore, Jr, RS.;
FB: Nick Walano, Sr., RS
WR: Tareq Council, Jr., 3RS; Jeremiah Pruitt, Jr., RS
TE: Ty Kazanowsky, Sr., 3RS
LT: Ja'elyne Matthew, So., RS
LG: Hatham Hooranyi, So.
C: Josh Kaye, Sr., RS
RG: Nick Baiocco, Sr., 3RS
RT: Justin Kaye, Jr.
Returning starters: 10
DE: Nick Baiocco, Sr., 3RS
NG: Ja'elyne Matthews, So., RS
DE: Nasir McDougald, Sr.
OLB: Ty Kazanowsky, Sr., 3RS
ILB: Anthony Rodriguez, Jr., RS
ILB: Ty Boland, Sr. 3RS
OLB: Cody VanderVliet, Sr., RS
CB: Josh Moore, Jr., RS
CB: Tareq Council, Jr., RS
SS: Jeremiah Pruitt, Jr., RS
FS: Micah Ford, Jr., RS
K/P: Yianni Papanikolas, So.
Head coach: Dave Oizerowitz, 10th season (12th overall)
Career record: 55-37 (66-46 overall)
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Mike Oizerowitz (Offensive Coordinator/WR); Bill Dowd (OL/DL); Anthony Penna (QB); Nick Zaza (RB/Freshmen Head Coach); Joe Oizerowitz (Defensive Coordinator/DB); Gabe Roonan (Special Teams Coordinator/OLB); Charlie Henry (ILB/FB); Greg Elias (Freshmen asst.); Jake McCartney (Athletic Trainer).
Players to Watch: Micah Ford, So., QB/FS and Ja'elyne Matthews, So., OL/DL
Ford started at running back as a freshman and then took over as the team's starting quarterback last season. He was electric in leading the Mariners to the South Jersey Group 5 title game and finishing fourth in the Shore in rushing with 1,451 yards and 17 touchdowns and passing for 944 yards and eight touchdowns. Matthews is a monstrous tackle at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds and has already garnered considerable FBS interest with offers from the likes of Ohio State, Georgia, Penn State, and Texas A&M.
Player Under the Radar: Tareq Council, Jr., WR/DB
With so many returning starters it's tough to pin down one player as being under the radar, but Council is a candidate to have a big season even though he will be entering his third year as a starter. He was the Mariners' leading receiver last season and also started in the secondary.
Impact Newcomer: Hatham Hooranyi, So., OL
Hooranyi played in one game as a freshman last year when he stepped in at right guard during the South Jersey Group 5 semifinals. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound sophomore is now slated to start at left guard along a sizeable Mariners offensive line.
Rivalry Game: Sept. 30 at Toms River South
The stands are always packed Toms River North and Toms River North meet for "The Civil War". Toms River North figures to be the favorite during the Week 5 schedule at South's Detwiler Stadium and the Indians would love to play spoiler in front of their home fans.
Aug. 27 - vs. Washington Township (at Ocean City HS), 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 3 - vs. Rumson-Fair Haven (at Rutgers), 4 p.m.
Sept. 9 - vs. Southern, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 - vs. Central, 6 p.m.
Sept. 24 - @Long Branch, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30 - @Toms River South, 6 p.m.
Oct. 7 - vs. Lacey, 6 p.m.
Oct. 14 - @Toms River East, 6 p.m.
Oct. 21 - @Middletown North, 7 p.m.