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One year after a breakthrough campaign that included a big state playoff upset on the heels of a one-win season, Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz is quick to answer when asked what his talented team must improve on this fall.

“Consistency was our biggest problem, and not just when it came to our play on the field, but in practice as well,’’ he said. “I really thought they started to get it late in the season, and it appears to be carrying over to the pre-season as well.”

Oizerowitz has a team loaded in returning talent as the Mariners bring back their leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler.  In addition, there’s plenty of experience on both the offensive and defensive lines, which is why many will rate Toms River North the team to beat in Class A South, although their third-year coach is not among them.

“We’re still the hunters and are still chasing Jackson Memorial – I think we all are and all have been,’’ Oizerowitz said. “Plus the other programs like Brick and Brick Memorial are so traditionally solid.  We don’t worry about what people are saying about us, but I will say this, it beats where we were two years ago.”

The Mariners can put that one-win season in their rearview mirror. They were 6-5 last year, including a playoff upset over top-seeded Lenape, and appear ready to make a big jump this fall.

Back to run the spread offense attack is junior quarterback Mike Husni, who accounted for 2,676 yards of total offense (1,289 passing, 1,387 rushing) and 24 touchdowns (12 rushing, 12 passing) while earning second-team All-Shore honors from SSN.  Husni is listed as 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, but he plays bigger than that and is not afraid to initiate contact when he has to.  He is surrounded by a stable of weapons, beginning with 6-foot, 210-pound tailback Asante Moorer, who ran over and around teams for 1,064 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior and was a third-team SSN All-Shore selection.

Toms River North sophomore quarterback Mike Husni is on pace for more than 1,000 yards passing and more than 1,000 yards rushing. (Photo by Bill Normile)

Moorer will share carries this fall with highly-regarded sophomore Daryn Blackwell (5-11, 230), who is the nephew of former Toms River North and Monmouth University basketball great Alex Blackwell. Sharing the load at fullback and providing blocking will be seniors Nick Tedeschi, a converted tight end, and Tommy Donovan.

Husni also has a lot of options when he goes to the air in returning juniors Bryce Watts (24 receptions, 204 yards) and Darrion Carrington (16 receptions, 284 yards), who each caught two touchdown passes.  Newcomers include junior Kenney Cook and sophomore Andrew Daniluk.  The tight ends are senior Calvin Jackson, who started most of last year, and senior Quintin Manning.

The offensive line lost graduated standout Joe Fantozzi, but returns an outstanding group starting with junior center Will Sagarese.  The guards are junior Esiah Santamaria (6-0, 253) and 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior Luke Butera, who should be among the best in the Shore. Senior Tim Petersen (6’1, 250) will start at one tackle spot with juniors Cole LaBatch and Matthew Melamed battling for the other starting position.

The Marineres line up in a 3-4 defensive scheme, with junior Joe Nardoza (6-0, 257) at the nose guard spot, flanked by LaBatch and senior Da’shon Copes, a 6-foot-1, 275-pound wrecking ball who earned first-team SSN All-Shore honors following a dominating junior campaign.  Copes led the team with 91 tackles, 22 of them for a loss, and 12 sacks, and he goes into the season as a top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in the Shore.

Da'shon Copes, Toms River North- Photo by Kevin Williams

Also competing for playing time will be promising sophomore Shane Carney. There is some inexperience at linebacker, although senior Christian Lynch (62 tackles, 12.5 for loss) and Jackson (37 tackles) are back along with a group that includes seniors Michael Cangialosi and Anthony Storino along with Donovan.

The defensive backfield should be strong with Watts and Carrington starting at cornerback while Moorer and senior Matt Tomaschek are set to start at safety.  Senior Janaire Bradley and transfer Mickey Moldonado will also see playing time in the defensive backfield.  Another player expect to contribute is senior Ricky Carberry, a returning specialist who will also line up in the slot.  The kicking and punting job belongs to junior Kyle Bayha, who was 20-for-26 on extra points and kicked a 23-yard field goal last fall.

Clearly all the pieces are there for Toms River North to make a run at the division title and advance deep into the state playoffs. While most of the attention will be aimed at the exciting skill players who will wear the blue and gold, Oizerowitz says it’s the offensive and defensive lines that are the real glue of the team.

“Our team is more focused, and we’re working harder than ever because especially the seniors want to win a championship,’’ Copes said.

For the Mariners, the key is understanding that in Class A South you need to bring your “A” game every week, as there are no easy pickings.

“We feel good that people expect us to be a team in the conversation for A South, and I think that’s good to show that we’ve grown as a football program,’’ Oizerowitz said.

Husni also expects to take on a bigger leadership role now that he is an upperclassman.  He said in the offseason the returning players all came together and formed a special bond and would go to the movies and dinner in large groups.  If all plays out like they hope, there could be a nice championship dinner when the season ends in December.

Head Coach:                Dave Oizerowitz, 3rd season (5th overall)

Career Record:            18-23

Assistant Coaches:      Mike Oizerowitz (Offensive Coordinator/WR), Rich Malek (Defensive Coordinator/DB), Bob Cassidy (DL), Bill Dowd (OL), Gabe Roonan (Special Teams/OLB), Paul Zambito (QB/ILB), Charlie Monanian (DL), Chris Gold, Bill Wilbert (Freshman).

2014 Record-              6-5 (4-3)

Big Shoes to Fill: Christian Lynch, Sr., LB

Lynch will need to take over as a leader on defense to help improve a unit that gave up an average of 28 points per game in Toms River North’s five losses last season.

Glue Guy: Da’Shon Copes, Sr., DE

At times last season he could not be blocked by one opposing player, which means this fall he will see plenty of double teams, which should open the way for others to clean up.

X-Factor: The defense

The Mariners should have no trouble scoring but must find a way to consistently stop high-caliber teams in championship-level games.

Impact Newcomer:     Daryn Blackwell, So., RB

Alex Blackwell’s nephew just might be very special.  He is both quick and big (230 pounds), and when he turns the corner, defensive backs will have to think twice about what to do.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 18 at Brick Memorial

If Toms River North wins this game, the Mariners have a good shot to be 4-0 going into a showdown with Jackson Memorial. Brick Memorial handed them a tough 16-14 loss a year ago on a 40-yard field goal in the final seconds, so there will be some revenge at work here.