Several teams around the Shore Conference enter the 2017 season having to move on from one of their programs’ all-time greats, and Ocean certainly falls into that category following the graduation of quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Picket was an All-Shore level quarterback as a three-year starter and is now a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. The offense was tailored around his skill set, and without him that means more changes to Ocean’s offense.

“We’re not going to replace Kenny Pickett, who is the greatest quarterback in the history of our program and one of the top ones in the Shore,” said Ocean head coach Don Klein. “When we look at our team we understand we’re going to have to rely on what we do well and the experience we have, and that starts up front.”

The Spartans will switch from a spread offense to more of a multiple base that will focus on setting the tone with the running game. With four returning starters on the offensive line it’s the logical choice to get the most out of a team that will be young at quarterback.

“Losing the types of dynamic playmakers we’ve had the last couple years, having a strong offensive line is a good place to start,” Klein said. “Our system has changed to try to take advantage of that. Being young at quarterback we have to establish the run and give our quarterback the opportunity to make plays through the air based off the success we have on the ground.”

Photo by Paula Lopez.

Senior Andrew Worthington leads the linemen as the center and has fellow senior returning starter Christian Wilson at left guard. Senior Lawrence Betton is also a returning starter and will be at right tackle. Senior Ryan Jenks wasn’t a full-time starter last season but did see snaps on the line. He’ll be the starting left tackle. The newcomer of the group will be junior Dino Poniros at right guard with sophomore Brian Fisher battling for playing time. Senior Tim Lawlor will serve as a utility lineman.

“We have four seniors up front so we have a lot of leadership on the line,” Jenks said. “The line should be really good this year.”

“Up front we’re really strong so we’ll make life easier for everyone and take the pressure off,” Worthington said.

Those players will be tasked with opening up holes for senior running back Jasher Pena and protecting sophomore quarterback Robbie Nungesser. Pena split time with Anthony Tedesco last season but will get most of the carries as a senior.

“Jasher has a nice balance between quickness and power, and anytime you get the opportunity to get the bulk of the carries it allows you to get into a rhythm,” Klein said. “I think that’s really going to help him.”

Nungesser will be making his varsity debut, but has the tools to develop into a winning quarterback.

“What we like about Robbie is his demeanor,” Klein said. “He has that personality where whether he lights it up or struggles a bit he’s going to come back the next day with the same mindset. He brings a steady influence to the offense and he also can spin the ball really well. He has to continue to work on his consistency but we like his arm talent and his demeanor, and ultimately he’ll be a good enough athlete to hurt defenses and keep them honest.”

Junior Will Sacco has also been working in at quarterback and is slated to be the backup. Junior Ryan Moran is the fullback and will also get some carries to offer a change of pace from Pena. Senior Josh Estin and junior Joe DiDario will also see time at fullback. The wide receivers are juniors Mike Kircher, Holden Lowe and Mike Nies, senior Matt Ianucilli, and sophomores Trebor Pena and Mike Gavakis. Senior Ian Delaney is the tight end.

On defense, the Spartans return four starters in their multiple 40 defense that was in the middle of the pack at 20.4 points per game last season. Wilson is a returning starter at defensive end and will be joined by Delaney, Betton and senior Anthony Russomanno in a rotation. The defensive tackles are Worthington and Poniros with Fisher also in the rotation.

Estin or sophomore Javier Highland will be the new starting middle linebacker, and will have a pair of returning starters flanking them as Jenks is back as the weakside linebacker and Moran returns as the strongside linebacker.

The secondary is completely new with junior Ahmad Moore and Trebor Pena at cornerback and Sacco and Lowe at safety. Kircher, Nies and Jasher Pena could also see time in the secondary.

“We’re built with experience on our offensive line, and on defense it’s the linebackers,” Klein said. “Moran and Jenks are both intelligent, tough and can run and tackle, so it’s a good place to start.”

Either Kircher or Pena will be the kicker while either Delaney or Nies will be the punter. DiDario is the long-snapper.

There’s no question this is a transition year for Ocean, so getting off to a good start would go a long way toward building confidence.

“It’s crucial,” Klein said. “We have been fortunate to have success early in the season the last few years, and when you do that it proves to the kids everything we ask them to do leading up to that point is meaningful. Getting the ball rolling early, especially with some of the guys we lost, is going to vital for this team to have success.”

 

Head coach: Don Klein, 11th season.

Career record: 62-42-1.

Coaching staff: Marc Tomo (off. coord.); Jim Simonelli (def. coord.); Pat O’Neill (QB/DB); Hank Limardo (WR/DB); Berkeley Hutchinson (DL); Mike Lambusta (OL); Cip Apicelli (RB/DB); Dean Athen, James Nottingham (freshmen); Katelyn Zimmerman (athletic trainer).

2016 record: 5-5 (1-5).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Robbie Nungesser, So., QB

Nungesser takes over at quarterback following in the footsteps of current University of Pittsburgh freshman Kenny Pickett, who was a two-time All-Shore selection.

X-FACTOR: The running game

Ocean has tailored its offense around its running game, and if the Spartans can be consistently productive on the ground everything should fall into place.

GLUE GUY: Andrew Worthington, Sr., OL/DL

The team’s leader, Worthington is a three-year starter and one of the top returning linemen in the Shore Conference.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Trebor Pena, So., WR/DB

Pena will get a chance to start on both sides of the ball as a sophomore.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 8 at Wall

With Ocean playing in Week 0 this will be its second game and Class B North opener against a Wall team that is also in transition mode with a new head coach and several new starters.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

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