Football – Gifted and Talented: 2016 Toms River North Preview
Walking onto the practice field at Toms River North and catching just a few moments of the reigning NJSIAA South Jersey Group V champs is all one needs to realize the Mariners are an absolute juggernaut.
The Mariners have a boatload of returning starters that include some of the best players in the Shore Conference on both sides of the ball, and they figure to be among the elite teams in the state this season. They are talented, experienced and well-coached, and still hungry to gather more championship hardware.
“We’ve all been playing together since Pop Warner so we know it’s the last time together for the seniors,” said senior quarterback Mike Husni. “We’re just trying to take advantage of it and have as much fun as we can.”
“The pieces are in place,” said Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz. “It’s a veteran team and not too many underclassmen are going to be able to crack the starting lineup, and in our division that’s a good thing. It’s about being consistent in each period and focusing on the small parts of what we do on both sides of the ball and special teams.”
Fun is what people will have watching the Mariners operate, unless you’re on the opposing sideline. With several returning All-Shore honorees and Division I recruits, Toms River North is stacked. It’s offense, quite frankly, has an embarrassment of riches, even more so than last year when the Mariners were fourth in the Shore in scoring at 33 points per game.
The leader of the high-flying attack is Husni, a four-year starter and a dynamic dual-threat player in the backfield. A first-team All-Shore pick last season, Husni threw for 1,368 yard and 13 touchdowns and also ran for 1,267 yards and 18 touchdowns. He has a chance this season to become the first quarterback in Shore Conference history to run and pass for over 1,000 yard each in three straight seasons.
“He’s the best quarterback in high school football I’ve seen in a very long time in this area,” Oizerowitz said. “He’s stronger, faster and more explosive this year. The biggest difference is his understanding of progressions and reads. He’s hitting his third and fourth options now, and that’s big.”
The talent level around Husni is remarkable. At wide receiver he has a pair of standout seniors in Bryce Watts and Darrion Carrington. Watts is committed to Rutgers and has blazing speed in the 4.4 range. Carrington was a second-team All-Shore selection last season and has several FCS and FBS offers. There’s also 6-foot-2 senior Kenny Cook, a returning starter, 6-foot-3 senior Jaden Rhoden, and juniors Andrew Daniluk and Anthony Urso. Tight ends Dan Madsen (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) and Cole LaBatch (6-foot-3, 270-pounds) are monsters.
In the backfield the Mariners welcome back senior Parker Day, who as at Toms River North his first two years before playing at Manasquan last season. He’ll be the starting tailback with standout junior Daryn Blackwell also seeing time. Junior Mickey Maldonado will also work in at running back.
“It’s a lot of fun because defenses have to prepare for the run and the pass,” Husni said. “We can run at you, run around you, throw it over you or throw a hitch and take it 80 yards. Defenses are going to have a tough time defending us this year.”
“The nature of the offense is to spread the ball around, so it’s a good thing,” Oizerowitz said. “You worry in the spread when you don’t have enough. It’s a numbers game. For us it’s all about being physical out of every set and having threats at every skill position.”
To top it all off, Toms River North returns four of five starters on the offensive line. At left tackle is 6-foot-5, 280-pound senior Matt Melamed and at right guard is Esiah Santamaria, a 270-pound three-year starter. Senior Will Sagarese, also a three-year starter, brings good size at 270 pounds. Senior Daniel Benishti (6-foot-1, 275 pounds) returns as the starter at left tackle. The only newcomer is sophomore Nick Renda at right guard.
While the Toms River North offense will steal the show the majority of the time, its defense, which was so good in the playoffs last year, returns eight starters. Standout nose guard Joe Nardoza returns to the line with LaBatch, a three-year starter back from injury, at defensive end. The other defensive end spot will be 6-foot-3, 295-pound junior Billy Dowd with junior Bryan Schlesinger and sophomore Stevon Drew also in the mix.
Senior Pete Laquaglia returns as a starter at inside linebacker after posting a team-high 110 tackles last season. He’ll call the Mariners’ 3-4 defense on the field next to sophomore Jordan Johnson. Blackwell has the chance to be a special player and returns as a starter at outside linebacker. The other outside linebacker spot will be held down by either senior Joe Bisogno, junior Erik Kelly or junior Ian Briggs.
“Pete emerging last year was huge for us,” Oizerowitz said. “I thought by the end of the year he was playing as well as anybody in the Shore. To bring him back this year we feel really strong at inside linebacker.”
“We have a couple things to fix, but if we do that we can be just as good as last year on defense,” Laquaglia said.
The Mariners have almost nobody playing both ways except for Carrington and Watts as returning starters at cornerback. They’ll rotate with senior Janaire Bradley, who also started last year, along with senior Dante Shenkin. Maldonado started at free safety last year and will shift to strong safety. Daniluk started the last four games and will begin the season as free safety. Junior Bishop Curry will also see some time at free safety.
The Marines’ kicking game is also in good hands with three-year starter Kyle Bayha handling both the placekicking and punting duties.
All in all, it’s hard not to have very high expectations for the Mariners. From the inside, however, the goals are simple.
“We’re still hungry,” Oizerowitz said “We’re blue collar and we don’t really look at ourselves as the hunted. All we talk about is getting better every day. Our kids know how tough our division is and the reality is we have to survive it just to make the playoffs. It’s a war every week and that’s what we have to prepare for.”
Head Coach: Dave Oizerowitz, fourth season (sixth overall).
Career Record: 29-24
Coaching staff: Mike Oizerowitz (off. coord./WR); Rich Malek (def. coord./DB); Billy Dowd (OL); Gabe Roonan (ILB/ST); Anthony Penna (QB); Nick Zaza (OLB); Bob Cassidy (DL); Charlie Monanian (DL); Bill Wilbert, Chris Gold (freshmen); Kendall Hostnick (athletic trainer).
2015 Record: 11-1 (6-1).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Billy Dowd, Jr., DL
There is no replacing graduated senior Da’Shon Copes, who was one of the best defensive linemen in New Jersey last season. Dowd will step into a starting role at defensive end, however, and look to give the Mariners another reliable player on a loaded defense.
X-FACTOR: Staying healthy
Toms River North doesn’t really have any glaring holes or question marks. The one thing that can always derail a promising season is injuries to prominent players, but the Mariners are certainly not the only team in that situation.
GLUE GUY: Pete Laquaglia, Sr., LB
A two-year starter and the leader of the Mariners’ defense, Laquaglia sets the tone for what Toms River North does on that side of the ball.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Dan Madsen, Sr., TE/FB
To casually add a 6-foot-6, 245-pound player to the lineup says a lot about Toms River North’s stable of talent. Madsen steps into a starting role as an H-back where he’ll be moved around from fullback to tight end.
PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 21 at Middletown South
This one won’t have any bearing on the Class A South race, but with the Eagles and Mariners starting No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the SSN Top 10, this is shaping up to be the marquee game of the entire season.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.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.