Football – Point Beach Stars Look to Cap Historic Careers in U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic
When Point Beach's Joe Wegrzyniak, Jake Fioretti and Mike Frauenheim take the field for Ocean County in Thursday's U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic, they will do so as part of the most accomplished class in Garnet Gulls' history.
Point Beach made the state playoffs every single year that the trio were in high school after having only made it a total of eight times since the NJSIAA implemented the playoff system in 1974. They also were key cogs on the 2013 team that won Point Beach's first NJSIAA title when they captured the Central Jersey Group I crown by stunning nemesis Shore Regional.
At a program that has struggled for much of its existence in the state playoff era, this group knew nothing but winning. The Garnet Gulls were a combined 33-11 in their four years, with all three of them playing significant varsity time for their last three years. Now they look to finish on a high note when the Ocean County all-stars take on Monmouth County at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Long Branch's Bresett Stadium.
Fioretti, in particular, knows the history as well as anyone because his grandfather is Donald Fioretti, a Point Beach legend who is the namesake of the Garnet Gulls' home field. The elder Fioretti, who died in 2009, was an All-Shore player for Point Beach in the late 1950s and served as an athletic director as well as coaching football, baseball and wrestling over a 35-year career.
"I used to go to the games growing up, and it was way different, so it's cool to be part of the change,'' Fioretti said. "Even though we went 5-5 this year, I still think we've set the bar high after the last few years."
It has been a memory-packed journey for the trio under coach John Wagner, who came to Point Beach after a Hall of Fame stint at Roselle Park and transformed the program. In his first season at the helm in 2011, one season after Point Beach went 1-9, they tied a school record with eight wins and won their first state playoff game since 1982 and just the second in school history.
In 2012, they endured the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, which battered the school's sending district and displaced many players from their homes. That same year, they won their first division title since 1997 but then endured the heartbreak of an undefeated season ending with a crushing loss at home to eventual champion Florence in the Central Jersey Group I semifinals.
They came back a year later with a stunning 12-7 upset of Shore Regional to capture the Central Jersey Group I title and make school history, one week after losing 31-0 to the Blue Devils in the regular season. Fioretti and Frauenheim each ran for touchdowns in the win, while Wegrzyniak racked up 138 yards on the ground in their pounding Wing-T offense.
This season, they battled to a 5-5 mark and a fourth straight playoff appearance despite the graduation of a large chunk of the starting lineup and injuries to key players. Fioretti, Wegrzyniak and Frauenheim leave the program knowing that Point Beach is now expected to keep winning no matter who graduates, which is a far cry from the state it was in when they entered it.
"It feels really good that we made our mark in our school, our town and our football program,'' Wegrzyniak said.
Fioretti was a three-year starter at quarterback and a standout as a safety who earned All-Class B Central honors. Wegrzyniak was a Shore Sports Network first-team All-Shore selection as a junior when he ran for 1,581 yards and 17 touchdowns and also led the team with 92 tackles, including 17 for a loss. As a senior, he battled injuries throughout the season, missing multiple games, but still led the team with 531 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns while also making 63 tackles.
Frauenheim, who also was a guard on the boys basketball team that won the program's first Group I title in history in 2014, also fought through an injury-plagued season, rushing for 508 yards and 5 touchdowns and starting in the secondary. He missed the final two games of the season, including a state playoff loss to eventual champion Shore Regional, with a broken collarbone.
Now that they are back healthy, they look to make a splash on the big stage and show the type of talent that helped propel Ocean County's smallest public school to new heights.
"At Beach, we don't think about 'Group I,''' Frauenheim said. "We think about just being the best football players who can play with anybody. We just want to show how much Beach has improved."
The odd thing is that while all the other players on the Ocean County roster have at least played against some of their all-star teammates, that wasn't the case for the Point Beach trio. The Garnet Gulls are the only Ocean County team in Class B Central, and their nondivisional schedule was filled entirely with Middlesex County teams. They have more experience playing against the Monmouth County all-stars than any of their Ocean County teammates, so everyone on their team is all new to them.
"It's definitely cool to get a chance to play with these guys (on Ocean County), just knowing who they are and what they did on the field,'' Wegrzyniak said.
Wegrzyniak is expected to see plenty of touches out of the backfield on Thursday night out of pro-style Jackson Memorial offense that Ocean County will employ under Jaguars' head coach Walt Krystopik. Fioretti will play in the secondary and the versatile Frauenheim could see time at multiple spots.
"It's going to be interesting to see how much faster everything is going to be,'' Wegrzyniak said. "It's a little different, but I'm ready to try something new."