For the past three seasons Ocean has been on the cusp of reaching a state sectional final, and even though several key players and their production from a season ago need to be replaced, the Spartans have no doubt they remain a championship contender.

“We want to break through this year,” said senior running back and middle linebacker Anthony Tedesco. “It’s been three years in a row losing in the semifinals and we’ve had enough of it. We worked our butts off in the offseason and we want to get it done this year.”

Photo by Ray Richardson.

The Spartans will bring back just four starters on offense and four on defense, but have several players they feel will seize the opportunity in their first year as a starter. It certainly helps that one of those key returners is senior quarterback Kenny Pickett, a University of Pittsburgh recruit, who is one of New Jersey’s top signal callers and looks primed for a huge year.

“Kenny’s done a really good job of becoming the full package,” said Ocean head coach Don Klein.

Pickett is the unquestioned leader of Ocean’s spread offense that is coming off a year where it averaged 29.3 points per game, the seventh-best mark in the Shore Conference. A third-team Shore Sports Network All-Shore selection as a junior, Pickett threw for 1,797 yards and 19 touchdowns while also rushing for 336 yards and five touchdowns. He made huge strides this offseason while also committing to an FBS program.

Ocean senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

“His overall physical ability has greatly improved,” Klein said. “He’s a kid that has always been very skilled and very talented, and when you combine that with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame of an explosive athlete that’s why you have a player that is going to an FBS school to play quarterback.”

Pickett is a three-year starter, as is his top target, senior Joey Aldarelli. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound target was a third-team All-Shore pick last year with 33 catches for 440 yards and seven touchdowns. Pickett and Aldarelli figure to be among the top quarterback-wide receiver duos in the conference.

“They’ve had a special relationship since they’ve entered high school and they grew up together,” Klein said. “Joey has always had natural talent, but I think the light bulb went off for him also in regards to the way he prepares himself, and he had a monster offseason. We anticipate him being a premier receiver in the Shore Conference this year.”

Ocean senior wide receiver Joey Aldarelli. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

Pickett has several talented options at the wide receiver position aside from Aldarelli with senior Mike Krug, a member of the track team who decided to rejoin the football program, and sophomore Kam Thompson and freshman Sean Rossback in the slot. Sophomore Alex Bryant will also see time on the outside and in the slot. Thompson is the younger brother of Tyler Thompson, who graduated this past June after a four-year varsity career where he became Ocean’s all-time leading rusher.

“We have different guys rotating in and out to say fresh, and we just have to do a good job of getting our weapons the ball in space and letting them do what they do,” Pickett said.

“We have a lot of playmakers and we spread the ball out,” Aldarelli said. “The bottom line is we’re going to put up points.”

Replacing Tyler Thompson’s production and presence in the backfield is no easy task, but the Spartans feel they have a stable of backs that will compliment Pickett and the passing game. Tedesco, junior Jasher Pena and sophomore Billy Levy will rotate at tailback with Tedesco and sophomore Ryan Moran also playing H-back.

Tedesco is making the rare move from offensive lineman to running back, but it’s a position he grew up playing before being moved to the trenches out of necessity.

“Looks are deceiving, that’s all I’m going to say,” Tedesco said. “I came up being a tailback so it’s nothing new. In camp I was working in and I’ve sort of ran with it. There’s no doubt big shoes to fill, but me, Jasher Pena and Billy Levy by committee should be able to do it.”

“Anthony is a 215-, 220-pound kid and he has nifty feet for a big kid,” Klein said. “He’s a good athlete and what he really does well is he’s decisive. When the ball is in his hands he’s going to make one cut and get north-south.”

The offensive line has two returning starters with three-year starer Chris Vivian, a senior, at left tackle and junior Andrew Worthington at center. Junior Christian Wilson is the left guard, senior Anthony Mazza is the right guard and junior Lawrence Betton is the right tackle.

“The O-line has grown tremendously,” Klein said. “We know what we have in Viv’ and that’s a three-year starter who is like another coach on the field. He picks things up quickly and there’s not much he hasn’t seen, and he communicates those things well. Andrew Worthington is the same way. He’s a smart kid, he’s gritty, he’s tough, and those two are good building blocks to start with.”

Ocean’s multiple four-man front defense was No. 11 in the Shore last season with 15.3 points allowed per game, but has to replace seven starters, including its entire unit of linebackers. Vivian is a returning starter at defensive end and Mazza returns as a starting defensive tackle. The new starters are Worthington at tackle and Wilson at end. Senior Keith Stedman at tackle and junior Anthony Russomanno at end will also see time along the line.

Just like on offense, Tedesco will be switching positions as he moves from defensive end to middle linebacker. He had 18 tackles for loss playing on the line last season. The outside linebackers will be Levy and junior Ryan Jenks. Moran will flex between linebacker and defensive back.

“I came up as a middle linebacker but we were stacked with linebackers last year so I moved to defensive end,” Tedesco said. “I’m very comfortable there. We still have strides to make with some of the young guys playing but I think we’re looking good.”

Aldarelli is the lone returning starter in the secondary at safety. The cornerbacks are Krug and Bryant with Moran and sometimes Rossback also playing safety. Sophomore Will Sacco will also see time in the defensive backfield.

On special teams, senior Simon Lee is the kicker and Pickett returns as the starting punter.

Ocean is one of four Shore Conference teams playing in Week Zero on Friday Sept. 1, and will open its season against old Thanksgiving rival Monmouth Regional. Having to play the first week of September accelerates the offseason program by a week and doesn’t allow for as many training camp practices, but for a team that has been eager to begin another quest for a championship, that’s not a bad thing.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Aldarelli said. “We want it to set the tempo for the rest of the season.”

RELATED: Ocean Township 2016 football schedule

Head Coach: Don Klein, 10th season.

Career Record: 57-37-1.

Coaching staff: Fred Stengel (off. coord/DL); Marc Tomo (def. coord.); Pat O’Neill (QB/DB); Mike Salum (WR/DL); Brian Kmak (DL/RB); Jim Simonelli (LB); Mike Lambusta (OL); Hank Limardo (WR/DB); John Bosman, Dean Athen (freshman); Katelyn Zimmerman (athletic trainer).

2015 Record: 9-2 (5-1).

BIG SHOES TO FILL — Running backs Anthony Tedesco, Jasher Pena and Billy Levy: The trio hopes to combine to give the Spartans a solid rushing attack to offset the graduation of Tyler Thompson, the program’s all-time leading rusher and a first-team All-Shore selection last season.

X-FACTOR — The offensive line: Ocean has one of the state’s best quarterbacks and a good group of playmakers around him. If the offensive line, with three new starters, can come together it will elevate the Spartans’ offense to an elite level.

GLUE GUY — Kenny Pickett, Sr., QB: Quarterback is a natural position of leadership and Pickett, an FBS recruit who is committed to Pitt, has embraced the role ahead of his senior season.

IMPACT NEWCOMER — Mike Krug, Sr., WR/DB: Krug decided to come back to the football team and will be a starter on both sides of the ball. As a member of the track team he brings great speed to the positions.

PIVOTAL GAME — Sept. 16 at Middletown South: The Spartans will travel to “The Swamp” in Week Three to take on the top-ranked team in the Shore Conference in a pivotal game in the rugged Class B North division.

 

Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.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.