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Dave Oizerowitz could have said he knew from the beginning, that from the second Micah Ford stepped onto a high school football field he would go down as one of the greatest players in Shore Conference history. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.

Make no mistake, Ford’s high school success comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with his work before he became a Toms River High School North legend. He was dominant at the youth level and coveted by several high schools but chose to stay at Toms River North where his brother Myron was a standout on the 2019 Mariners team as Micah assisted as a ball boy. However, the historic career he carved out could not have been predicted. Even more stunning is that he accomplished these incredible feats at a position nobody knew he could even play.

“He was strictly a running back coming up and didn’t play a whole lot of defense, either,” said Oizerowitz, who just completed his 11th season as Toms River North’s head coach. “We didn’t even know if he could throw the ball 10 yards. For us, it was about survival and how we could compete in a loaded division. We knew he was a potential special talent, so we said let’s see how this works out.”

Three years after switching from running back to quarterback heading into his sophomore season and blossoming into a dynamic rusher, passer, and defensive player, Ford is the 2023 Shore Sports Network Most Valuable Player after concluding a career that puts him on the Mount Olympus of Shore Conference football.

Bob Badders | rpbphotography.com
Bob Badders | rpbphotography.com
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Ford’s senior season saw him rush for 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns on an average of 8.6 yards per carry and complete 40 of 75 passes for 889 yards and 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Ford was also an exceptional defensive player in the secondary and posted 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns. Those numbers came despite missing three full games in the middle of the season and most of another due to an injury. He had an all-time playoff run with 942 yards rushing and six touchdowns plus 423 yards passing and eight touchdowns in five games to lead Toms River North to its second straight NJSIAA Group 5 state championship.

While the numbers were not as mind-blowing as they were during his junior year when he combined for 3,563 yards and 50 touchdowns to lead the Mariners to the first 14-0 season in state history, his contributions this season came versus as significantly more difficult schedule that included Non-Public B state champion Red Bank Catholic, Non-Public A semifinalist Donovan Catholic, Group 2 state finalist Rumson-Fair Haven, and South Jersey powerhouse Millville. It was an amazing season to close out a legendary career.

Potential historic accomplishments were the furthest thing from Oizerowitz’s mind when he tabbed Ford to be the team’s quarterback heading into the 2021 season. The Mariners were coming off a disappointing 3-4 season during the Covid year and had graduated a great senior class led by quarterback Jake Kazanowsky. They saw the talent with a promising sophomore group, the question was how to put all the pieces together and compete in an American Division that included Wall, Donovan Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, and Colts Neck.

“You never expect that kind of legendary production but the way it came about that he became our quarterback was survival,” Oizerowitz said. “When we had him that year he flashed as a freshman. We were going to a tougher division without as much talent, so what do we do? Well, we have Micah. We had never seen Micah throw a football, but who cares? We had some big guys up front and Micah was one of the biggest, fastest guys we had.”

Starting with a tough loss to Colts Neck on opening night, the Mariners began that season 0-4 but were given a reprieve when Donovan Catholic was forced to forfeit three early-season wins for using an ineligible player. Following losses to Wall and Rumson-Fair Haven, it all started to come together for Toms River North. The Mariners won their next five games, picking up steam with each victory, to reach the South Jersey Group 5 sectional final at home versus Kingsway. The game was tied at 14 until Kingsway pulled ahead for good on a last-second touchdown to hand the Mariners a heartbreaking defeat.

The loss burned, but the foundation had been set as Ford rushed for 1,451 yards and 17 touchdowns and threw for 944 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the way. He also started on defense in the secondary and recorded 82 tackles, 1 interception, 7 pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles. He turned out to be a natural for the quarterback position because of his intelligence.

Ray Rich Photography
Ray Rich Photography
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“What we didn’t anticipate was his ability to take in data and process it and translate it into playmaking ability on the field the way he did,” Oizerowitz said. “We saw he could raise the level of the players around him.”

The Mariners were now returning a standout senior class along with an ultra-talented junior class including Ford and two-way stars Jeremiah Pruitt and Tareq Council. Expectations were high entering the 2022 season. Leading up to what turned out to be a historic year, Ford was busy working at his craft. If he was going to play quarterback, he was going to be a quarterback, not just a great runner who could throw it decently. He dove into the nuances of the position and emerged as a terrifying dual-threat player.

“You have to give a lot of credit to his position coach, Anthony Penna,” Oizerowitz said. “I think he’s coached three of the best quarterbacks in Shore Conference history (Mike Husni, Jake Kazanowsky, Micah Ford). They worked tirelessly on mechanics. You’re talking about a player who never tried to throw a football in a competitive structure. We found out he had an absolute rocket of an arm. It was a matter of harnessing that and working on technique and accuracy. Micah is the ultimate competitor, No. 1. He said he was going to do whatever he could to help the team and if he was going to be a quarterback he was going to maximize his ability to play the position.”

The 2022 season will go down as one of the greatest in Shore Conference and New Jersey history for both Ford and Toms River North. The player and the team were unstoppable as the Mariners went 14-0 and won the inaugural Group 5 state championship with a 28-7 victory over Passaic Tech. Ford rushed for a conference-leading 2,360 yards and 33 touchdowns on an average of 10 yards per carry and threw for 1,203 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Mariners set a state record with 660 points on an average of 47.1 points per game led by a devastating running game that rushed for 4,352 yards and 62 touchdowns. Toms River North also had the No. 1 defense in the Shore Conference allowing just 8.2 points per game with four shutouts and holding 10 of 14 points to seven points or less. Their final point differential was a staggering 545 points. The Mariners outscored their Colonial Division opponents by 253-13 and dominated the playoffs by outscoring their five postseason opponents by a 209-48 margin.

The expectations – and perhaps the pressure – were immense heading into the 2023 season as an all-time senior class spearheaded by Ford tried to win another state championship. The schedule was daunting, starting with a matchup versus Group 4 champion Millville. The Mariners were also moved up to the Shore Conference’s beastly American Division to compete against Red Bank Catholic, Donovan Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, Middletown South, and Wall. In the end, the Mariners cemented their legacy by finishing 12-2 and beating previously undefeated Passaic Tech, 23-13, to repeat as Group 5 champs, but the season was not without its share of adversity.

The Mariners started 3-0 with an impressive 14-7 win over Millville in Week 0 and a strong 42-21 win over Rumson-Fair Haven in Week 2 sandwiched around a 42-0 win over district rival Toms River East. But on Sept. 15, Toms River North had its 17-game winning streak snapped in a 21-7 loss to Donovan Catholic. The biggest loss that evening was Ford, however, as the star senior suffered a knee injury late in the fourth quarter and did not return. Thankfully, the injury was not major, but it did require him to miss the next three games. Junior quarterback TJ Valerio filled in admirably as the Mariners won their next three games before Ford made his return during a 49-0 win over Liberty Division champion Toms River South. He had just seven offensive touches between rushing and passing but ran for a touchdown and threw for a score to knock the rust off heading into a titanic showdown with Red Bank Catholic in Week 9.

Photo credit|Ray Rich Photography
Photo credit|Ray Rich Photography
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There were questions about whether Ford would even play considering the playoffs were just a week away. The game with RBC, which was ranked No. 2 at the time, was certainly massive, but the real prize was a second state championship, not a marquee regular-season victory. On a blustery night at Gernerd Field, Ford was in the starting lineup, and it didn’t take him long to make an impact on the game. On Toms River North’s first possession it faced a fourth-and-one play from its own 24-yard line. The Mariners decided to go for it and Ford delivered a thunderous 76-yard touchdown run in which he ran over a pair of RBC defenders and raced the rest of the way for the game’s opening score. It was an electric moment, but his night would be short-lived when he came up limping after being sacked later in the first quarter. He came out of the game and did not return, even though he practically fought Oizerowitz to go back in the game. Valerio was excellent in Ford’s absence, but the Caseys emerged with a 35-28 overtime victory in dramatic fashion.

“He was cleared to play and was literally wrestling me trying to get back on the field,” Oizerowitz said. “He is the ultimate competitor who wants to win every single rep and doesn’t want to lose a segment in practice. When he first came back (versus Toms River South) and I told him he was just playing (offense) he was upset with me. I’ve never been around anybody who’s a more fierce competitor than him.”

The Mariners lost that round, but they won the fight by knockout thanks to a healthy Ford’s performance in the postseason. He was unstoppable in the playoffs with 1,365 yards of offense and 14 touchdowns. On defense he returned two interceptions for touchdowns and recorded 27 tackles, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss. He rushed for a season-high 277 yards in a 49-14 win over Washington Township in the Central Jersey Group 5 sectional final. In the Group 5 final, he rushed for 222 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries and threw for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Ford played his best in Toms River North’s most important games. In 10 playoff games over the last two seasons he totaled 2,822 yard and 38 touchdowns with 2,113 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns, 769 yards passing and 15 touchdowns, plus 55 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 3 defensive touchdowns.

When Ford hoisted the NJSIAA Group 5 championship trophy into the night sky at Rutgers University, he did so as one of the greatest players in Shore Conference history. He is a three-time First Team All-Shore selection and a two-time First Team All-State pick who wrapped up his career with 9,049 yards of offense and 115 total touchdowns. His 6,033 career rushing yards (8.7 yards per carry) are the fourth-most in Shore Conference history behind fellow legends Kenny Cattouse (Keyport, 6,676 yards), Ashante Worthy (Freehold, 6,400), and Knowshon Moreno (Middletown South, 6,264). He added 3,016 yards passing and 40 touchdowns after never playing quarterback prior to his sophomore season. Ford also shined on defense at safety where he totaled 220 tackles with seven interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.

He morphed into the total package as a standout passer, rusher, defensive player, and leader over the course of his high school career. His all-time success has as much to do with his makeup as it does his speed, strength, and agility.

Ray Rich Photography
Ray Rich Photography
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“He’s humble and he goes about his business in a way that you would never know he’s the great Micah Ford walking down the hallway,” Oizerowitz said. “Everyone in the school loves Micah and respects how hard he has worked to get here, in the classroom and on the field. He’s a good person and he cares about the folks around him. For me as a coach, I feel very fortunate to coach this team and to have known and been around him. He’s a very special person. He broke the mold.”

His next stop will be Stanford University where the Cardinal can use him in a variety of ways on both sides of the ball.

“His willingness to learn and help the team stands out,” Oizerowitz said. “He came in and running the football was natural for him. He transitioned to quarterback and then once he realized playing defense was going to help us win championships he dedicated himself to that. He might have preferred playing defense this year, he relished it. What he did on defense in the playoffs took us to another level. He’s the only player I’ve ever seen who is just as good on defense as he is one offense. He played quarterback at an elite level and with the things he’s able to do, there is no doubt he can play quarterback at the college level. Stanford has even talked about how they can utilize him in that position in some packages. He’s the most unique player who has run the ball at that level that I’ve seen in Shore history. Maybe there’s a guy who has run it better or thrown it better but when you put the two together – and I know I’m biased – he’s the greatest player I’ve seen in the Shore Conference in modern times.”

The one regret Oizerowitz has during this incredible run is that Ford didn’t get to play a full 14 games during his senior season. His stratospheric statistics were produced despite him playing in just 37 of a possible 56 quarters as a junior when Toms River North was blowing teams out in the first half, but that was by choice. The injury forced him to miss 15 quarters of action this year.

“I think the way the season went with us having to win without Micah made our team stronger, but I think Micah was going to obliterate the record book this year,” Oizerowitz said. “I wish he never tweaked his knee because the player I saw in the Rumson game, I’ve never seen anybody look like that running the ball as big and as fast and as violent as him. What he did coming back off the injury was absurd. I think he was sitting on a season that would have been one of the greatest.”

Regardless, Ford exits high school football as an all-time Shore Conference great and arguably the best player in Ocean County history. And his journey is just getting started.

“I can’t wait to watch him at the collegiate level,” Oizerowitz said. “His best football is ahead of him.”

Toms River North defeated Passaic Tech, 23-13, to repeat as NJSIAA Group 5 state champions. (Ray Richardson | rayrichphotography.smugmug.com)
Toms River North defeated Passaic Tech, 23-13, to repeat as NJSIAA Group 5 state champions. (Ray Richardson | rayrichphotography.smugmug.com)
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