A New Crew: 2021 Toms River North High School Football Preview
After a successful three-year stretch in which Toms River North won 18 games and an American Division championship, the Mariners are entering the 2021 season with a host of new faces throughout the lineup.
Stalwarts like two-time first-team All-Shore quarterback Jake Kazanowsky, All-Shore wide receivers Zac Browne and Zach Goodale, and two-way lineman John O’Donnell have graduated. There are just a handful of returning starters for veteran head coach Dave Oizerowitz’s squad, and in the deepest division in the Shore Conference that will present an immense challenge.
Inexperience is the major question mark, not talent. The Mariners have several promising underclassmen, but how their talent translates to actual game situations remains to be seen, especially since they’ll be facing the fourth-hardest schedule of any public school in the state, according to the Gridiron New Jersey strength index.
Just two starters return in Toms River North’s spread offense while another who saw significant playing time last season is changing positions. Sophomore Micah Ford (6-foot-1, 215) was a running back last season but will now take the reins as the team’s quarterback. His running ability is certainly known. Toms River North had the Shore’s most prolific passer the last two seasons so it’s certainly feasible this year’s offense will be more run-based given the personnel.
The rest of the backfield features sophomores Josh Moore, Anthony Rodriguez and Christian Oliveri as the running backs and juniors Nick Walano and Ty Boland as the fullbacks.
There is a major void at wide receiver after the graduation of Browne and Goodale, who were two of the Shore’s best during their careers. Sophomore Tareq Council checks in at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds and looks to be the top target in the passing game. Junior Nick Lebria, sophomore Trey Rinella and junior Joe Early will also see starting action for an offense that frequently utilizes three- and four-wide receiver sets. Junior Ty Kazanowsky and his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame will provide a big target in the passing game and another big body in the running game. Junior Nasir McDougald (6-foot, 245) is another tight end who will see time.
The only two returning starters on offense are along the line with senior center Justin Smith (5-foot-11, 265) and senior right guard Mike Dowd (6-foot, 255). The three newcomers bring very good size to the table with junior Nick Baiocco (6-foot-5, 240) at left tackle, senior Matt Motuz (5-foot-10, 235) at left guard and junior Josh Kaye (6-foot-1, 235) at right tackle. Towering sophomore Justin Kaye stands 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds and could also push for starting reps at right tackle.
Toms River North struggled on defense last season, finishing 39th in the Shore allowing 32.4 points per game. Four starters return in the Mariners’ 3-4 alignment that will be tested early and often by some great opposing offenses.
The strength of the unit is up front and on the edge with three of the unit’s four returning starters. Boland returns as the nose guard while Dowd is a returning starter at defensive end. McDougald will be the other defensive end. Kazanowsky is a returning starter at outside linebacker.
The inside linebackers are Rodriguez and Olivieri with junior John Meehan also in the mix. The other outside linebacker is junior Cody VanderVliet.
The secondary has Dean and Council as the starting cornerbacks with Lebria, Josh Moore and Junior Matthews also working in. Junior Ryan Rempo is a returning starter at strong safety and Ford will be the free safety. Sophomore Luke Oizerowitz will rotate in with Ford.
The combination of its success over the past few seasons and the fact that it is a Group 5 school has Toms River North back in the American Division this season. The gauntlet is brutal, to say the least, with Wall, Donovan Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven and Colts Neck as division opponents. Those teams finished No. 1, No. 2, No. 5, and No. 6, respectively, in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10 last season. The margin for error is razor-thin.
If Toms River North were in any other division it would have a chance to contend for a division title despite its inexperience, but the Mariners, on paper at least, are the No. 5 team in the American Division to start the season. Can that change? Sure, but this young team will be thrown into the fire right away.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Returning starters: 2
QB: Micah Ford, So.; Talan Grande, So.
RB: Josh Moore, So.; Anthony Rodriguez, So.; Christian Olivieri, So.
FB: Nick Walano, Jr.; Ty Boland, Jr.
WR: Tareq Council, So.; Nick Lebria, Jr.; Trey Rinella, So.; Joe Early, Jr.
TE: Ty Kazanowsky, Jr.; Nasir McDougald, Jr.
LT: Nick Baiocco, Jr.
LG: Matt Motuz, Sr.; Josh Kaye, Jr.
C: Justin Smith, Sr., RS
RG: Mike Dowd, Sr., RS
RT: Josh Kaye, Jr.; Justin Kaye, So.
Returning starters: 4
DE: Mike Dowd, Sr., RS; Nick Baiocco, Jr.
NG: Ty Boland, Jr., RS; Nick Walano, Jr.
DE: Nasir McDougald, Jr.
OLB: Ty Kazanowsky, Jr., RS
ILB: Anthony Rodriguez, So.
ILB: Christian Olivieri, So.; John Meehan, Jr.
OLB: Cody VanderVliet, Jr.
CB: Ryan Dean, Sr.; Nick Lebria, Jr.
CB: Tareq Council, So.; Josh Moore, So.; Junior Matthews, Jr.
SS: Ryan Rempo, Jr., RS
FS: Micah Ford, So.; Luke Oizerowitz, So.
K: Dylan Corsi, Jr.
P: Cody VanderVliet, Jr.
Head coach: Dave Oizerowitz, 9th season (11th overall)
Career record: 48-33 (59-43 overall)
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Mike Oizerowitz (Offensive Coordinator/WR); Bill Dowd (OL/DL); Anthony Penna (QB); Nick Zaza (RB); Joe Oizerowitz (DB); Gabe Roonan (Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator); Kendall Culver (Athletic Trainer).
Player to Watch: Micah Ford, So., QB/FS
Ford cracked the lineup as a freshman running back last year and will now switch to quarterback. He’ll also start at free safety on defense.
Player Under the Radar: Ty Kazanowsky, Jr., TE/OLB
A returning starter on defense, Kazanowsky stands 6-foot-3 and 225-pounds and will provide a big body on the edge and at tight end.
Impact Newcomer: Tareq Council, So., WR/CB
An entirely new group of skill players will be looking for someone to step up and become a reliable playmaker. Council is 6-foot-3 and has the physical tools to be the No. 1 receiver. He is also scheduled to start at cornerback.
Top Position Group: Defensive Line
Both defensive end Mike Dowd and nose guard Ty Boland are returning starters and Kazanowsky, while listed as an outside linebacker, will also come off the edge as a pass rusher.
Big Shoes to Fill: Micah Ford, So., QB
Toms River North had the Shore’s leading passer the last two seasons in Jake Kazanowsky, who was a two-time first-team All-Shore selection and threw for over 4,000 yards in his career. Ford won’t be asked to do the same things Kazanowsky did, but he’ll need to provide a spark and lead the offense.
X-Factor: Inexperience vs. a Difficult Schedule
The Mariners have many first-year varsity starters and have the highest strength of schedule of any Shore Conference team. Easing into the season will not be an option.
Friday, Sept. 3 – vs. Colts Neck, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 – at Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24 – at Wall, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 – at Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 8 – vs. Toms River East, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15 – vs. Toms River South, 7 p.m.