BRICK – They sat inside the cafeteria at Brick High School in clusters that understandably resembled clans cautious to intermingle. An empty table between groups the only barrier separating different tribes used to harboring the type of healthy animosity responsible for fueling the spirited competition that spills out across a local football field on a brisk autumn Friday night.

Jackson Memorial guys hung out with Jackson Memorial guys. A few feet away, Brick dudes assembled with fellow Green Dragons. Players from Lakewood settled at one end of the room, while the contingent from Barnegat occupied space on the opposite side.

Old feelings that manifest between rivals die hard. Yet, by getting them all in the same room and pointed toward a common goal, the thaw successfully commenced on Thursday night as members of the Ocean County squad convened for their organizational gathering, a galvanizing step in preparation for the 42nd All-Shore Gridiron Classic.

“It’s weird at first but once you get used to it, it’s actually really cool because you find out, they are just like you,” said Pinelands running back Evan Burton, a Third Team All-Shore Sports Network choice who rushed for 1,209 yards and 10 touchdowns, of the acquaintance process. “They are the same person just from a different school. I got to know a couple of guys from Southern during wrestling season and they’re the best guys in the world. They’re cool, they’re funny and they’re into the same things you are. It’s going to be hanging with your guys after the first couple practices.”

Ocean County will attempt to snap Monmouth County’s two-game win streak and take a bite out of its counterpart's 22-18-1 upper hand in the annual summer senior showcase, the longest running of its kind in the Garden State, when they clash on July 11 at Long Branch High School. Developing a chemistry is essential. Apparently, that won’t be much of an obstacle.

“It’s not really that different for me because I’ve played with some of these guys before in Pop Warner for all-star games,” said Jackson running back Leo Shimonovich. “It’s not that weird. I don’t have any hate for them personally.”

“It’s a little bit awkward at first because we’ve faced each other for the last four years,” added Brick’s versatile Cole Groschel, a two-way standout at wide receiver and defensive back and Second Team All-Shore Sports Network selection. “A lot of guys in the Shore develop this brotherly thing…we love to fight and then, right after the game, we can say good game and talk to each other. When we played Jackson, I would talk to Leo about the game and what do we need to do to beat the team we’re playing the next week. We’ll help each other out.”

Truth be told, any notion of strained relationships among this group might be a tad embellished. And, what better way to loosen things up than by breaking bread? Jersey Mike’s did its part to encourage good vibes, lavishing the congregation with an assortment of subs.

By all accounts, it sounds like the Ocean outfit is off on the right foot. They were reminded to enjoy the experience by Gridiron Classic chairman Dom Lepore as well as Kevin Williams of the Shore Sports Network and Brick head coach Len Zdanowicz, who will pilot Ocean County.

Kevin Stockoff, Brian McNamara, Chad Dougherty, Chris Blackburn, Wayne Niedermeier, George McNamara, Jared Kight, Jay Groschel, Bill McDonnell, Dave Christoper, Andrew Cruz and Hall of Famer Al Saner – all of Brick – will serve as assistants along with Lakewood head coach LJ Clark and assistant Evan Baubles and Pinelands head coach Matt Fuller.

Ocean won't be hurting for playmakers.

The roster includes a pair of First Team All-Shore selections in the Brick tandem of linebacker Richie Tallmadge, who was second in the state with 176 tackles, and defensive back Mike McGuigan, who collected seven interceptions, tied for the most in New Jersey last fall. They will be joined by teammates Zach Piscope on the offensive line and defensive lineman Cory Englehardt (both Second Team All-Shore) along with two-way lineman Andre Edgerton and Groschel.

Wide receiver Darius Martorano of Central, who caught 42 passes for 670 yards and a Shore Conference-best 10 TDs in being named Second Team All-Shore, is among five Golden Eagles participating. He'll be accompanied by Isaiah Johnston, Troy Warren, Anthony Rivera and Derric Esporrin.

Brick Memorial sends four players marked by Second Team defensive back Jeff Lavarin and Third Team offensive lineman Logan Baxter along with Tyler Sindel and Kyle McBride.

Linebacker Brian Ewan and running back Charlie Cotton of Barnegat, both Third Team honorees, will be supported by teammates Anthony Grimes, Sean Madej, Mike Godfrey and Joe Lauer with a strong Bengals' contingent.

Punishing linebacker Chance Benjamin complements Shimonovich in a Jackson Memorial groups that also includes Tyler Brito, Joe Maffei and Sean Sharo while WR Sincere Moore and RB/LB Dante Morris of Lakewood - a pair of Third Team All-Shore choices - join Tye Pierce and Kevin Rodriguez in representing the Piners.

Dupreme Holland of Southern, who picked off five passes in the defensive secondary to earn Third Team All-Shore, will be on hand with fellow Rams Joe Guglielmo and Sean MacGillivary.

Ocean will also feature another tackling machine in Shane Simonson of Jackson Liberty, who recorded 126 tackles.

Sign Up For The SSN Newsletter

Please fill out this form to sign up for the Shore Sports Network newsletter.