Gridiron Classic – Ocean County news and notes
Sam Akinlolu was not on the original Ocean County roster for the All-Shore Gridiron Classic, but when got the call to play in the game a shortly before practice week began, he was more than ready.
“To me, it means everything to be able to play in this game,” Akinlolu said. “A couple days before I didn’t have any idea I would be playing in this game, I was set back with an injury, so coming out here and being able to play and showing the coaches what I have, I’m just very happy.”
The Toms River South running back has been a welcome addition to the Ocean County all-stars and was so impressive during the week that he was selected as a captain by the coaching staff.
“He has a lot of energy and the personality to get the kids going,” said Brick head coach Len Zdanowicz, who is Ocean County’s head coach. “He’s picked everything up very quickly. He’s going to TCNJ and majoring in mechanical engineering, so he’s a smart kid. He’s a great kid.”
Toms River South struggled this past season with a 3-8 record, but Akinlolu was a consistent performer on both sides of the ball. He ran for 659 yards and eight touchdowns in the Indians’ flexbone, triple-option offense and made 75 tackles on defense.
“I’m super excited,” Akinlolu said. “Playing for South is a big thing with the stadium and everybody cheering for you. I’m just trying to represent my school. I bleed maroon and white forever.”
Along with defensive lineman Kenny Johnson III, Akinlolu is one of two Toms River South seniors playing in Thursday night’s All-Shore Gridiron Classic. Being able to play one final game as a Toms River South football player is an opportunity he takes great pride in.
“Playing at Toms River South, it’s a great feeling, and not just because, ‘oh you’re in the limelight’,” Akinlolu said. “The school spirit at South is undeniable. I actually gave a speech at graduation about that exact thing, and that tradition of school spirit will be with me forever. I’m proud to be a South alumnus.”
“That’s what you want to see form a kid,” Zdanowicz said. “We had so many kids who couldn’t play and then kids who turned it down, and then you have a kid like him who’s really excited to be here. That’s what this game is all about.”
Brown in uncharted waters
Garrett Brown figured that with a good senior season he would give himself an opportunity to represent Pinelands in the All-Shore Gridiron Classic. He never figured it would be at the position he’s currently playing, however.
“Definitely not quarterback, maybe somewhere on the defense,” said Brown, who figures to get the majority of reps as Ocean County’s signal-caller on Thursday night. “I’m blessed with this opportunity and I’m going to do what I have to do.”
Pinelands employed a run-first, run-heavy offense this past year so Brown wasn’t taking to the air very often in throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a good athlete, though, and Ocean County has been catering the offense to his playmaking abilities.
“He’s been great picking up everything and being a leader out there for the kids,” Zdanowicz said.
Brown said he believes he’s the first Pinelands quarterback to go to college to play the same position. He will continue his career at Chestnut Hill College, which plays in the Collegiate Sprint Football League, a league with a weight limit of 183 pounds. The league includes teams from Army West Point, Cornell, Mansfield, Post, St. Thomas Aquinas, Alderson Broaddus, Caldwell, Navy and Penn.
Last ride for the Dragons
A great Brick senior class has been soaking up one final week together in preparation for the All-Shore Gridiron Classic. Practicing at their home school with their coaching staff leading the way has been the perfect sendoff before college.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said quarterback/wide receiver/defensive back Cole Groschel. “All these guys I grew up with and Coach Z, before he was the head coach here, coached all of us when we were little on the Pop Warner and AYF level. “It’s one last time to go out with a bang.”
Groschel, linebacker Richie Tallmadge, lineman Zach Piscope and kicker Jake Wynkoop will represent one of the Shore Conference’s most storied programs when the 42nd All-Shore Gridiron Classic kicks off on Thursday night at Long Branch High School. Tallmadge was named the Constitution Division co-Defensive Player of the Year and was an SSN First Team All-Shore selection after making 176 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and two sacks. Groschel battled through injuries all season but still made impactful contributions on both sides of the ball en route to being a Second Team All-Shore selection. Piscope was also a Second Team All-Shore pick and led a Brick offensive line that paved the way for Brick to rush for 2,093 yards and 26 touchdowns. Wynkoop was third in scoring among Shore Conference kickers with 34 extra points and four field goals with a long of 39 yards. Together they helped Brick go 8-3 and reach the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 championship game.
“It’s a privilege to coach those guys and to have one more ride with them on our team,” Zdanowicz said. “I’m so happy about that.”
Grimes, Cowan impressive along D line
After an eye-opening performance in the Phil Simms North-South All-Star Game, Manchester’s Eric Cowan has been equally impressive during the week of practice for the All-Shore Gridiron Classic. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end/tight end wreaked havoc in the all-state game with a sack and several tackles for loss and figures to be an integral part of Ocean County’s gameplan on both sides of the ball. Cowan, who will continue his career at Montclair State University, recorded seven sacks and 69 tackles last season.
Barnegat defensive tackle Anthony Grimes has been equally impressive with his play in the trenches. A run-stuffing presence in the middle of the defensive line, Grimes can also create pressure up the middle. The Kutztown University recruit had 60 tackles and nine tackles for loss last season.
“My approach has always been to be the best player, best teammate I can be in any situation at any given time,” Grimes said. “I always try to prepare myself to be the best person my coaches need me to be and that my teammates need me to be.”
Grimes is one of seven Barnegat players who will participate in the All-Shore Gridiron Classic, joining linebacker Brian Ewan, running back Charlie Cotton, defensive back Sean Madej and linemen Joe Lauer, Phil Gogarty and Tim Lauterbach.
“It’s amazing to see everybody out here and play one last tame with the guys I’ve been playing with since I was five-years old,” Grimes said.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.