Dominant, star-studded, terrifying and deep. Any of those adjectives and more could be used to accurately describe the group of defensive linemen Ocean County will deploy on Thursday in the U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic.

“Monmouth better watch out for the line, that’s all I’ve to to say,” said Toms River North’s Da’Shon Copes.

Copes leads the way for a unit that has as good a chance as any to take over the game on Thursday when the 39th edition of New Jersey’s oldest high school football all-star game comes to Central Regional’s Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field. The Ocean County defensive line features three Shore Sports Network first-team All-Shore selections and three players selected to either the second or third teams. Copes, Jackson Memorial’s Tyler Towns, Brick Memorial’s Mike Nobile and Chris Hayes, Brick’s Jordan Keefe and Dan Finelli and Point Boro’s Gavin Hynes comprise a group that plans on terrorizing Monmouth County’s offense.

Ocean County brings a stud defensive line to the 2016 U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic. (Photo by Robert Badders).

“It’s been a lot of fun, especially since we know each other so well,” Hayes said. “I know it’s a team effort but we think we have a great chance to beat Monmouth with our front four.”

A first-team All-Shore selection by SSN, Copes was an unstoppable force along the Mariners’ defensive line and had one of the best seasons of any defensive player in the Shore Conference for a team that finished 11-1, claimed a share of the Class A South division title and captured the South Jersey Group V title. As an interior lineman, Copes made 105 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, helping Toms River North win its final 10 games and the program’s sixth sectional title. He will continue his career at Lackawanna College

After recording five sacks as a junior playing part-time on the Jaguars’ defensive line, Towns, a first-team All-Shore selection by SSN, made the most of his only year as a full-time starter by leading the Shore Conference with a whopping 22 sacks to help the Jaguars win the Central Jersey Group IV title for the second year in a row. He also made 66 tackles, including a team-high 21.5 for loss, with 11 quarterback pressures, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Towns will play collegiately at Wagner College.

A disruptive powerhouse along the Mustangs’ standout defensive line and also a first-team All-Shore selection by SSN, Nobile helped Brick Memorial finish as a top 10 defense in the Shore by allowing 14.7 points per game. He finished with 82 tackles, 8 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and 4 fumble recoveries on a Mustangs team that finished 9-3, won a share of the Class A South division title and reached the Central Jersey Group IV championship game. Nobile and his twin brother Anthony, a standout offensive lineman, will both head to Milford Academy in the fall.

Copes and Nobile were selected as the Class A South co-defensive Players of the Year by the coaches.

Keefe and Finelli were both second-team All-Shore picks after helping Brick claim a share of the Class A South division title and finish 8-2. Finelli finished with 76 tackles, including an astounding 31 for loss, with nine sacks for a Dragons defense that was fourth in the Shore in scoring defense at 8.1 points per game and recorded five shutouts. A pass rushing terror for the Dragons, Keefe finished second in the Shore Conference with 17 sacks and made 75 tackles with 12 for a loss.

Hayes was a third-team selection after making 64 tackles with a team-high nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss to help the Mustangs reach the Central Jersey Group IV final and claim a share of the Class A South division title.

Keefe and Hayes are both head to Sacred Heart University while Finelli will continue his career at McDaniel College.

“They’re a great group and very talented and very hardworking,” said Toms River North offensive lineman Luke Butera, who faced all the aforementioned players during the regular season and also went toe-to-toe with Copes in practice every day. “They’re busting it every play and they’re definitely making us better.”

“When the roster was released and we took a look at it we knew we were sturdy up front on both sides,” said Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz, who will guide Ocean County. “I think the fact that we’re playing a 4-3 with the kind of guys we have fits us. We have guys that are disruptors on the edge and inside.”

In Ocean County’s first practice they made it difficult for the offense to run plays by constantly getting into the backfield.

“They were tremendous (Saturday night),” Oizerowitz said. “They came out and it was the physicality that really stood out. They only had helmets on but there was a ferocity they were going at one another with, but in a competitive way. They all play with an edge, that’s for sure.”

What’s remarkable about the group is that except for Hynes, they all played in Class A South.

“It’s been hammered into our heads for four straight years that the Shore Conference has the best linemen the state has to offer,” Towns said. “And then you see A South with the Nobiles, you see Copes, you see Chris Hayes, you see Jordan Keep and Finelli. Shore Conference, A South, that’s where it is. The base or our line is rooted in A South.”

The group of Ocean County linebackers that includes Barnegat’s Josh Bowen, Toms River North’s Christian Lynch, Toms River South’s Jaden Kosh, Jackson Memorial’s Adante Davis, Southern’s Pat Walker, Lacey’s Jacob Post, Toms River East’s Avery DelValle and Brick’s Cory Wilson should have plenty of time and space to find the ball carrier.

The defenses typically have an advantage in the Gridiron Classic because there’s less to learn as opposed to the offense, although the defense is limited in terms of blitzing and alignments. Simplifying things is just fine by them, however.

“With all of us we have so much depth they can move us anywhere and we’re still going to dominate,” Hayes said.

“As a D-line it’s pretty simple: go find the ball and just hit somebody,” Towns said. “We’re looking for two defensive touchdowns, maybe three to hammer it home a little bit. But it’s all about having a good time out there and playing with friends and people you grew up with your whole life. It’s going to be fun.”


Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.