Gridiron Classic: Toms River North Crew Front and Center for Ocean County
After winning an NJSIAA title in one of the most difficult brackets in the state and finishing ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, it’s no surprise that Toms River North is well-represented on Ocean County’s squad for the U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic.
Six Toms River North players plus head coach Dave Oizerowitz and his coaching staff will look to lead Ocean County to its third consecutive Gridiron Classic victory when it takes on Monmouth County at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Central Regional High School. After going 11-1 and winning the South Jersey Group V sectional title, the group will get one final game together playing in the 39th edition of New Jersey’s longest running high school football all-star game.
Offensive linemen Luke Butera and Tim Peterson, defensive lineman Da’Shon Copes, linebackers Christian Lynch and Tom Donovan and tight end Anthony Storino comprise Toms River North’s contingent under Oizerowitz, who guided Toms River North to its sixth sectional title and first since 2007 this past fall.
“It’s very exciting because it’s literally our last high school football game,” Copes said.
“Throughout the season we built a brotherhood so to play with these guys in the trenches again is good,” Storino said.
Oizerowitz and his coaching staff led the Mariners on a phenomenal run to a state title in South Jersey Group V, which is annually regarded among the most difficult brackets in New Jersey. The Mariners won their final 10 games of the season and capped off the championship with a 14-7 win over Williamstown in the sectional final. Toms River North also won a share of the Class A South division title.
“I think it’s pretty special,” Oizerowitz said. “I was fitting Donovan for some equipment and I said to him, ‘Not a bad idea to do it one more time, right?’. It was a special season and this is a great way to cap the year off.”
“It’s really special and an awesome opportunity to be coached by our coaches again,” said Butera, who will continue his career at Marist College. “I always wanted one more week with them after states and now I got it. I’m so fortunate to be coached by the them. They’re so good to me and I love them to death.”
Copes was a first-team All-Shore selection by SSN and the Class A South co-Defensive Player of the Year after an outstanding season. An unstoppable force along the Mariners’ defensive line, Copes make 103 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and posted 13 sacks as an interior lineman. Butera was a first-team All-Shore selection on the offensive line as the top lineman on a Mariners’ offense that averaged 33 points per game and produced two 1,000-yard rushers and a 1,000-yard passer. Lynch was an all-Class A South selection after making 53 tackles and two sacks.
Donovan finished with 73 tackles, three sacks and one interception and Storino was a two-way standout who also played linebacker, but missed four games due to injury. He finished with 33 tackles and four sacks. Peterson was another crucial player along the offensive line and was part of a group that went toe-to-toe with several standout defenses in the playoffs and also against some of the best defensive lineman in the Shore Conference during the A South schedule.
“It’s always special to strap it up for that one last go-around, and not many people get to do that,” Butera said.
When Butera, Peterson, Copes, Lynch, Donovan and Storino were sophomores Toms River North suffered through one of its worst seasons in over a decade by going 1-9 during Oizeroitz’s first season. But just two years later those six were key members of a Mariners team that did a complete 180 to thrust themselves back among the Shore Conference’s elite. They walked off the field winners in their final high school game, and now they’ll try to do it again and give Ocean County a third straight win in the Gridiron Classic.
“We made huge strides and I’m so happy with the team and what we were able to accomplish,” Storino said. “We hope to finish strong in this game. Not a lot of people get to say they won their last high school football game. I’m blessed to say I have, and I want to do it again.”
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