After one week of the 2022 season, the Toms River South football program was riding high off a season-opening victory over archrival Toms River East. First-year head coach Matt Martin and his team would have been fine with that win being the highlight of the Indians season and it indeed was.

Unfortunately, it was also Toms River South’s only win of the season.

Martin’s first year as head coach got off to a strong start and his team spent the remainder of the season trying to recapture that Week 1 magic and could not quite replicate it. In year two under Martin, the Indians are hoping to follow up a one-hit wonder season with an album full of hits.

Toms River South returns the core of its passing game, led by senior quarterback James Alexander coming off a 500-plus yard season and five touchdowns. He’ll throw to three returning starting receivers in junior Dan Pierson and seniors Jordan Jones and Cooper Greitz. Pierson was the top receiver on the team in 2022 with 349 yards on 19 receptions and a touchdown, while junior Ian Brown will be an additional option in the passing game as the tight end.

Juniors Jake Henehan and Damir Nelson are in the running for carries out of the backfield, with senior Justin Coston also in the mix. They will be running behind an offensive line that brings back two starters while replacing two graduates and junior standout Donovan Wilkinson, who transferred to Cinnaminson. Senior Ethan Whittaker and junior Gunnar Schwartz return at the two guard positions, with junior Riley Brinster and Joe Bachetta battling for center. Juniors Nick Mueller and Joel Soto are slated to play tackle, giving the Indians four junior linemen around whom to build.

Schwartz and Whittaker will both figure into the defensive line rotation as well, while 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior Jarrod Johnson returns after a solid performance as a starter in 2022. Juniors Michael Hock and Kahlib Vigo will also be figure prominently into the defensive line as well, with Vigo profiling as a noseguard.

Toms River South’s linebackers will be a team strength, led by Alexander, junior Phil Bentivegna and junior Laolu Akinlolu – all returning starters. Bentivegna – who is also the team’s kicker – was second on the team in tackles last season with 52 tackles and Akinlolu is entering his third season as a starter. Senior Justin Coston and junior Anthony Maenar are two other names to watch among the linebacker group.

Pierson and Greitz are returning starters in the secondary, which also returns experienced senior Mason Pyle and two juniors Henehan and Nelson who racked up experience as sophomores. Jones and fellow senior Yaniel Vazquez will also figure into the secondary mix, which should complement the receiving corps well enough that any players who will be playing both ways will be doing so as an advantage rather than out of necessity.

The Indians also have a cluster of sophomores that could push into roles at various spots, particularly at receiver with Sonny Huegel and Kam Angus. Jaden Geremia is pushing for time at linebacker, while Tony Vega has impressed on the defensive line while emerging as a potential backup quarterback behind Alexander.

Toms River South’s season will come down to gelling on the offensive line with three new starters in order to give a group of skill players with considerable experience a chance to make plays. The Indians seemed prime for big things after last year’s Week 1 win. This season will be more about building on each week and finishing strong, although for now, winning on Friday remains objective No. 1.

(L to R): Gunnar Schwartz, Damir Nelson, James Alxander, Laolu Akinlolu, Jordan Jones & Jack Henehan (Photo: Steve Meyer)
(L to R): Gunnar Schwartz, Damir Nelson, James Alxander, Laolu Akinlolu, Jordan Jones and Jack Henehan (Photo: Steve Meyer)

Toms River South at a Glance

Head Coach: Matt Martin, second season

Career Record: 1-9

2022 Record: 1-9

Coaching Staff: Vin Armenio (Def. Coordinator/LB), Tom Malek (CB), Darrius Hart (Safeties), Bill McDonald (DL), Bill Rankin (Special Teams/QB), Rich Stratton (OL), Kyle Austin (OL), Joe Kelly (RB), Jim Dempsey (Freshman), Dan Chrashewsky (Athletic Trainer)

Offense: Multiple

Defense: 3-4

Circle the Calendar: Friday, Sept. 15 at Toms River East

After Toms River South picked off the Raiders in Week 1 of last year, 22-14, Toms River East will be out for revenge in the rivalry game during Week 3 of this season. East went on to win three more games that season, so there is momentum on the side of the Raiders heading into the season, while the Indians hope to get their first win of the season in the books before heading over to the East side of town on the third Friday of September.

Big Shoes to Fill: Jake Henehan and Damir Nelson, Jr., Running Backs

Devon Bond was Toms River South’s top weapon in 2022, when the 2023 graduate rushed for 749 yards on just 97 carries (7.7 yards per carry) to go with eight rushing touchdowns. With Bond gone, Henehan and Nelson are next up to pick up the running game and vie for the distinction of feature back in an Indians offense that should boast its fair share of weapons in the passing game.

X-Factor: Offensive Tackles

With the transfer of junior Donovan Wilkinson to Cinnaminson, Toms River South now faces the difficult task of replacing two starting tackles rather than only one. With Whittaker and Schwartz back at the guard spots, the Indians will have some experience on the interior, so the play of Joel Soto and Nick Mueller on the ends will be crucial. If Toms River South needs a shake-up at any point, sophomores Anthony West and Nick Marrano are also waiting in the wings.

Glue Guy: Ethan Whittaker, Sr., OL/DL

At 5-7, 180 pounds, nothing about Whittaker’s stature suggests he is an offensive or defensive lineman, much less both. Nevertheless, the senior has earned a reputation as a player who plays larger than he is and his leadership on the line will be crucial in the early going for a Toms River South offense that will be capable of putting points on the board in Alexander has time to find his receivers and the new running-back tandem has some space in which to operate.

2023 Schedule

Friday, Sept. 1 vs. Holmdel, 6 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 8 at Monmouth, 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 15 at Toms River East, 6 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 22 vs. Neptune, 6 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 29 at Jackson Liberty, 6 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 6 vs. Pinelands, 6 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 13 at Toms River North, 6 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 20 vs. Central, 6 p.m.

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