Ocean has been treading water for the last few years, hovering at or below .500 since it made a run to the 2015 Central Jersey Group 3 semifinals behind current University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett. Injuries, ineffectiveness and a difficult schedule have combined to keep the Spartans from contending for championships.

Ocean has every reason to believe the 2019 season will be different, however. The Spartans bring back several starters and have experienced players up and down the lineup. All that’s left to do is to execute on Friday nights.

In their spread offense, the Spartans return six starters, including one of the Shore Conference’s top playmakers in senior Trebor Pena. The Temple University recruit has been a weapon at wide receiver, running back, defensive back and on special teams, and gives Ocean a player opposing teams have to account for on every snap. Senior quarterback Robbie Nungesser is set to begin his third year as the starter and hopes to finally put together a complete season. Seniors Mike Gavakis and Tye Brookins return as starting wide receivers and seniors Ray Nguyen and Brian Fisher anchor the offensive line.

With all seven of its returning defensive starters being from the defensive line and secondary, Ocean is hoping to control the trenches and put the clamps down on opposing aerial attacks. Seniors I-Shyne Woodward and Brian Fisher and juniors Joe Teresi and Alex Gavakis all return as starters up front. The secondary features Mike Gavakis and Pena at the safety spots and senior Tyrell Wigfell as a returning starter at cornerback. Brookins will be the other cornerback, giving the Spartans an active and athletic defensive backfield.

The new-look Patriot Division should be competitive from top to bottom but it does offer Ocean a bit of a break with juggernauts Red Bank Catholic and Long Branch no longer on the schedule. The Spartans’ new divisional opponents are Barnegat, Point Boro, Raritan, Shore Regional and familiar foe Monmouth Regional. Ocean’s nondivisional opponents are Neptune, Manchester, and Marlboro.

Ocean's Trebor Pena (2), Robbie Nungesser (4), Brian Fisher (55) and Mike Gavakis (1).
Photo by Paula Lopez/palimages.com

 

Player to Watch: Trebor Pena, Sr., RB/FS

Pena totaled 916 yards and 10 touchdowns on 8.6 yards per touch as both the Spartans’ leading rusher and receiver last season. His recruiting gained momentum following the season and he picked up an offer from Temple and soon after offered a verbal commitment. Pena ran for 488 yards and six touchdowns on an average of 6.3 yards per carry, caught 29 passes for 428 yards and three touchdowns and also had a kickoff return for a touchdown. He added one interception on defense and also kicked five extra points.

“He’s very versatile,” said Ocean head coach Don Klein. “Some schools wanted to recruit him as a tailback, some at slot, some liked him on defense. Number one, he’s a great kid. Number two, he’s a phenomenal athlete and number three, his work this offseason was really good. When you have a player like Treb he’s so versatile that he’s just as effective running an inside zone or a bubble screen or a vertical route on the outside. He’s a security blanket for a quarterback because they know they can get him the ball in space and he’ll be productive.”

“If he’s not the No. 1 playmaker in the Shore he’s in the conversation.”

 

Player Under the Radar: Tye Brookins, Sr., WR/CB 

Brookings played last season but did not deliver in the manner Ocean was hoping for. This year, it’s like he’s a completely different person. Brookins’ change in approach has him starting on both sides of the ball at wide receiver and cornerback and is a player Klein sees having a breakout year.

“He is hands down the most improved kid in the program, he has improved 150 times over,” Klein said. “Last year he didn’t have a sense of urgency. The mindset and confidence weren’t there. He put on 20 pounds in the offseason, rank track in the spring and committed himself to being a team guy and leading by example. He has a ton of athletic potential.”

 

Top Unit: Secondary

Three of four starters return in Ocean’s defensive backfield and will be joined by Brookins to form a unit that should be effective against both the pass and in defending the run game. Brookins and Wigfell are the cornerbacks and Gavakis and Pena are the safeties. 

“We have guys who have experience and are physical and will cover well,” Klein said. “They’ve been doing a really good job of staring to be vocal and taking charge of the defense.”

 

Ocean will be successful if…

…It can stay healthy and play to its potential. Ocean lost several man-games to injury last season, including Nungesser for half the season. On paper, the Spartans look like a team that can make a significant jump in the win column, but that can’t happen if its top players are hurt or if the roster is spread thin. Pena is at the top of that list because of what he means to the offense, but the notion applies to the entire team.

 

Untapped Potential

Nungesser had massive shoes to fill when he took over as Ocean’s starting quarterback as a sophomore, replacing one of the program’s all-time greats in Kenny Pickett. Nungesser’s development was hampered during that 2017 season when an injury forced him to miss five games.  It happened again last season when he was injured in the first quarter of the first game of the year. He has never been able to truly get into a groove.

First on his list of things to do was get his body in order to able to withstand the rigors of the season. He continued his offseason work with quarterback guru Tony Racioppi, as well, and has seen improvements in arm strength and accuracy.

“He had some work to do to make sure his durability is where it needs to be,” Klein said. “No. 1 was getting his body right and he is a kid who really committed to our offseason program. He’s cleaned up his mechanics, has a powerful arm and has done a really good job developing his footwork in the pocket. He’s also a good enough athlete to hurt you with his feet.”

 

Coaching Additions

Ocean has a pair of notable coaching additions this season with John Denuto as the new defensive coordinator and Cornell Key as the school’s strength and conditioning coordinator who will also coach running backs and the defense line. Key was recently the strength and conditioning coordinator at Monmouth University. Denuto is a veteran defensive coach who last season was the defensive coordinator at the Peddie School in Hightstown. He has also coached at Seton Hall Prep, Sayreville, Middletown North and Monroe.

 

At a Glance

Head coach: Don Klein, 13th season

Career record: 68-56-1

2018 record: 4-6 (2-3 in Freedom Division)

Assistant coaches: R.J. Read (off. coord./QB/DB), John Denuto (def. coord./LB/WR), Rich Read (OL/DL), Sam Kiningahm (OL/DL), Cornell Key (RB/DL), Jim Simonelli (RB/DB), Phil Greene (WR/DB), Dean Athans (freshmen), Jimmy Nottingham (freshmen), Kaitlin Zimmerman (athletic trainer).

Offense: Spread

Defense: Multiple 40

 

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Ruan Faria, Sr., LB 

Ocean’s linebacking corps will feature three new starters, including Faria at inside linebacker. He’ll step into a spot that was occupied by Ryan Moran last season. Moran had a team-high 98 tackles, including a school-record 25 in one game, plus 7.5 tackles for loss and one interception and was an All-Shore selection.

 

X-FACTOR: Robbie Nungesser, Sr., QB

If Nungesser is healthy and a consistent playmaker from the quarterback position it will give Ocean’s offense a major boost. The Spartans are counting on him staying on the field and meeting expectations.

 

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Tyler Douglas, Fr., K/P 

Douglas will be both the kicker and punter for the Spartans as a freshman and will hopefully give them stability on special teams for the next four years.

 

PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 4 at Shore Regional 

The Blue Devils are a strong program that is used to competing for championships, and even though they are usually a Group 1 team, they have proven they can win games against bigger schools. There’s a strong possibility this could be the game that decides the Patriot Division championship.

 

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

 

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