Time to Shine: 2022 Ocean Township High School Football Preview
With an FBS recruit at quarterback headlining a group of 18 returning starters, the time is now for Ocean to dust itself off and get back to contending for championships.
Following an 8-1 season in 2019, Ocean went 3-3 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and then stumbled to a 2-8 record last season. Nearly the entire team returns this season and collectively they are ready to turn the corner.
"Overall, I think just the experience coming back will make a big difference," said senior tight end/defensive end Shane Garrett. "We started a lot of young guys last year and guys who maybe weren't ready for that environment. But now that they've seen it first hand, they're ready."
Garrett and senior quarterback Tyler Douglas have both been on the field playing in varsity games since their freshmen seasons, and they are just two of over a dozen players returning to the fold after seeing time last season. For the first time in a few years, Ocean has a roster that is both talented and experienced, and that has raised the bar for everyone in the program.
"We know what is expected," Douglas said.
If Ocean is to return to the postseason and contend for the Freedom Division title it will take a complete effort, but Douglas is unquestionably their star player and the team's V8 engine. He saw the field as a defensive back and a punter as a freshman and took over as the team's starting quarterback the following season. Since then, he has blossomed into an FBS recruit who is verbally committed to Temple University. Last year, Douglas was an SSN Third Team All-Shore selection for a season in which he threw for 881 yards and nine touchdowns and ran for 815 yards and eight touchdowns. Additionally, he recorded 64 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
"The things he does on the field are all natural and it's unique," Garrett said. "He can help us wins games in a lot of ways."
Also in the backfield are junior returning starter Nick Iacouzzi and senior Caleb Thompson at running back. Senior CJ Flannigan will be entering his third year as a starting receiver and will be joined by sophomore James Sobieski, who also started last season. Flannigan caught 14 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns. The group also gets a boost from Neptune transfer Mateo Andrews, a senior who averaged an eye-opening 25 yards per reception last season with 15 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. Garrett (6-2, 235) is a three-year returning starter at tight end and will be joined by senior Ben Trench.
The offensive line has three returning starters and they occupy the interior of the line. Junior Nick Caruso (6-2, 285) is the center, junior Giancarlo Palazzolo (5-11, 220) is the left guard, and junior Tommy Iacouzzi (6-0, 210) is the right guard. Senior Edwin Garcia-Tellez (5-10, 200) is the left tackle and junior Reuvi Israeli (5-10, 220) is the right tackle.
Ten of 11 starters return on defense as the Spartans will try to improve on the 24.3 points per game they allowed last year. All four linemen return with Trench and senior Jayceon Webster at defensive end and Garrett and Caruso at defensive tackle. Garrett was a Third Team All-Shore selection last year.
The linebackers have junior Ben Girard (79 tackles) at outside linebacker and junior Willie Canavan (69 tackles) at middle linebacker. The other outside linebacker spot is between juniors Stephen Falco and Michael Poniros, the latter of whom is a standout wrestler for the Spartans.
All four members of the secondary are returning starters with Sobieski and Thompson as the corners, Douglas as the strong safety, and Flannigan as the free safety. Douglas had 64 tackles and three interceptions last year, Flannigan had 63 tackles and two interceptions, and Thompson had two interceptions.
Douglas will relinquish the kicking and punting duties this season. Either Poniros or junior Michael Sorrentino will be the kicker and Poniros will be the punter.
Whereas last season Red Bank Catholic was the clear favorite in the division and Manasquan and Raritan made deep playoff runs, respectively, this year's Freedom Division looks to be very competitive with Ocean, Brick, Brick Memorial, Neptune, Red Bank, and Toms River South. With everything the Spartans return this season, there's no reason they can't contend for the top spot.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter, 4RS=4th-year returning starter)
Offense: Multiple Spread
Returning starters: 8
QB: Tyler Douglas, Sr., 3RS
RB: Nick Iacouzzi, Jr., RS; Caleb Thompson, Sr.
WR: CJ Flannigan, Sr., 3RS; Mateo Andrews, Sr., RS (at Neptune); James Sobieski, So., RS
TE: Shane Garrett, Sr., 3RS; Ben Trench, Sr.
LT: Edwin Garcia Tellez, Sr.
LG: Giancarlo Palazzolo, Jr., RS
C: Nick Caruso, Jr., RS
RG: Tom Iacouzzi, Jr., RS
RT: Reuvi Israeli, Jr.
Returning starters: 10
DE: Ben Trench, Sr., RS
DT: Shane Garrett, Sr., 3RS
DT: Nick Caruso, Jr., RS
DE: Jayceon Webster, Sr., RS
OLB: Ben Girard, Jr., RS
MLB: Willie Canavan, Jr., RS
OLB: Stephen Falco, Jr.; Michael Poniros, Jr.
CB: James Sobieski, So., RS
CB: Caleb Thompson, Jr., RS
SS: CJ Flannigan, Sr., 3RS
FS: Tyler Douglas, Sr., 4RS
K: Michael Poniros, Jr. or Michael Sorrentino, Jr.
P: Michael Poniros, Jr.
Head coach: Don Klein, 16th season
Career record: 81-68-1
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: RJ Read (Offensive Coordinator): Phil Greene (Defensive Coordinator); Rich Read (OL); Dean Athans (Freshman/WR); Jason Wombaugh (OL); Jim Simonelli (Special Teams Coordinator/DB); Cornell Key (Strength & Conditioning); Kaitlin Zimmerman (Athletic Trainer).
Player to Watch: Tyler Douglas, Sr., QB/SS
A four-year varsity player who is committed to Temple University, Douglas was a Third Team All-Shore selection last season when he threw for 881 yards and nine touchdowns, rushed for 815 yards and eight touchdowns, and made 64 tackles with three interceptions on defense.
Player to Watch, Part 2: Shane Garrett, Sr., TE/DT
Like Douglas, Garrett has been on the varsity level since he was a freshman. He is a smart, sturdy player who brings talent, experience, and leadership to both sides of the ball. Garrett was a Third Team All-Shore pick last season
Impact Newcomer: Mateo Andrews, Sr., WR
Andrews is a transfer from Neptune where he caught 15 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns last season. He gives quarterback Tyler Douglas a big-play threat down the field.
Rivalry Game: Sept. 9 at Neptune
The Spartans and Scarlet Fliers are proximity rivals who clashed for many years in the Class B North division. This will be an important Week 2 game with both teams trying to get off to a fast start with the hopes of rebounding from tough seasons.
Sept. 1 - vs. Holmdel, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 - @Neptune, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 - vs. Brick Memorial, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 - @Toms River South, 6 p.m.
Sept. 30 - @Raritan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 - @Brick, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 - vs. Middletown North, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 - vs. Red Bank, 7 p.m.