By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
Here come the colleges.
Ocean Township High School senior running back Tyler Thompson finds his name on the lips of numerous schools.
They include West Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State.
“They are the main ones,” said Don Klein, the Spartans’ ninth-year coach. “He has had more than 20 scholarship offers.”
It’s easy to see why.
Thompson has rushed for 3,294 yards and 31 touchdowns on 571 career carries. He has caught 28 passes for 267 yards and two career touchdowns. Last year, he blazed 90 yards with a punt return for a touchdown against an 8-3 Neptune team. He has sprinted for two career touchdowns on kickoffs. The speedster last season raced for 808 yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries. His year was cut short by a broken right leg suffered against Red Bank Catholic in the seventh game of the season.
There appear to be no ill effects from the injury. In a scrimmage against Toms River East, Thompson scored on bursts of one and 10 yards and added runs of 33 and 25 yards.
“He has looked great in the scrimmages,” Klein said. “The leg is great. He is 100 percent healthy. His running style is exactly the same as it was before the injury. He runs very smoothly and makes sharp cuts. He does a good job of setting up defenders and following his blocks. ”
Thompson hoped to rush for 1,000 yards for a third straight year last season. Thompson, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman, was the second player in Shore Conference history to accomplish that feat. Knowshon Moreno, the former Middletown South and University of Georgia standout now playing for the Miami Dolphins, was the first freshman to break the barrier.
“At the age of 14, Tyler took the Shore Conference by storm,” Klein said. “Temple offered him a full ride as a freshman. We did a pretty good job of easing him into the role he played as a freshman. He has top notch physical ability and a lot of God-given ability. We realized right away he would be able to handle it as a freshman as we made the playoffs. He had talent around him. It was evident right away that he belonged at the varsity level.”
Thompson will also play free safety and catch passes. He hauled in 16 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown last year.
“There is nothing he can’t do,” Klein said. “He’s widely regarded as one of the top backs in the state. We want to include him more in the passing game as he is such a good receiver. He has great ball hawking skills and I expect him to be one of the top defensive players around. There is nobody in the state I would rather have. If you put him up against anyone in the state in any type of drawing, he would be the one people would want.”
Thompson, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder, also wrestles for the Spartans.
“Wrestling helps Tyler with his balance,” Klein said. “He understands leverage while providing pass protection. His lower body development transfers well for him to the football field. He’s physical and competitive. That is what he is all about.”
The starting quarterback will be Kenny Pickett. The junior was ninth in the Shore Conference in passing yards with 1,438. He completed 116 of 201 passes for 14 touchdowns.
Pickett is another Spartan whose name is on the list of major colleges.
“He has received a scholarship offer from Temple,” Klein said. “He has also drawn interest from North Carolina, Virginia, Old Dominion, Pittsburgh and Rutgers. He is a complete quarterback who can do everything. He’s a very, very accurate passer with a quick release. He has all of the attributes you want as he manages the game and leads by example. We are very fortunate to have him.”
Pickett has matured physically. He played at 5-foot-10, 163 pounds as a sophomore. These days, Klein lists the standout at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds.
“He has greater arm strength than he did last year,” Klein said. “He has always had a great skills set. Now, he is a bigger, stronger and more mature athlete. He has improved his mechanics. A couple of the top publications regard him as the top 2017 quarterback in New Jersey.”
Pickett’s favorite target figures to be junior wide receiver Joey Aldarelli, who caught 35 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns last year.
“He had a great offseason,” Klein said. “He really worked hard on his speed and explosiveness. We expect him to have a really strong year. We feel pretty strongly that he should be a recruitable player by colleges.”
Another big play threat is senior Ruquan Dean, who filled in for the injured Thompson in the offensive backfield. Dean will play running back and slot receiver in the spread offense.
“He has tremendous athleticism,” Klein said. “There is big play potential each time he touches the ball. We’re getting his film out to the colleges and we anticipate him having a strong start to the season.”
Klein also expects production from senior wide receiver-safety Greyson Stoothoff.
“He has looked good at wide receiver,” Klein said. “He will also start at strong safety. He is an intelligent player. He is shifty, runs good routes and catches the ball well.”
Junior tackle Chris Vivian keys the offensive line where he is a returning starter from last year’s 5-6 team. He’ll also play defensive end.
“He had a great offseason,” Klein said. “He’s strong and physical and his technique has improved. We like the way he goes about his business. He has a serious demeanor on the field. He is smart. He understands the blocking concepts. We are excited about where he is in his development.”
Klein said the Spartans will be difficult to defend.
“We have the opportunity to be very diversified in our attack,” he said. “I feel we have some special skill players with a lot of ability and experience. We have kids with good skill sets and good experience.”
Other key players in the trenches are junior guard Anthony Tedesco, sophomore center Anthony Worthington, senior guard-defensive tackle Brian Olesen, offensive tackle-linebacker T.J. Saldutti, senior tackle Carver Martinez, junior guard Lance Zaragoza and junior defensive tackle Anthony Mazza.
“Worthington has done a real good job of improving each day,” Klein said. “He is physical and has good leverage. He grew up playing a lot of football so he has some experience.”
Olesen is also a heavyweight wrestler.
“He is a big, powerful kid,” Klein said. “Wrestling has him understanding leverage and he does a good job of getting his body into position.”
Klein hopes for another solid season from Saldutti, who was sixth in the Shore Conference in tackles last year with 125.
“Saldutti is our best defensive player and he returns at linebacker,” Klein said. “He is a very good tackler. He started at times on the offensive line. He is a tough kid with very good feet.”
Saldutti in the middle and seniors Tyler Rossback on the outside and Erik Rant return at linebacker.
“Saldutti is very physical,” Klein said. ” All three are bright and smart and complement each other’s skill sets very well. Tyler plays with great technique and is fast with his reads. Erik runs very well from sideline to sideline and is probably the best athlete among the three as he makes a lot of plays. I really like our linebacking unit with those three gentlemen. I like their toughness and smarts. They will be good tone setters for our defense.”
The Spartans hope to slow opponents with a multiple 40 defense.
“So far,” Klein said, “we run very well on defense and we are physical.”
Pickett, who averaged 33 yards per boot last year, is the punter. Senior Matt Fisher, a three-year starter, owns range from 45 yards and will handle the kickoffs, field goals and extra points.
Klein takes a 48-35-1 record at Ocean into this season. His teams have won two division titles and have made it to the sectional semifinals four times. The Spartans are five-time playoff qualifiers. Last year’s team lost 23-20 to eventual champion Matawan in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinals in overtime
With talent and intelligence all over the field, this could be the year Ocean goes over the top.
“That is what we’re hoping for,” said Klein, who has led Ocean to five winning seasons. “I tell our kids, ‘We’ve gotta get past those semifinals. We’re been fortunate to play 11 games four times in eight years. Now, it is time for us to play in that 12th game.”
The Spartans’ motto is It’s All In. Perhaps, Klein said, it came from defensive coordinator Marc Tomo. Ocean wears the slogan on the back of its T-shirts.
“He’s been saying it through the offseason,” Klein said. “The motto means we are a unit. As a program, we are unified in all three aspects of the game–offense, defense and special teams. It’s very easy to focus on things outside of winning games, but when we are together, the focus is on improving and getting better. We are dedicated to doing the things we need to do to win championships. That is what we mean by the motto.”
Assistant coaches: Fred Stengel (offensive coordinator, offensive line); Marc Tomo (defensive coordinator); Pat O’Neil (quarterbacks, defensive backs); Mike Salum (wide receivers, defensive line); Jim Simonelli (linebackers); Brian Kmak (running backs, defensive line); Mike Lambusta (offensive line); Cip Apicelli (quality control); John Bosmans (freshmen); Hank Limardo (freshmen).
Schedule: at Neptune, Sept, 11, 7 p.m.; Wall Township, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.; Manasquan, Oct. 2, 7 p.m.; at Middletown North, Oct. 9, 7 p.m.; Long Branch, Oct. 16, 7 p.m.; Oct. 30, at Red Bank Catholic, 7 p.m.; at Colts Neck, Nov. 11, time to be announced; at Monmouth Regional, Nov. 26, 10:30 a.m.
Roster: 1. Joey Aldarelli, junior, wide receiver-defensive back, 6-2, 200; 2. Kenny Pickett, junior, quarterback-defensive back, 6-2, 190; 3. Ruquan Dean, senior, running back-defensive back, 5-8, 165; 5. Tyler Rossback, senior, running back-linebacker, 5-10, 185; 8. Tyler Thompson, senior, running back-defensive back, 6-1, 195; 9. Jeff Andre, senior, wide receiver-defensive back, 5-9., 150, 10. Quadratullah Qadiri, senior, wide receiver-tight end-linebacker, 6-2, 190; 14. Greyson Stoothoff, senior, wide receiver-defensive back, 5-9, 165; 22. Kevin Brandow, junior, wide receiver-defensive back, 5-8, 145; 23. Matt Fisher, senior, wide receiver-defensive back-kicker, 5-7, 145; 28. Billy Levy, freshman, running back-linebacker, 6-0, 175; 36. Eric Rant, senior, fullback-linebacker, 6-0, 175; 51. Carver Martinez, senior, offensive lineman-defensive lineman, 5-10, 185; 52. T.J. Saldutti, senior, offensive line-linebacker, 6-0, 195; 53. Chris Vivian, junior, offensive line-defensive line, 6-1, 220; 54. Anhthony Tedesco, junior, offensive line-defensive line, 6-0, 225; 55. Andrew Worthington, sophomore, center-defensive line, 5-10, 200. 57. Anthony Mazza, junior, offensive line-defensive line, 5-10, 230; 58. Jared Weisberg, junior, offensive line-linebacker, 5-9, 180; 62. Esteban Bernard, junior, offensive line-defensive line, 5-11, 190; 66. Keith Stedman, junior, offensive line-defensive line, 5-10, 275; 69. William Pintro, junior, offensive line-defensive line, 5-8, 240; 72. Brian Olesen, senior, offensive line-defensive line, 6-1, 265; 75. Lance Zaragoza, junior, offensive line-defensive line, 5-11, 265; 77. Dan Nagy, junior, offensive line-defensive line, 5-10, 325; 80. Mohammad Kakari, junior, wide receiver-defensive back, 5-10, 160