By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
Nasir Thompson was a Classic football player for the Ocean Township High School Spartans during his senior season.
He rarely came off the field. And he impressed enough coaches to earn a berth in the 43rd annual Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic, cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It really hurts to be selected for it and not be able to play as my brother (Tyler, who starred for Ocean at running back before graduating in 2016) played in it,” Thompson said. “I was selected to play in the game and it felt good. I wanted to keep the family tradition going. It’s really sad that we could not play the game this year.”
Thompson played running back, middle linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle, helping the Spartans to an 8-1 overall record and the Shore Conference Patriot Division title at 5-0.
“Coaches saw a physical player who impacted the game on both sides of the ball,” Ocean coach Don Klein said. “At running back and linebacker, he was one of the best players in Monmouth County. He was a physical player on offense and defense.”
The 5-foot-11 Thompson, who played three varsity seasons for Ocean, felt the most comfortable at running back.
“It’s my favorite position,” he said. “I like running the ball. I feel nobody can touch or tackle me.”
“Running back was probably Nasir’s best position,” Klein said. “He’s powerful. He has good vision. He has good feet in the hole. When he got to the second level of the defense, he had good feet. He had good balance and good strength. He would have started for 95 percent of the other teams in the Shore Conference, but he came into a season where Trebor Pena (who will play for Syracuse University) was our starting tailback. Nasir had a good offensive year, but his touches (of the ball) were limited because of what Pena was doing.”
Thompson played on one of the best teams in the Shore Conference. The Spartans were 8-0 against Shore Conference opponents. They were 4-1 at home. And they outscored their opposition 317-97 on the season.
Thompson credited three members of the Spartans’ coaching staff–Klein, strength and conditioning coach Cornell Key and assistant coach Jim Simonelli–for the club’s success.
“We all came back to the season healthy with a good mentality,” Thompson said. “Everyone was physically fit. All we talked about was having a perfect season. Coach Key worked on our minds and bodies year round. He pushed our bodies to the limit. We thanked him for that every single day.”
Thompson said Simonelli guided the linebackers.
“When we did not understand something, he broke it down for us,” Thompson said. “We loved coach Sim dearly. We loved his personality. He worked with us for hours. He was a lovable coach and person. If you needed a ride home, he was always there.”
Thompson said Klein excelled at motivating the team.
“Coach Klein always got you pumped up,” Thompson said. “He got our minds right. He’d say, ‘Don’t stop. Keep pushing.’ ”
The Spartans had strong team chemistry.
“We would not have had the season we had if we were not together as one,” Thompson said. “We all knew what we had to do. We were a family. If one person messed up, we all messed up. We bonded like a family. When you have that trust in your teammates, the sky is the limit.”
For several weeks, Ocean was faced with the possibility of staging a virtual graduation ceremony because of the pandemic. However, it will have a traditional ceremony in July. “I didn’t care if it was a virtual ceremony or a traditional ceremony,” Thompson said. “I want to get my life started. I am cool with it either way.”
Thompson had yet to choose his college at this writing. Possible destinations, according to Klein, were NCAA Division III schools Delaware Valley, Montclair State, Kean and William Paterson.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Delaware Valley was Nasir’s choice,” Thompson said. “Schools are recruiting him at running back.”
The 190-pound Thompson said his name is also on the lips of the Jireh Preparatory Academy in Matthews, N.C.
“I have great balance at running back,” he said. “In college, most teams like speed, but I run north to south and downhill. Coaches like my speed, strength and vision, the way I see the field.”
Possible courses of study are either business or forensic science.
“I would go to Jireh for either a year or two and then play either Division I or Division II ball,” Thompson said. “I want to make it to the big leagues soon.”
Klein enjoyed coaching Thompson.
“He was fun to be around,” Klein said. “He was easy going and funny. He was well-liked by his teammates. You won’t find too many people who will say a negative thing about Nasir Thompson. He has grown a lot as a player and as a person. He started to take his academic and work on the field more seriously. He carved his own identity for the program. His family has a lot of athletic ability. Nasir matured. He was a selfless teammate. He did what we asked him to do.
“Our senior class was very typical of other senior classes we have had as the boys on this year’s team grew up playing together. There was a special chemistry among our seniors and Nasir was instrumental in developing the chemistry of our senior class.”