Nick Caruso (seated) has signed a National Letter of Intent to play football for Merrimack College. Standing from left to right are Tom Caruso Sr., Tom Caruso Jr. and Kathy Caruso. Photo credit: Ocean coach Donny Klein
By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
There were numerous entrants in the Nick Caruso Sweepstakes.
The name of the Ocean Township High School senior football standout was on the lips of numerous schools. There was Bryant. There was Coastal Carolina. There was Holy Cross. There was Marist. There was Sacred Heart. There was Villanova. There was Fordham. There was Long Island University. There was Stonehill. There was Colgate. There was Stony Brook. There was Monmouth.
And there was a Massachusetts school named Merrimack College.
The Warriors won the sweepstakes as Caruso signed a National Letter of Intent to play for the Warriors of the National College Athletic Association Division I Football Championship Subdivision on a full scholarship worth an estimated $72,000 per year.
“I liked the recruiting process a lot,” he said. “It was a rewarding experience as it gave me the chance to see all different programs. The process helped me narrow down my decision. I learned a lot from different coaches and received lots of input and opinion. It definitely was a good time. Busy is one of the only ways I can put it to describe the process. It definitely kept my schedule busy.”
Recruited as a center by the Warriors, Caruso visited several schools before making his decision.
“I would say I visited 10 to 15 schools,” he said. “Prior to the process, I did not realize how many different styles of play there were. When I signed, it was surreal to me. All my life, I watched college programs on television and being able to sign and experience it was surreal to me.”
It didn’t take Caruso long to choose the Warriors.
“When I visited the school, it definitely felt right,” he said. “When their coaches visited me, it made me feel at home. I knew pretty fast that I wanted to go there. They visited me from the middle to the end of my junior year. They came back, saw me play and offered me the scholarship.”
A 6-foot-3, 290-pounder, Caruso will major in Homeland Security and Public Administration. He has bench pressed 350 pounds. He has squatted 475 pounds. He has power cleaned 265 pounds.
“I am definitely able to identify different defensive fronts to lead the offensive line in blocking and morale,” Caruso said. “My biggest strength is my mindset. I offer Merrimack a very strong mindset. When I get started on doing something, I don’t stop until I get better. I give it my all. I love being in the weight room and lifting weights. I want to get better at everything I put my mind to.
“As the center, you have control over the offensive line. There is a lot of responsibility. It’s a leadership position and I enjoy taking over that role. There are a lot of individual fundamentals that I have to learn. I have to get the ball to the quarterback before I start blocking. People don’t see the center until he messes up. It’s an anonymous position. That’s a good way to put it.”
Caruso weighs almost 300 pounds.
“Reaching 300 is a thought of mine,” he said. “If I get there, I get there. Let the college mold my weight for me. They tell me I am sitting pretty good at 290.”
Caruso is confident he will adjust to the collegiate game.
“I have to adjust to the speed of things,” he said. “I am not really worried about it. I am definitely eager to do it. I have to learn more offensive line skills. I have not learned Merrimack’s terminology yet, but I am sure I will pick up on it pretty quick.”
The Warriors have a new head coach in Mike Gennetti, the fifth mentor in the program’s 28-year history. He has been a leader of the program for 19 seasons, recently serving as the defensive coordinator. He takes over for Dan Curran, now Holy Cross’ head coach. Curran guided the Warriors to back-to-back appearances in the Northeast Conference championship game. They fell to Duquesne 26-14 in the 2023 finale. Merrimack was 5-6 overall in 2023.
“Coach Gennetti recruited me and he and coach Curran ran an appealing program,” Caruso said. “I was sorry to see coach Curran leave, but it was not too tough of a decision for me to stay. I know that coach Gennetti will uphold the program really well. The program is in good hands. Coach Gennetti keeps it straight to the point and he is honest. I will mesh with him pretty well. Merrimack has a very competitive environment and I am eager to get after it. Coach Gennetti makes the program feel like a family.”
“We’re excited he will join us,” Gennetti said. “Signing him was a no-brainer for us. We like what he stands for. We like the physicality he showed in high school. He has great feet. He will move people (defenders) at the point of attack. He is a mauling type of offensive lineman–physical and explosive. If he puts on five to 10 pounds and can carry it, that would be fine. We would rather have him strong at 290 than not quite as strong at 300. Nick is rock solid up and down physically, very well put together. He is able to move.”
Gennetti said Caruso is versatile.
“He could probably be a guard, but we’re eyeing him at center,” Gennetti said. “We don’t feel it’s a matter of us bulking him up. We’re focused on getting him to be as strong as he can be. Playing center, you don’t have to weigh 315 pounds to be effective. He will benefit with more time in the weight room. The center is the leader of the offensive line. He’s a guy who is academically gifted. He will be able to make all of the line calls and all of the adjustments.
Gennetti said he enjoys Caruso’s personality.
“He is a very thoughtful guy–down-to-earth,” Gennetti said. “He is an easy guy to talk to. We see eye to eye on a lot of different aspects. He was raised by great people in an environment conducive to success. Nick always got back to me. He was honest and straightforward and the recruiting process was seamless with him.”
Caruso was a four-year starter and the winner of four varsity letters for the Spartans, playing center, guard, defensive tackle and nose guard. He helped the Spartans to the Shore Conference Freedom Division title and an 8-1 overall record as a junior. His blocks helped the offense, led by senior quarterback Tyler Douglas, now a Temple University signal caller, pile up nearly 4,000 yards. Caruso did not allow a single sack.
Caruso finished the 2023 season with 38 pancakes on offense and added seven solo tackles, eight assists, one sack for five yards lost and nine quarterback hurries. He was a two-time all-shore, three-time all-division, three-time coach-fan choice and a one-time all-state Group III selection. He was selected to play in the Under Armour-ESPN camp invitation, the Blue Grey All-American Bowl in Texas, the All-American All-Star Classic in Florida, the NUC All-American Game in Georgia and the O-D All-American Bowl in Florida.
“Playing football at Ocean prepared me for life as my work ethic was pushed to overcome adversity,” he said. “I was taught to never give up and to never back down. It gave me a strong mindset and a determined attitude. My biggest thrill was winning the title. It was a lot of fun. Taking that title was a very memorable time for me. It was a fun year.
“I would like to be remembered as a guy who gave it his all and never gave up. I set the tone for our drills, games and practices.”
Caruso competed in the shot put and discus as a freshman and sophomore during the spring season. An honor student, Caruso earned a varsity letter as a Spartan Scholar. He’s a member of Ocean’s Peer Leadership Group and a volunteer fireman in the Oakhurst Independent Hose Company No. 1 and the Oakhurst EMS, Inc. in which his dad, Tom Caruso Sr., is the chief. Caruso Sr. is the president of the Ocean Football and Cheer Booster Club. Young Caruso has been a first responder for 2 1/2 years.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s an example of a big family. My dad always was a fireman and it was a dream of mine to be in it. I get out the hoses, help with the tools, clean up and pack up stuff. I am too young to go into a burning building. Starting in January, I will attend the Monmouth County Fire Academy. After I complete the course, I will be a full fledged fire fighter and will be allowed to go into burning buildings.”
Caruso began playing football in the sixth grade in the Ocean Township chapter of American Youth Football. He played offensive tackle, guard, center, nose guard and defensive tackle. His team won the title in his final season. He was selected to play in the New Jersey All-Stars American Youth Football Game in Orlando. He was a national All-Star champion.
“Playing AYF introduced me to my love of football,” he said. “It showed me the beauties of the sport and its competitive aspect.”
Merrimack is one of two Catholic Augustinian colleges in the nation. It is located in North Andover, Mass., just north of Boston.