In the darkest moment of Oceanside’s 2015 football season — the first loss of the season, in the Nassau Conference I championship — coach Rob Blount looked at his roster and saw light.
Seven sophomores made an impact in that 34-23 loss to Farmingdale. He knew they would return in 2016, ready to fill key roles vacated by James Paczkowski and Vinny Guarino and a deep, talented senior class.
First, there’s wide receiver Dylan Judd, who will take over Paczkowski’s job as the primary target on offense. He caught 16 passes for 160 yards and five touchdowns last year.
“[Paczkowski] taught me a lot through the years, just the little details like the big plays happen but you have to finish blocks, pancakes,” said Judd, who also made 34 tackles as a sophomore.
“It’s his turn to be the primetime guy,” Blount said, “and I’m excited for it.”
If Judd is going to become a star receiver for third-seeded Oceanside, first-year starter Tommy Heuer will need time in the pocket.
Heuer, who took a handful of snaps in last year’s county final as a sophomore, couldn’t be walking into a much better situation. Three members of his offensive line -- senior Paul Schell and juniors Vincent Schell and Mike Scibelli -- started all 11 games last year.
“It’s good to have those guys back because it makes you feel a little more relaxed with everyone else leaving,” Blount said.
That line -- which also includes senior Brandon Roth taking over starting center duties -- also will be tasked with opening holes for the backfield of senior Gabe Ruiz (61 rushes, 400 yards, 4 TDs) and junior Derek Cruz, who played running back and wide receiver in last year’s county championship.
And the leg that converted two extra-points and a 23-yard field goal in that championship game is back. Junior Francesco Ancona made 34 of his 40 PATs last season and nailed a 43-yard field goal.
Linebacker Bryan Aguilar, another of the 2015 sophomore seven, will help senior George Potaris lead the defense.
“They’re still young,” Blount said of his junior class, “and now they have to shoulder the big load of doing all the hard work, but it’s good. I know they’re there, but it’s about how they mature and if they can handle it for a full season.”