With seven starters back on offense and defense, the Ocean City High School football team finds itself in a much better place this preseason compared to last year.
The Red Raiders won two of their first three games but finished 3-8 last season.
“Anytime you have a young inexperienced group there’s always a void of leadership,” Ocean City coach Kevin Smith said.
“You kind of have to rebuild the culture. We’re just in a different place.
Last year at this time there was a lot more team building. This year we’re focused on what we’re doing on the field. We’re ahead of the game right now.”
One of Ocean City’s newcomers is junior quarterback Walker Bailey, who takes over the offense. “He can run and throw,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what he does.”
One of the top returnees on offense is senior running back Duke Guenther, who rushed for 561 yards last season.
Guenther transferred to Ocean City from Minnesota after his sophomore year. Guenther’s father, Paul, has worked as the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals and the Las Vegas Raiders.
He was an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings two years ago.
Duke was new last year and had to learn the whole system,” Smith said. “He had a really good close to the year.
He has real good speed. He’s quick, smart and coachable. He has the instincts of a kid whose father is a coach. We’re going to lean on him heavily.”
Senior running back/wide receiver Jon Moyer should be one of the Red Raider’s most versatile players.
Moyer caught 27 passes for 369 yards and four TDs last season. Smith said Moyer is a Football Championship Subdivision prospect.
“He’s pretty diverse,” Smith said. “We’ll love him around from the backfield to wide receiver to the slot.”
Ocean City returns four of five starters on the offensive line: Luke Holmes, Clifford Dirkes, Brendan Bergman and Ryan Callahan.
“It’s a huge comfort level for everybody,” Smith said. “You’re able to jump into things a little bit faster. There’s a better sense of security for the quarterback and the running back.”
Senior linebacker Nick Layton made 89 tackles last season and leads the defense. “He’s real fast,” Smith said. “I think he’ll be one of the better linebackers in the league.”
Joe Berardis played alongside Layton at linebacker and made 55 tackles last season. Defensive lineman Justin Gooden made 43 tackles last season.
Tristan Schmidt, who returned an interception for a TD against Pleasantville last Thanksgiving, is a promising sophomore defensive back.
Ocean City plays in the West Jersey Football League's Independence Division with Delsea Regional, St. Joseph Academy, Winslow Township and Cedar Creek. It is one of the WJFL’s top divisions.
Few teams in the state will play as tough a schedule as the Red Raiders will this season. Every Ocean City opponent not only made the postseason in 2022 but also won a playoff game.
The schedule wore on Ocean City last year. The Red Raiders lost three games in which they were tied in the fourth quarter.
“We have to be better late in games,” Smith said. “We had too many guys last year (playing offense and defense). We got worn out at the end of games. We’re trying to do some things to fix that.”