The Ocean City High School football team has reason for some cautious optimism this fall.
The Red Raiders, according to coach Kevin Smith, did the hard work in the weight room in the offseason, and have a good attitude.
"We have a good group of seniors," Smith said. "It's the guys' third year with me and the system. I think we'll go as they go. This group is more of a team than in the last few years."
Ocean City was 2-8 in 2011 and 3-7 last fall in Smith's first two years as head coach.
"Without question, the biggest thing we knew we had to do was the weight room," Smith said. "We knew we had to get stronger, and they put in the time. We preached the team concept, that it's not just about themselves."
Historically, Ocean City has usually favored a ball-control offense, and tailback Frank Woolley looks to continue that tradition. Woolley rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season.
"We definitely want to run the ball first," Smith said. "I think we'll be able to throw the ball better too, because Joe Keyes will be in his second year at quarterback. He's playing with more confidence now."
Up front, the Red Raiders have offensive linemen Paul Stanton and Dan Reinhold, and tight ends Doug Shallcross and Christian Baumgardner.
Coaches often put their fastest men on offense, but Ocean City gave up a lot of points last year, and Smith now sees it a different way.
"We changed out philosophy and decided to put some of our quickest kids on defense," Smith said.
O.C. will be led defensively by middle linebacker Kevin Wiesner, defensive tackle Dylan Craver, safety Brian Slate and outside linebacker Owen Dierolf.
"They're four of our most aggressive players," Smith said. "One of the reasons we put more speed on defense is that we didn't run to the ball well enough last year. We'll try to employ a more aggressive scheme with faster players."
The Red Raiders will get a good idea where they stand when they open up at Cedar Creek on Sept. 14. The Pirates romped over Ocean City 47-0 last year at Carey Stadium.
"I certainly think we'll be more competitive this year," Smith said. "We return more starters, though we only have about 40 kids. We'll have to stay healthy. How we handle adversity is a huge key. Another key is the offensive line. If they can continue to grow as a unit we have a chance to be successful."
O.C. moves up to Group IV this year in football, while staying at Group III in other sports.
Contact Guy Gargan:
League: Cape-Atlantic League National
Group: South Jersey Group IV
Coach: Kevin Smith (two seasons, 5-15)
Playoff appearances: 16
Playoff record: 13-12
2013 prediction: Rebuilding - The Red Raiders could improve over the last two seasons if the defense shows containment.
Game to watch: Oct. 18 vs. Middle Township at Carey Stadium. Middle beat Ocean City 41-21 last year.
Key returnees: Christian Baumgardner, Soph., TE/DE, 6-4, 200; Dylan Craver, Sr., TE/DL, 6-1, 225; Owen Dierolf, Jr., WR/LB, 5-11, 165; Joe Keyes, Sr., QB, 6-0, 175; Dan Reinhold, Sr., OL/DL, 6-4, 240; Brian Slate, Sr., WR/DB, 5-10, 150; Doug Shallcross, Jr., TE/DL, 5-10, 225; Paul Stanton, Sr., OL/DL, 6-1, 230; Kevin Wiesner, Sr., OL/LB, 5-10, 210; Frank Woolley, Sr., RB, 5-8, 190; Zac Williams, Jr., QB/LB, 5-11, 175.
Top newcomers: Noah Bromhead, Sr., TE/DL, 6-2, 185; Zac Busam, Jr., OL/DL, 5-11, 220; John Desimone, Sr., LB, 5-10, 200; Dylan Fahy, Jr., WR/DB, 5-8, 130; Josh Nixon, Sr., DL, 6-0, 200; Garret Jones, Soph., WR/DB, 5-9, 145; Owen Naplecic, Soph., RB/DB, 5-10, 175; Evan Nathan, Soph., FB/LB, 5-10, 175.