All successful teams have one thing in common: strong leaders who can keep everyone focused through the good times and the bad.
For the Ocean City High Red Raiders, currently 8-2 and a finalist in the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs his weekend, that is certainly the case. And while Coach Kevin Smith and his dedicated assistants have done a great job in this regard, the on-field leadership must come from the players themselves.
That is where the three captains of the Raiders come in. The 2019 edition of the Raiders has absolutely benefited from such leadership.
Senior captains Chris Armstrong and Brian Beckmann and Jake Inserra, a junior, have set the tone for the successful season that the Raiders have enjoyed thus far. They are also a huge reason O.C. the seventh-seed in the tournament, will be lining up for the championship this Friday night at two-time defending champs and top-seeded Shawnee.
“Being named a captain is something that I have really embraced” stated Armstrong. “I felt as a team we really bonded during our time in the weight room during the offseason. That bond has been something that has really carried us through the year.”
Having gone through a playoff drought for 18 years, Ocean City now sits in the position for a shot at the NJSIAA Group 4 crown with two playoff wins under their belts already this season.
They beat archrival Mainland 21-14 on November 11 in a first round game which not only avenged a loss to the second-seeded Mustangs in a regular season game the week before, but earned a date at Long Branch in the semi-finals.
Long Branch, the two-time Central Jersey champs in Group 4, were moved to the South section for this year’s tourney due to a new state seedings policy. That forced the Raiders and their fans to endure a 90-mile drive for last Friday’s game in Monmouth County.
All the Raiders did was storm back from a 20-14 halftime deficit for a tense 21-20 win over the sixth-seeded Green Wave to punch their ticket into the finals for the first time in 19 years.
There is no denying the physicality required on the football field. Ocean City has met those physical challenges and has also done a good job all year of addressing the game’s emotional and mental sides.
“The coaches have instilled the ‘next play’ mentality in us all season and that sort of thinking has really paid off” said Inserra. The idea is to put the previous plays – good or bad – behind them and to focus on the next play. By embracing this philosophy, O.C. was able to endure tough times and in most cases to ultimately prevail.
For Inserra, that has meant not only the challenges in-game on the field, but also coming off nagging injuries.
Having played through some injuries all year, Inserra was quick to credit Kathy Moran, the school’s athletic trainer, for all her help keeping him able to stay on the field. “She’s the absolute best at her job and genuinely cares for everyone out there,” Jake said.
At the start of the year, Brian Beckmann dedicated the season to his Pop-Pop, who passed away when he Brian was younger. His grandfather’s initials are featured on Brian’s wrist tape every game and it’s been the inspiration that has helped guide him through the season.
“Do your job and finish plays,” Brian said. “The coaches have stressed that to us all year. The JV players, the varsity players, all of us working together is what has help us succeed”
“All of the Captains are different type of leaders” stated Head Coach Smith “Chris is loud and fiery, Jake is a warrior that the team follows his lead and Brian is quieter and leads by example. The practice habits that all three of them have and the example that they set, is what has helped get us this far..”
While Seniors, Beckmann and Armstrong, have plans to play football at the college level next year, their focus is currently exclusively on Friday night’s game. Anyone who has seen this team play this season, has commended them for how well they play together as a team. At any given time, different players have stepped up and made big plays.
Bill Gates once said “Leaders are those who empower others” and clearly that sort of leadership has paid dividends for this football team.