By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Mike Forest was a standout player at Oakcrest High School back in his day, and the second-year coach wants to bring the Falcons’ football program back to prominence. That’s why he’s so active on social media, constantly promoting his players and finishing off each tweet with the phrase “O’s Up!” He wants to lift up the young men he coaches, not only to become better football players, but also better young men and future leaders of the community.
The Falcons have some great looking new uniforms and are not shy about putting out hype videos for the upcoming 2022 season. They surely are going to look good, now the challenge is to go out and play well to wipe away a 3-7 record from a year ago that featured five straight losses after a 2-0 start. To that end, coach Forest implemented “Mental Toughness Mondays” this summer where he and his staff tried to teach their players that physical ability is not enough to produce winning seasons on a consistent basis.
“The vibe has been good. It was great being in the building and having a full offseason with my guys, implementing what I wanted to do. It’s been great. The culture that I wanted to set is now set, and now we just have to go out and make statements that will prove who we are and what we can do,” Forest said. “Not beating ourselves (will be big). Last year, we had opportunities but we just didn’t that have ‘dog’ in us. That’s something we’ve been working on. I’ve been doing a lot of mental toughness classes this summer. We did mental toughness every Monday and just being leaders. Our senior class last year had a meeting with me and they said, ‘coach, we need to know how to lead. We need to learn how to be leaders.’ So, I took that into consideration and made sure that we talk about leadership. We’ve had sessions on that and what it takes.”
“Those are great. It helps bring out who you are in front of your teammates,” senior defensive lineman Zahir Davis said of the classes.
Added star senior wide receiver Aldrich Doe, “I’ve learned that listening and hearing are definitely two different things. We’ve learned a lot, and coach Forest has done a great job teaching us how to be leaders. And it’s not just one leader on this team — everybody can be a leader.”
BIG AND PHYSICAL: There’s plenty of optimism in Mays Landing these days, and for good reason. As usual, the Falcons have some serious athletes on their roster. Quarterback Marcus Lee, a junior, is 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds and can throw and run. Doe is a beast of a receiver at 6-3, 180 pounds, and Asad Hunt (5-11, 186 pounds) is a big back, as is Lawrence Bennett. Davis goes 6-1, 225 and senior guard Terrence Moore is 6-foot, 240 pounds.
“Physically, these guys are athletic enough to battle with anybody. But, mentally, we have to be there. That was our main focus — mental toughness — all offseason,” Forest said. “We definitely had to introduce them to that. They need to understand that you can have all the athletic ability in the world, but if you’re not mentally tough and mentally prepared for this game, you won’t be playing for too long. If you can put the physical aspects together with being mentally tough, you have something special. Once they started understanding that, they got a grasp of it and I’m excited to see if they can go out and do what they are capable of.
“Our defense has adopted a savage mentality. I really think our defensive line and our defense in general will set the tone for us.”
“Our defensive coordinator has been putting some things together and he gets real freaky with the plays. Overall, on the defense, I think we’re going to be great. This is a statement year for us,” Davis said. “The energy these coaches are bringing to this team — this offseason was like none other that I’ve had in high school. I’m loving it.”
TOUGH TESTS EARLY: Oakcrest starts out the season with four straight road games, including the season opener on Friday night at Vineland, a big Group 5 school with a ton of players, and another tough test looms Sept. 9 at Mainland.
“We’re going to see right out of the box who can do what. Our quarterback is blessed in that he has a lot of toys to play with. As long as we do what we’re supposed to do there shouldn’t be too much pressure on him because we have guys around him who can make things happen. We just have to do our jobs, that’s it. If we do what we’re supposed to do and what we’re coached to do, we’ll be alright,” Forest said. “Everything counts now. It’s business trips from here on out. Everything we’ve done in scrimmages, the mistakes we’ve made, you can correct those and try to go out and get better. But now, if we go out and make those same mistakes, we can be 0-1 or 0-2. Last year, we started out 2-0 but then lost five straight. So we’re not going to be all excited to go out there and get our first win; we have to be able to maintain what we have to do throughout the whole season. That’s what we’re focused on.”
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS? “I really think that after we go out and our guys do what they are supposed to do, and they see the response from each other and see how it looks on film, and we put it all together, I think they’ll be like, ‘you know what? The coaches know what they are talking about. Let’s stay on this vibe.’ I think that’s what it’s going to take — for us to just go out on the field and do it,” coach Forest said.
Added Doe, “it’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take heart and everybody’s head has to be mentally there. But I think we’re going to be solid. This summer has been great. The whole team has been pushing themselves so we can have a great season this year. The coaches have been doing a great job and the players have been doing a great job. We just all have a great bond.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays