By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
If Mike Forest ever cuts himself shaving and looks down at the razor, chances are that silver blade is smeared with a royal blue substance. That’s because Forest bleeds Oakcrest blue.
The former standout Falcons receiver has come home after a long stint as an assistant coach with Cedar Creek, and takes over this year for Eric Anderson, who stepped down after last season. Forest said his No. 1 goal as the new head coach is to make Mays Landing proud and get the community excited about football while also turning his boys into respectful, confident young men. He has a lot on his plate as a first-year coach who is installing new offensive and defensive systems, but he has a lot of help.
He likens himself to Nick Fury, the founder of the Avengers, when it comes to the staff of young, hungry coaches he’s assembled. He has John Clements, a former St. Joseph-Hammonton standout who played at the University of New Hampshire and professionally in Germany; Louie Pitale and Keith Alston, former stars at Cedar Creek, as well as former Cedar Creek assistant Kyle Klein and former Egg Harbor Township star running back Dante Moore, who played collegiately at Penn.
“It’s great to have young guys out here. I make jokes all the time that I’m like Nick Fury, I’ve put together an Avengers-like staff,” Forest said. “We have John Clements out here who has a ton of experience playing overseas; we have Kyle, who is a young mastermind guy. It’s great to have all these young lions out here who have all this juice. I have it, but it’s good for me to not have to always be that guy who is jumping around.”
Of course the Falcons will be heavily focused on the Xs and Os as they get ready for the 2021 season, which begins tonight at 6 at Pleasantville, but not solely focused on playcalling. Oakcrest is coming off an 0-8 season last fall and the Falcons’ last win came in early November 2019 when they beat Deptford in a crossover game. In the past three seasons, Oakcrest is 7-20, so Forest and his staff are spending a lot of time trying to build their players’ confidence.
“Of course we’re not where we really want to be yet, but we’re close. It’s a lot on these kids with a new coaching staff, a new offense, a new defense — but we’re getting it in. We’re a little behind when it comes to scrimmages, so we really didn’t get in as many as we needed, but I think we’re going to be OK. The tough thing is not really knowing what we are, and we won’t know until we get out there. We had an intersquad srimmage and one against Willingboro and Riverside. We’ve seen some good things and some bad things. We’re trying to get these kids to move forward, mentally. We don’t want them to go back to old ways when they experience hardship or when things don’t go their way during a game. I always explain to them that in the game of football, bad things happen all the time — that’s part of the game. Nobody goes out there and plays a perfect game. NFL corners get smoked all the time, but they don’t quit. That’s what we need to get into these guys. Once they start playing and start believing in what we’re teaching them, that’s the only way it’s going to build,” Forest said. “We’re constantly lifting them up and getting them to believe that they can be great. When you’re part of a program that hasn’t been great in a while it can be hard for the players to see themselves in that position. They’ve never been there. But we’re constantly telling them, as a coaching staff, that they can be special. I think they believe, but these guys are going to have to come out on the field and start surprising themselves. We need that on-the-field type of stuff, that’s how we’re going to get to the next level.”
“I’m really excited with this team. We have some great coaches and we’re all excited for the season. A lot of these guys just graduated and they are bringing what they learned in college — stuff that we’re going to have to learn if we want to play in college,” said senior receiver and defensive back Ezekiel Ashiagbor (6-2, 190 pounds). “It’s going to take a lot to turn this around. It’s going to take commitment, but we really want to change this program. We’ve been focusing on a winning mentality. It’s cool to see guys who are invested. Our new coaching staff has really brought the energy and you can see all of our guys are hungry to have a winning season. We haven’t had a win in two years, so we’re really hungry.”
Oakcrest should be able to get some things done offensively as the Falcons welcome in Egg Harbor Township transfer Aaron Bullock to play quarterback. The Falcons also have some weapons in guys such as Aldrich Doe, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound receiver and brother of former star receiver Harrison Doe; Marcus Holcomb (WR, 6-4, 190) and Asad Hunt (6-0, 170).
“We have a lot of athletes here, and as a whole team, that’s our strength,” Ashiagbor said. “I believe in my coaches and our players. We’re all really excited. These new coaches are bringing in a new style, and we’re excited for that.”
As a Group 2 school, depth and numbers are always an issue, but if Forest and his staff can put a good product out on the field this year the numbers are sure to grow in the years to come. Right now it’s about building a foundation, getting a win and getting this program back on track.
“Ever since I’ve been here, having athletes has never been a problem. There are always athletes in the building. Aaron is going to be a great athlete, Aldrich Doe is going to be a wonderful receiver, Asad Hunt is going to be great. Michael Whitehead is a speedy guy on both offense and defense, Marcus Holcomb. We have some ballers. We have some athletes,” Forest said. “I really want to get these guys a win. They deserve it. A successful season, to me, would be going over .500. I would love to have a winning season, but most importantly I would love for these guys to be better men than when we started. That’s the most success you can have in a program, when the guys are becoming better men. It’s not always wins and losses — even though we want these guys to see wins, and feel wins. Last year they didn’t understand what that feels like and a lot of these kids want to understand getting a W, so I want to give them that. But, all in all, we want them better than they were before as young men.”
Oakcrest 2021 Schedule (Home games in BOLD)
August 27 at Pleasantville, 6
Sept. 2 at Buena, 6
Sept. 10 vs. EHT, 6
Sept. 17 vs. Delsea, 6
Sept. 25 at Pemberton, 6
October 1 vs. Seneca, 6
October 9 at Cedar Creek, 1
October 22 vs. Ocean City, 6
Nov. 24 at Absegami, 6