A little more than halfway through last season, Sam Pero, who was well on his way to 1,000 rushing yards, endured a freak injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year.
Colonia, which relied heavily upon the running back to complement dual threat quarterback Trent Barneys, was able to adjust without Pero and qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs for a third consecutive year.
The Patriots (9-2), despite ending the campaign with the most wins since 1985 and the second most victories in school history, weren’t the same team. As new head coach Tom Roarty explained, Pero is a “great downhill runner getting plus yardage all the time.
“Once he gets into the secondary, he takes it to another gear. One cut and he’s gone. We lost that explosiveness.”
Pero, who rushed for 716 yards and six touchdowns before ripping a muscle off a bone near his hip, returns, but Colonia must now replace the graduated Barneys, who amassed 920 yards through the air and 833 more on the ground.
Barneys became quite adept at running the Patriots’ newly installed read option offense, knowing when to pull the ball out and when to give it.
“That isn’t something that comes quickly,” explained Roarty, the successor to Ben LaSala, who stepped down last month to become Colonia’s athletics director after 17 seasons as the Patriots head coach.
Matt Mizak, who spelled Barneys for a key series, throwing a touchdown pass in a win over St. Joseph in his lone appearance last fall, and Tenni Adewusi are vying to replace Barneys at quarterback.
“They are both doing very well,” Roarty said. “Matt is more of a throwing threat. Tenni can throw, but he’s more like Trent was. He can pull it out and run it. He has good speed. He’s a good athlete. Either way (with Mizak or Adewusi ) we are good.”
The new signal caller and Pero will benefit from one of the White Division’s top offensive lines. Colonia returns four starters up front and a fifth player who has varsity experience.
“They know what each other is going to do and have an understanding of the offense already,” Roarty said, noting he saw “a world of difference through our first couple of scrimmages” compared to last season.
Roarty said Colonia has plenty of promising receivers, including Bryce Barneys and Pharaoh Napolean, and that the Patriots will not have to rely as heavily upon Pero as they did upon Greg Jones when he set virtually every school rushing record in 2011.
With LaSala stepping down so close to the start of the season, some concern existed regarding the continuity of the program. Roarty, however, said the rest of the coaching staff remained intact and that his assistant coaches have prepared the team well.
“It’s been great,” Roarty said. “We haven’t missed a beat since Benny was named AD. For a new coach coming in, it’s been outstanding.
“We are as far along as we are because of the way the staff works.”