RARITAN: A new attitude for the Rockets in 2013

RARITAN: A new attitude for the Rockets in 2013


RARITAN: A new attitude for the Rockets in 2013


A blaze has been lit inside the Raritan football program, an anger growing in the underbelly of this group. After a winless 2012 campaign, there is an intense fixation on not replicating such a season.

It’s a controlled burn forged by the leaders of this organization who are on a mission to relight the fuse of a proud Rockets program, and according to the anchor of this team’s offensive line, Pat Toal, the standard of conduct must start with the heads of Raritan’s state.

“Some have used last year’s schedule as an excuse, “but that had nothing to with it at all,” said offensive lineman Pat Toal. “It came down to a lack of leadership and the team’s attitude toward practice.”

“We had no leadership from our senior class,” continued the Old Dominion-bound lineman. “And as a result, nobody got up for games. We need to have a major turnaround with our attitudes heading into this season. And we’re working hard to do that.”

That heightened level of work was one instituted by the players, who called upon their coaches the day after the final seconds ticked off the clock in 2012 to construct a tougher offseason training regimen, raising the standards and weeding out those who were not serious about altering the culture of this team.

“There’s a different attitude surrounding the team this year,” said lineman Erik Friedman. “Last year, we had a lot of guys on the roster in important roles who weren’t serious about playing. We made it a lot tougher to be here this year, so we know the guys who are out here really want to be.”

Coach Anthony Petruzzi has seen the change.

“These guys are building a tough family atmosphere around here,” Petruzzi said. “But we also need to make sure we’re doing enough to put ourselves in a position to win a football game. We want to compete this year. We want to make sure we’re not out of games at halftime. We want to know that everyone is working hard. And we’re seeing it.”

Last season, Raritan faced one of the toughest schedules in the Shore Conference, with eight of their 10 losses coming against state playoff contenders, including a season-opening stretch against the Central Jersey Group III finalist Neptune, an eventual undefeated sectional chamoion Carteret squad and Class A Central champion Red Bank Catholic within the first four games. The 2013 schedule is basically identical.

“Last season was a perfect storm of events, “but we know what we’re going into this year,” Petruzzi said. “We know the buzzsaw that’s ahead of us. And we have to be mentally tough enough to fight off the ghosts of last year, take it one game at a time.”

One aspect of last season the Rockets expect to leave in the dust is the revolving door of quarterbacks. Junior Riley Sullivan has emerged as the expected starter. Protecting Sullivan will fall on the shoulders of an offensive line led by Toal and Friedman. Petruzzi views that front as a strength of this team.

“We have a good group of hogs up front who have really bought into that family atmosphere,” Petruzzi said. “But it’s all led by Toal and Friedman. They’re the glue that holds the group together.”

Raritan is staring down a mountain of adversity entering this 2013 season but Toal has made the mantra of this program crystal clear.

“Last season is behind us,” Toal said. “We’re focused on this season. This is our team. It’s our season, and we’re going to fight for it.”

More USA TODAY High School Sports