As success doesn't come without hard work and preparation, the achievements of the South Brunswick High School football team can be traced back to their time in South Brunswick's developmental system.
Athletes begin their journey playing South Brunswick football learning the system of SBHS head coach Rick Mantz on the Pop Warner level, before progressing to the Crossroads Middle School team. This system has helped develop these young student athletes for what lies ahead.
"We focus on the fact that they're not just football players, but there are a lot of other things that come first, like family and education," said Crossroads Head Coach Jake Rodriguez. "I personally believe that football is a real symbol for life. You compete hard, sometimes you're down and sometimes you're up. There's somebody trying to take your job so you have to prepare, and be on time, and all of these other different aspects that you have to do to be a successful athlete. Our job is to make these kids good athletes and good human beings, and we've been successful at that working closely with Coach Mantz.
"One of the things I'm most proud of is that the kids at the high school now who came up through the program are good human beings. They're good academically, they're good athletically and they're good people off the field."
Now in his fifth season as head coach at Crossroads, Rodriguez and his staff have compiled a 35-5 record. He also serves as President of the South Brunswick PAL, which runs the Pop Warner program, so Rodriguez is able to trace the path of the current stars of the SBHS squad back to their humble beginnings as they first put on the pads.
"I'm right in the middle of everything so I get to watch them as babies grow up, and I get to see them go through all three stages of the South Brunswick program," he said. "That's really fulfilling for me to watch them succeed and do all of these great things."
This year's Crossroads squad has a record of 6-1, with one game left to play on Nov. 1 against East Brunswick.
"We have a great group of kids and I'm really proud of them, especially the way they've improved throughout the season," Rodriguez said. "Our job is to run everything that Coach Mantz runs at the high school, so we warm up the way they do, we prepare the kids the way they do, everything we do is to prepare them for Coach Mantz and his staff. The group of kids we had before this one is the same group that's at the high school right now obviously doing well, so we're very proud of that. The best part is that we prepare the kids then hand them off to a great coach like Coach Mantz. Watching them is like watching your sons grow up and succeed."
Rodriguez credited the performances and leadership of team captains Phil Campbell (RB-LB), Rich Hoff (QB-LB), and Josh Nicastro (G-DE), who will all be moving on to South Brunswick High School next year.
"It's very rare that a seventh-grader is able to start because these are predominantly eighth-grade players, but those three started last year and have been our core group of leaders," Rodriguez said. "We've gotten contributions from a lot of players and those three have done a great job as leaders."
Rodriguez said the hard work and dedication it takes to play on both offense and defense has helped build the character of many young South Brunswick athletes.
"People may not believe this but I was a shy kid when I started playing sports," he said. "The confidence it gives you to be able to work hard and see the fruits of your labor by succeeding really prepares you for life. Obviously not everyone is an athlete, but working hard makes you a tougher person and prepares you to handle the pressures of life. Football especially does that for the kids."
As the season winds to a close for the Crossroads team, the overall success of South Brunswick football is a source of pride for everyone associated with the program in town, from Pop Warner up to the high school.
"This is a very proud year for me on a personal level watching Coach Mantz and the kids do so well," he said. "We watched some lean years of South Brunswick High School football and when he came into town in 2007 that all changed and that's not a coincidence. He integrated his program throughout Pop Warner and middle school, so the program is in place from start to finish for these kids. It tells you everything you need to know when (Mantz) is at our games from start to finish, and for the kids to see the coach of the high school team at their game during the season, when they're ranked top ten in the state, is special. It's a great time to be a Viking football player."
Crossroads Football RosterNumber Name 2
Max Rhoden51 Mateo Mejia 52 John Fedele 55 Colin Seavers 56 Josh Nicastro 57 Amir Elmahalawy 58
Kevin Borup61 Zaier Hill 64 Alok Sharma 70 Jack Taikina 71 Matt Manobianco 72 Ali Masgood 73 Josh Hypolite 77 Andre Eldridge 80 Nick Gale 81 Brandon Siroki 86 Jake Foeldes 89 Christian Napolitano 34 Isiah Franklin 74 Tom Leavy 63 Darius Tisdale