Robbinsville High football players Elijah McNeil and Danny McKiernan run during an August practice

Former Philadelphia Eagle Irving Fryar starts career as Robbinsville High School Football coach

What does it mean to have Dr. Irving Fryar as the new head football coach at Robbinsville High School?

According to his players, it means a lot of excitement, a lot of publicity and a whole lot of work.

“The first two days (of voluntary summer camp) I thought ‘It can’t get much harder than this,” senior quarterback/cornerback Darron Daniel said. “I didn’t know what else we could do. But as we kept going along, I felt in great shape. I started doing it, and it got a lot easier.”

“He’s very intense when it comes to practice,” added senior defensive end/fullback Tom Biscardi said. “We have to do everything right all the time. We can’t do everything right sometimes. It has to be all the time.”

And the Ravens have no problem doing it.

That’s what happens when the new coach happens to be a 17-year NFL veteran, five-tine Pro-Bowler, two-time All-Pro wide receiver and the overall No. 1 draft choice by New England in 1984.

When it became official in March that the former Rancocas Valley High School and University of Nebraska star was going to be their coach, the Raven players were almost excited about it as their dads.

At 50, Fryar was a little ahead of his players’ time, but not their fathers. Andrew Aromando, Sr. played for Shawnee High and knew all about the fellow Burlington County stud.

“My dad was pretty excited because he knew how great of a player he once was,” said Andrew Jr., a sophomore quarterback/linebacker. “He knew how much he could do as a coach.

“I was in shock because I’m an Eagles fan. It’s just a great experience playing for guys like that.”

The first thing Fryar has done is bring a lot of off-season attention to a program that is 27-41 in the seven seasons since it was started by Jason Gray. When Gray stepped down, Fryar talked to his next-door neighbor—Robbinsville Athletic Director Curtis Wyers—and decided to apply.

Since then, countless stories have flooded the newspapers on Fryar and Robbinsville. It was definitely a big deal for a Group II school.

“It was kind of unreal when I heard it,” said senior running back/safety Chad Scott. “We didn’t expect a big-time, ex-NFL player to be coming to a small town like Robbinsville. It took a while for us to comprehend, I guess you could say.

“But we’re really excited about it. We knew he would bring a lot of attention to Robbinsville and he can push us to new heights, I believe.”

“I know our team’s been improving every year and having an NFL coach, somebody that’s been through all the tough stuff he’s gone through, will have to help,” Daniel said. “He was at a D-1 college, he was a number one overall pick. He knew what it took to be successful in football.”

Which is something Robbinsville is still striving for, although Gray did a stellar job of building a program that made the playoffs one year and finished 5-5 last season with a strong finish.

Fryar also brought along Hollis Thomas, a former teammate and defensive lineman for the Eagles. According to the players, neither tries to impress with their NFL pasts.

“He treats everyone the same,” Scott said. “He’s not really acting different because he played in the NFL. He’s just a regular coach, he motivates us like a regular coach and he teaches us lessons and stuff like that.

“There’s really no difference. One thing I like about him a lot is he really pushes you. He makes you do stuff you think you wouldn’t be able to do.”

Daniel feels Fryar’s personality is about what he expected.

“He’s a very confident, determined guy who wants to make sure he brings out the best in all of us players,” the quarterback said. “Especially when I heard when he was a pastor at a church, I knew he would have a lot of belief and confidence in us and that’s what he talks to us about.”

It was his faith that helped Fryar turn around his life after some problems during his younger years. He earned a doctorate degree in philosophy in theology from The North Carolina College of Theology in Wilmington, N.C. He founded the New Jerusalem House of God in Burlington County and serves as its pastor.

His players call Fryar “Doctor” Fryar, as his cousin Charles is considered “Coach” Fryar on the staff. Scott feels the coach’s ability to inspire his parishioners carries over to what he can get across to his players.

“The way he is with his words, he says stuff that makes you really think about it and wonder ‘Yes, maybe I can do it,’” Scott said. “He talks to you in a calm manner. He kind of slows you down, pulls you to the side and explains what you need to do.”

Aside from his mellow way of getting the message across, Fryar also has nearly two decades of NFL war stories he can throw out if he really wants to get his team’s attention. But he picks his spots in that respect.

“He has a few times,” Scott said. “If a certain player is in a certain situation he’ll be like, ‘I had the same problem when I played’ and he’d explain what he did to overcome that problem. Whether it was an injury or something like that, he would talk about it. Maybe how he played with a hurt ankle for most of the season.”

“Sometimes when we do something wrong at practice or he wants something done differently he brings up what he did in college and the NFL,” Daniel said, adding with a laugh. “He’s said he’s gonna bring in old films to show us what to do.”

There are varied feelings among the players about whether they will listen more intently to a man who played at football’s pinnacle, as opposed to someone who may not have gotten past high school ball.

“I definitely think it helps a little more,” Biscardi said. “He’s been through it, he made it to the top of the chain working from the bottom up.”

“I definitely think I take it a little differently,” Daniel said. “What he talks about, he’s done it and it worked out for him. He got to the highest level. Doctor Fryar has that extra experience.”

Scott has a slightly different take.

“I don’t know if it means a lot,” he said. “I believe a coach is a coach so I don’t really think because he comes from a higher level he coaches differently. But I do believe he truly knows what it takes to raise your level and continue your career in football. He knows what it takes to succeed.”

Scott harbors ambitions of playing in college and is aware that Fryar has the contacts to help him. But the coach won’t use those contacts if his players don’t help themselves in the classroom.

“He focuses on making sure you have your education first,” Scott said. “He maybe has connections, but he can’t do your schoolwork for you. He can’t make your grades for you. He puts it in the players’ hands to make sure they have the grades.”

While the players are obviously not at liberty to divulge any strategic secrets, they all agree that the Ravens will have some different looks this year. They also feel the team will have what it takes to improve on last year’s record.

If conditioning counts for anything, they are off to a good start.

“I was impressed after the first day, but also kind of nervous because it was a lot harder than what we had done last year,” Biscardi said. “But at same time I knew it’s what’s best for myself. After a few days, a few weeks of doing it, your body builds up to the work you need to do.”

“We have about nine returning starters this year, and honestly we haven’t worked this hard since we’ve been at the high school; we’ve been conditioning our butts off,” Scott said. “We’ll be able to play at a faster pace due to not being that tired.

“I plan on playing in college, and he is saying this is what a lot of the college kids do and this is what it takes. So, I might as well start doing it now.”

Through all the summer training, it took very little time for the players to go from seeing Fryar as an ex-pro player to just being their coach. Asked if he was tempted to ask for Fryar’s or Thomas’ autograph at first, Biscardi just laughed.

“Not really because you don’t want to seem like a newbie coming up to them,” he said. “But it’s definitely pretty awesome knowing they were coming in and coaching us.”

It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure. In a lot of different ways.