Editor’s note: In May 2018, the Robbinsville Advance celebrated its 10th anniversary by feature people from its past. Throughout the next year, the Advance will continue to catch up with those who have graced our pages since May 2008. This month’s subject is Cory Karagjozi, who played on the first Robbinsville High baseball team to win a state championship.
Cory Karagjozi has found success and surprises within baseball.
It began with the first baseball state championship for Robbinsville High School, continued as a four-year starter at Gettysburg College despite being a walk-on, and continues today with Karagjozi moving to the other side and enjoying coaching.
“I guess the coaching thing was just something I had in the back of my mind,” Karagjozi said. “It was a matter of finding somewhere to coach and the opportunity to coach. It’s neat. Your high school coach hears you’re coaching and your college coach hears you’re coaching, and it kind of comes full circle. One of their players is now coaching and giving back and hopefully have the impact that they had on you.
“Obviously once your playing days are over, it’s your ticket to stay in the game. Some of my classmates I played college with or graduated high school with are giving back, like John Demkovitz, is the Robbinsville lacrosse coach. One of the kids on my baseball team, one of my good friends, Steve Kowalski, is head coach at Pennington. It’s neat to see other kids get into coaching as well who played college sports and went to Robbinsville. It’s cool when they come back to Robbinsville, that completes the circle.”
Karagjozi still lives in Robbinsville where he grew up playing baseball and basketball. He found early success in his freshman year in 2008. The Ravens won their first Central Jersey Group I championship and advanced all the way to the state final before falling to Lyndhurst.
“It certainly was a new school and there weren’t much expectations, specifically for the athletics program,” Karagjozi said. “It was a really neat experience to be in and a good experience for the town and everyone involved in it. Shockingly, we actually made the state finals for baseball which was a huge accomplishment. It was pretty surreal. I was just a freshman. I barely remember it, but I think that did a lot for Robbinsville and put it on the map with our reputation for athletics and baseball.”
Karagjozi and his classmates chased that standard the next three years. They won another sectional title in 2010, but came up one run short in the state semifinals against Pitman. In their senior year, they were on the first team to move up to Group II, and they won their first Mercer County Tournament.
“It was phenomenal,” Karagjozi said. “Those were definitely the glory days for sure.”
Although Karagjozi was disappointed the team never made another state final, he was proud of the success they brought the town with their early winnings.
“Robbinsville is so tight knit,” he said. “I’d been playing with the same kids since we were 6-7 years old. Not many kids leave, and pretty much everybody stays. It was fun. You’re with your friends who you’ve been playing with your whole life, and everyone knows everybody. For us to have a high school now and be able to put some teams out on the field, it was an exciting time for Robbinsville. It’s crazy to think how far the high school has grown since then. It was a really neat experience to be able to say I was in the first class to go all four years, and to have so much success was humbling.”
Karagjozi volunteered for one year as basketball assistant coach after graduating from Gettysburg, and gets to Robbinsville’s baseball games when he can to see what head coach Tom Brettell has going.
“Coach Brettell and I have kept track of each other,” Karagjozi said. “He always followed me at Gettysburg. He follows all his players. When I can, I try to go back when I can to support him and see the next generation. I’ve lived in Robbinsville my whole life. I try to keep track on their sports and support them when I can.
Karagjozi was a four-year starter for the RHS baseball team. During their state final run his freshman year, he started at second base. He moved to first base for his final three seasons.
His Robbinsville experience, along with additional experience gained while playing for showcase and travel teams, helped him transition to college.
“I always tell people I was in a good situation at the right time,” Karagjozi said. “Coach Brettell, his first year as head coach was my freshman year. Clearly he’s had phenomenal success, and I was surrounded by a lot of really good players. That set me up for all the opportunities I was given.”
Karagjozi wasn’t initially sure he’d play in college, but found he was able to continue his career at Gettysburg College.
“I was going to keep playing whatever sport as I can as long as I can and see what happens,” Karagjozi said. “Robbinsville being so new, there weren’t many kids that thought about playing any college sport. There were a couple kids that came before me that played. I was just trying to enjoy the opportunity. Continuing to play basketball and baseball, you never know how long it’s going to last. It wasn’t like I was trying to get actively recruited.
“When I went to Gettysburg, I essentially just walked on. I never ever talked to the coach before. I ended up being a four-year starter. It doesn’t happen a lot, but a lot went into that. You always hope you can play college baseball at the next level, but you never know. That opportunity could go away in a heartbeat. I was more just looking for a college. I knew I wasn’t going to the majors. I was more so just looking for a college, and if I like the baseball team, try out and go from there. The baseball team had a lot of kids that went Division I, so as I got older I thought maybe this could be an opportunity.”
He never expected the opportunity to go so well. Karagjozi started all four years, the first three at shortstop and his senior year, as a captain, he started at first base.
“When I look back, it doesn’t even seem real,” Karagjozi said. “The baseball coach said I’ve never seen anything like this before, a kid walk on, never talk to him before, and be a starter as a freshman. It certainly was a humbling experience. I didn’t expect it at all. If I never played baseball, it would have changed my college career. I loved Gettysburg. My mom and grandfather went there which is why I went there.”
‘Just being able to help the kids, give back to the kids is great.’
Karagjozi was nominated and served as a member of Gettysburg’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee, then served as president of the SAAC as a senior. He graduated from Gettysburg in 2015 with a degree in organizational management studies/business and works in underwriting for Navigators Insurance Company in Iselin. On the side, he has found himself on a new side of the game as a coach.
“I love it,” Karagjozi said. “It’s funny because I don’t know if I like coaching or playing better. Just being able to ‘have control’ over the entire game, it’s a different kind of adrenaline. You’re worrying about your performance when you play, whereas when you coach you have control of everything. Your decision might make or break a game. Having that team as a representation of you and an organization, it’s pretty neat. I can’t put it into words, but it’s a different feeling.”
Karagjozi got his job right out of college, and he also got a chance to coach very soon after graduating when a former coach reached out to him.
“After college, I got a call from Dave Gallagher,” Karagjozi said. “Coming up through high school, I played on his travel teams. He offered me the opportunity. I couldn’t say no just because I wanted to give it a try and see if I liked it. I never really saw myself as a coach, but now that I’ve been coaching for a while, I’m glad I had the opportunity. I wish I could do it more and full-time because now I’m hooked on coaching. The opportunities for my career haven’t gone that way yet. We’ll see if one day they do.”
After coaching a year with Gallagher Baseball out of Hamilton, Karagjozi is coaching for Zoned Inc. in Bridgewater. With each year, he has been able to coach a variety of players from ages 12 and under to 17.
“Just being able to help the kids, give back to the kids is great,” Karagjozi said. “Whatever sport you play, you’ll have coaches who made an impact on you. Something they say might stick with you your whole career. Being able to have the opportunity to help a kid out, the longer you coach, the older the kids you’ve coached get. I’m starting to see some kids I coached now in high school have some success. I’ve coached kids at the 12U level and then at the 14U level, and you can see how they’ve progressed.”
Karagjozi hasn’t been able to play much baseball since graduating from college. He gets in the action here and there, and plays some slow-pitch softball.
But more frequently these days, it’s coaching that gives him a competitive outlet. He has found another passion with his new role in the game.
“They’re two different animals in terms of preparation and the outcome,” Karagjozi said. “I still get mad if we lose and I get happy if we win. That’ll never change.”