For 15 long games dating back to 2016 nothing went right for the Robbinsville High football team. For a big portion of that losing streak last year, quarterback Danny Surtz could only sit and watch in frustration with a broken hand.
“It was really bad,” Surtz said. “I hated to watch us lose all those games and the seniors, some of them were really good friends of mine. Watching them not win a game last year, I just felt really bad for my teammates.”
He also felt frustrated at being unable to help. Surtz was one of three Raven quarterbacks injured in 2017, as Robbinsville finished with a wide receiver under center who never played the position before. Surtz had won the starting job in Game Three of 2017 but was knocked out for the year in Game Four.
“He should have been the starter all last year, that’s part of the reason the wheels kind of fell off,” coach Andrew Patterson said. “He was one of our top guys as a sophomore, and we just kept losing after he went out.”
Surtz was able to return and play defense in the season’s final game, and had a solid showing in a season-opening loss to a strong Gloucester City game this year. Patterson was enthused by how the team played overall and was especially happy to see his signal caller under center once more.
“It’s good to have him back there, it’s a breath of fresh air,” the coach said the day after the game. “It kind of keeps you relaxed knowing if something goes wrong he’s going to be able to fix it on the fly.”
That relaxation turned into pure excitement the following week when Robbinsville won for the first time since Oct. 14, 2016, taking an 18-10 victory over Maple Shade. Surtz was in the middle of it all with 242 yards of total offense. The junior rushed for 89 yards and threw for 153 and a touchdown, setting off a one-man celebration inside his mind.
“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” Surtz said. “It meant a lot to me and my teammates to finally get that first win. I feel like now that we’ve won a game, we know what it takes to win and we can build off of it and hopefully win some more. Everyone realizes we can win and now we’re going to act like we can win.”
However the season plays out, Surtz will be in the middle of it all provided he stays healthy.
“In practice he’s one of our top leaders, his motor doesn’t stop,” Patterson said. “He’s a lefty dual threat. With him at quarterback we have an extra running back in the backfield. We’ll have an empty set and he’ll take off running by himself.”
Surtz started playing tackle football seriously in 8th grade for the Robbinsville Ravens PAL team. He dabbled in the sport when he was younger, playing linebacker and running back, but in 8th grade he decided to try out for quarterback for the first time in organized football.
“I played quarterback playing with my friends and family but never really played it in a real game,” he said. “I just decided to try out for it and tried my best.”
He quarterbacked the Ravens freshman team in ninth grade and also played some outside linebacker. During his two-game stint last year, Surtz threw for 304 yards and a touchdown but also threw four interceptions while dealing with growing pains.
There was also physical pain during Robbinsville’s game with New Egypt. On his fateful play, Surtz rolled to his left and was gang tackled by three Warriors.
“My thumb hit the ground in a weird way, and I broke it,” he said. “I played the rest of the game with it. It hurt, I just tried to tough it out. Then I went to the doctor’s, and he told me I couldn’t play with that kind of a fracture and had to sit out six weeks.”
Surtz was happy to get one game in before the season ended, and then got together with a few teammates and began leading morning workouts before school started in the winter. During the summer, he worked with a quarterback coach to get his mechanics straight.
When preseason started, Surtz admitted to being nervous prior to each scrimmage, and that tension level grew prior to the regular-season opener with Gloucester.
“I hadn’t played for real in a while,” he said. “But after that first play, I was fine. I was good to go.”
He certainly looked it, as Surtz was a one-man balanced offense. He ran for 102 yards and a touchdown and threw for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Through the first two games he completed 19 of 35 passes for 255 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, and rushed for 191 yards and a score.
“We keep him mostly in the shotgun about 80 percent of the time,” Patterson said. “He’s got a good view of the defense and has a couple of options on the play call. He has the liberty to pass or throw, depending on what he sees.”
Surtz is only 5-10, 165 pounds, so as for his arm strength, the coach said, “It’s not Michael Vick but he could let it fly. One of his passes we had a bad snap that he recovered, rolled out to the left, and hit Matt Giordano 45 yards down the field.”
Patterson estimates they call Surtz’s number about 50 percent of the time where he will either hand it off or pull it in, depending on what he sees on the option. He also has a stable of running backs to throw to, and good amount of backs to hand off to.
“That’s kind of our motto,” Patterson said. “You can’t beat all of us.”
Aside from his athletic ability, Surtz also has smarts.
“He’s essentially another coach on the field,” Patterson said. “I know people say that a lot, but he’s good enough where if he gets a play call and I screwed it up, he knows what I really mean. He’ll say, ‘We can’t run that,’ and I’ll say, ‘No you’re right, I screwed it up.’”
Aside from his offensive prowess, Surtz also has five tackles at free safety this season.
“You wouldn’t know he’s a quarterback when he’s on defense,” Patterson said. “He wants to hit people. Three or four of the hardest hits on defense in our first game probably came from him.”
But Surtz still considers himself a quarterback first and foremost, who is just helping out on defense due to the Ravens lack of depth.
Wherever he plays, he’s just happy to be back.
“Last year was tough, getting hurt sucked,” he said. “Some of those games looked like really fun and I really wanted to get in. It was tough watching from the sidelines.”
While he watched, he dreamed of the day he could be on the field again and help his team win. It didn’t take long for that dream to come true this year.