It was Nov. 4, 2017, and the Robbinsville High football team was in Willingboro to play the Chimeras in their homecoming game. The Ravens had exactly 16 players suited up, including seven sophomores, and were trailing 34-0 after one quarter of what would become a 41-8 loss.
On the surface, it appeared that game was totally unnecessary, and Robbinsville would have been better off forfeiting.
But that would indicate to those sophomores that quitting is OK. And by playing, it laid the groundwork for a foundation.
“We went against a team that was athletically superior in all phases of the game to us,” coach Andrew Patterson said. “I’ll say it out loud. We knew we were gonna lose and so did the players. But if they don’t play the game, they never get to this 2019 season. If we run the table this year, if we win seven games, if we get to the playoffs and are successful, it’s because the seniors who were sophomores suited up for Willingboro knowing they had no chance to win the game.”
One of those players is receiver Matt Giordano, who will be key to whatever success the Ravens enjoy this year. As a junior, Giordano led Robbinsville in receptions (22) and receiving yards (456) and was second to quarterback Danny Surtz in touchdowns (5).
Giordano recalled the Willingboro thrashing and has used it as a driving force ever since.
“After that game, I knew I never wanted to get beat that bad again,” he said. “I started working, my friends started working. We never wanted to get put in that position again. If we could play them again I would love to get some revenge. I know it’s not gonna happen, but we always think about that; it’s just motivation.”
A nucleus of current seniors endured an 0-9 sophomore year and improved to 4-6 last year. Included in the group are Surtz, Nick Carella, Connor Fitzsimmons, Matt Heverin and Dayyan Hamid.
Giordano always has those guys in mind, and sees any success he or the Ravens have as the result of a team effort. He never wants the spotlight to himself.
“You can get a lot done and be very successful when you don’t care who gets the credit,” Patterson said. “And that’s what he does. He just wants to win, he doesn’t care if he gets the ball, he doesn’t care if he makes the reception, he doesn’t care if he’s on the kickoff team. Whatever he has to do to win, that’s what he’s been doing the past three years.”
Rest assured he will get the ball, as Giordano and the talented Surtz are best friends who have developed a great chemistry over the years. Hard work has transformed Giordano into a formidable player.
“He can catch balls, defend balls,” Patterson said. “He listens to his coaches, he helps his teammates out, makes people around him better. By him making Dan Surtz look better and the rest of the secondary look better, by him working hard enough in practice to make his other receivers look better, now the defenses that we play have more than just him to worry about because he helps the other guys get better. It sounds cliché but it’s true.”
It wasn’t always the case. Patterson, now in his sixth year, noted that when Giordano came in as a freshman, he ran bad-looking routes as a receiver and couldn’t tackle well defensively.
“He slowly worked at it,” Patterson said. “He’s not roll-out-of-bed awesome. He’s worked at it since day one.”
Giordano began playing in 7th grade with the Robbinsville PAL; and many of his current teammates were on his team back then. After a successful 8th-grade season, they felt if they stuck together, good things could happen in high school.
Giordano, like most young players, felt he was automatically ready.
“Yeah, you walk in and everyone thinks they’re the best,” he said. “Then you see who’s ahead of you, and you say ‘I gotta catch up. I gotta work.’”
Asked what he thinks when watching film of himself running routes as a freshman, Giordano laughed and said, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen them … I don’t want to see them anymore.”
At 5-9, 175 pounds, he is not a huge target. But through sheer repetition Giordano improved his routes, his coverage and his tackling. He also runs winter track, which helps his physique, and plays lacrosse, which emphasizes footwork. Both help in football, along with focusing on the sport itself.
“You just run a lot of routes; make them more crisp,” he said. “You have to know how to beat somebody. That comes with experience. You just work at it. Footwork. Experience. Getting in games my sophomore year, seeing how other defenses play against us really helped. You learn when to cut, when to speed up, when to slow down.”
Defensively, it was much of the same thing.
“Again, it’s experience,” he said. “Reaction time is everything. One less step could be the difference between an interception or a touchdown the other way. Just a lot of experience, a lot of practice, a lot of learning.”
He credits constant backyard catches with his dad as a way of developing his hands, while over the summer he and his teammates constantly attended morning lift sessions and voluntary camps; or just got together to play flag football.
“Even the little things help,” he said. “You’re running routes, you’re around football.”
Giordano hopes to play college ball and is currently talking to several schools to see about his options. But first, he would like to finish his high school career on a winning team.
Patterson feels it is possible.
“I’m optimistic from the experience we put on the field,” he said. “ The majority of players on the field know what we’re doing and we have reinforcements at the sophomore and junior level as well who are very good players. This is probably the deepest team I’ve had since I’ve been here. We have legitimate third stringers at some positions who can actually challenge for a starting job. When I took over, I didn’t even have a first string. I had receivers playing guard. There was no depth chart.”
Due to the influx of talent, and because those seven sophomores stuck it out, hopes are high.
“Playing with each other all these years bought us a lot closer together, we trust each other,” Giordano said. “That’s great to have on the football field. You need 11 people that can trust the person next to them. That’s gonna be very helpful. I’m very excited for a lot of wins.”
And very certain that days like Nov. 4, 2017 are a thing of the past.