She didn’t wear a striped shirt or have a whistle in her mouth, but there were times Marissa Cronce had to step in and call a penalty. That’s what happens when a mother has young twin sons whose passions were World Wrestling Entertainment and The Power Rangers.
“We watched a lot of WWE, and she had to ban us from watching because we’d do it to each other,” Chase Cronce said. “We used to have all the John Cena clothes and try all those special moves on each other; throwing each other off the couch. She started yelling at us in her Italian.”
“My mom banned us from watching Power Rangers and WWE from the house because we used to do it to each other all the time,” added Christopher Cronce, who claims he was the vaunted Red Ranger. “Power Rangers was my favorite chow but I had to stop watching it.”
Asked how many things they broke, Chase hesitated before responding, “I don’t know.”
Marissa eventually made sure to limit the damage.
“They were always aggressive towards one another,” she said. “I told them to save that for the football field. I did not need any more holes in my walls!”
A mom’s nightmare became a coach’s dream, of course.
The Cronce twins, now seniors at Hamilton West, form one of the top linebacking units in the West Jersey Football Conference along with junior Joey Laezza. Now in their third year as starters, Christopher led the Hornets in tackles with 91 last year while Chase was third (behind Laezza) with 62, along with 5 sacks. For their careers, Chase has 128 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 2 interceptions, while Christopher has 143 tackles, 5 sacks and an interception.
Apparently their days of pretend-battling Cena rivals The Miz and CM Punk have prepared them well for the high school wars.
“As you say their names, I smile,” Hamilton coach Mike Papero said. “When you watch their film, there should be that old school NFL Films music playing in the background and it should be in black and white. That’s just how they play the game. They fly around and hit people. They don’t stop. They’re throwbacks. Every coach would want to coach kids like them.”
And despite Marissa’s dented walls, every parent would want kids with their work ethic.
The brothers are products of a football family. Their father, Joel, played center and linebacker at South Hunterdon, a highly successful program that made up for lesser numbers with intense physical play. Their uncle, Michael Cifelli III, was a running back at Notre Dame High.
Joel made a huge impact on their lives helping to coach them as youths. They started in the Hamilton Recreation League playing for the Spartans, or as Chase jokingly calls it, “The East team. I’m not gonna say the name because you know how we feel about them.”
Chase was a running back and Christopher the quarterback, but that changed when they moved to Pop Warner and played for the Hornets. Chase played right guard, Christopher was right tackle and each lined up at defensive end. Teaming with teammate Kevin Boswell and Notre Dame standout Ricky “Pops” Spruill, they won a state title at the Junior Pee Wee level and reached the finals as Pee Wees.
By then, Hornet coaches were already getting excited.
“We saw them in the youth camps that the township coaches run together,” Papero said. “I remember when they were in sixth grade we were kind of elbowing each other saying, ‘Hey, wait ‘til these two come up.’ They were standouts at 11 or 12. We knew they were gonna be studs.”
They have lived up to that billing and are drawing interest from various Division II programs. Their first visit was to Bloomsburg in August.
Both are two-way players. Chase is a fullback who mostly blocks for the record-setting Boswell, but also has rushed 60 times for 306 yards and 3 touchdowns in two years. Christopher is a blocking tight end.
It is on defense where they make their biggest impact, with Chase in the middle and Christopher outside.
“Chase is a little bit more of a thumper on the inside,” Papero said. “He’s all business. The only time you ever see him really smirk or smile is when he hits somebody really hard. He’s not just walking around with a smile on his face. Chase is one of the best leaders I’ve ever met. I’m not just talking about players, I’m saying players, coaches, adults in general. He knows where everybody has to be on the field.
“Christopher is gonna get to the sideline a little more, he’s gonna rush the passer a little more. He can shut down an entire side of the field. He doesn’t miss many tackles. He’s intense. He plays with no regard for his well-being. He’s violent on the field.”
Personality-wise, the coach calls Chase the father and Christopher the son, since Christopher appears to be a little more light-hearted.
“Yeah, he’s the father, but I have more tackles than him,” Christopher said with a laugh. “But I agree (with Papero). I’ll give him that one.”
Chase sees an irony, however, saying, “the funny thing is, he’s two minutes older than me. He came out first.”
The way Papero described it is that Christopher appears to show that he’s having more fun on the field. Chase, who was a captain as a junior, responded by saying, “You try to have fun. But winning is when we’re having fun. As captain, you’ve gotta put these kids in check, tell them where they should be. You’re gonna have some fun if you’re winning.”
Both brothers are actually strong leaders, according to their coach.
“Their sophomore year they started over older guys just because they knew the game of football better and were as physical as anyone on the team,” Papero said. “To be honest, there were seniors that looked up to them, especially Chase, when they were in 10th grade. These two are once-a-decade type of players. It’s not even necessarily how good they are, it’s everything else they bring with it.”
No one appreciates the two more than Boswell, who is on track to break the school’s career rushing record this year thanks to their help.
“Them being on the field makes it easier than me,” Boswell said. “I’ve played with them since Pop Warner. We have great chemistry.”
And while the two will occasionally exchange words in the heat of battle, they are also each other’s biggest fans.
“He’s definitely one of the best football players I’ve ever seen play,” Christopher said. “Just his football IQ is so great. He always knows where the ball is going, he’s always the first one on the ball. Sometimes we’ll argue back and forth on the field but we know we have to get the job done and I feed off of that.”
Asked to evaluate Christopher, Chase said, “He’s got the speed out there. He can get out and cover. He’s aggressive. You could put literally anyone against him and he’ll make something happen. It’s great playing with him, I can’t get enough of him. But we do argue in the house just like we’re ready to hit each other when we play. We’re ready to put on the pads and go outside.”
Which is exactly where their mom usually sends them.