(CAM MEDRANO / EYE OF THE TIGER)
After a tough 3-7 season last year, the RHS varsity football team has turned things around under new head coach Joe Cattolico and has started the season 5-2. The team’s offense, unfortunately, faced some injuries early on, but fortunately, players have stepped up to fill these positions.
Early in the season, senior running back Aaron Shima suffered an injury that would sideline him the rest of the year. Shima was a big loss for the Tigers offense. As a junior last year, he finished the season with 585 rushing yards and five touchdowns – the top numbers for any returning player.
Luckily for the Tigers, juniors Joe Brijs and Cole Errecart had been preparing for this opportunity all offseason and were ready to step up and fill this spot.
“Joe and Cole were in a rotation for running back, and after some injuries the rotations got shortened a little bit,” Cattolico said. “They were then the two left in the rotation to step up, and since then have been doing a really good job, the team.”
This past summer, Brijs spent day in and day out working on his game and getting ready to compete at the varsity level. Brijs went to workouts every day, lifting in the morning, then heading to practice after that.
Senior transfer and quarterback Cooper Thompson did not know Brijs prior to coming to RHS, however Thompson quickly learned how dedicated he was and the influence his dedication had on the entirety of the team.
“Joe is very hard working on and off the field, in the weight room,” Thompson said. “He is always doing his best and he pushes everyone to do their best.”
Teammate junior Tommy Brown is also impressed by Brjis’ work ethic.
“Joe is just a super hard-working athlete,” Brown said. “He is very dedicated. He’s always working and trying to be the best player he can be.”
In addition to daily workouts this summer, Brijs also attended a week-long football camp at BYU. At the camp Brijs was able to further develop his skills and got the opportunity to work with several college coaches and also compete against higher level athletes than he was used to. Brijs was named the MVP of the running backs at the camp.
Brijs believes that attending the BYU camp helped change his mentality going into the season and encouraged him further to want to get even better.
“There was a lot of good players at the camp,” Brijs said. “I saw a lot of kids who were bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than I was used to seeing, so I knew I had to step it up for varsity.”
Brijs also worked to gain weight to keep up with the build of a typical varsity player. Brijs started the summer weighing 155 pounds and gained 10 pounds to bring him up to 165 before the season started. He believes this weight gain has had a positive impact on his game.
“My weight increase has definitely helped to improve my game,” Brijs said. “There’s a lot of bigger and faster kids who play varsity so I knew I needed to be bigger and faster too.”
When the opportunity presented itself for Brijis to step in at running back, he wasn’t nervous and knew he would be okay if he trusted all the hard work he had put in, in preparation for this opportunity.
“I was really excited, not so much nervous because I knew I was ready. I had a lot of experience from last year and I had been working hard and I knew I just had to step up and prove myself when this opportunity was presented,” Brijs said.
Brijs mentality worked, as he went in his first game and from then on has made a tremendous impact on the team and is helping to carry the Tigers offensively. Brijs is currently leading the team in rushing yards with 553 yards already this season. He is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and rushes on average for 79.0 yards per game. Brijs is also leading the team in touchdowns with 12.
In the month of September alone, Brijs had three straight games with over 100 yards rushing. Brijs also led the way for the team when the team took on cross-town rival Woodcreek High School. In the Tigers 55-20 point victory over the Timberwolves, Brijs scored four touchdowns and rushed for 138 total yards, with an average of 7.7 yards per carry.
While this new role has pushed Brijs to excel on the field for the Tigers, it has also provided him an opportunity to take on more of a prominent leadership role on the team.
Although he is an underclassman on the team, Brown does not believe this affects his leadership role. Brijs is a leader on the team and is well respected by all his teammates.
“If Joe tells someone to do something they listen,” Brown said. “Even though he is an underclassman he’s still one of the leaders on our team and the upperclassman listen to him.”
While some may have found this a challenge, Brown believes this transition was easy for Brijs as he is a natural leader on and off the football field.
“He leads by example, not just in football, but outside of it too, that’s just the kind of person he is,” Brown said.
While Brijs built on his prior skill as a running back, Errecart had to make a position change to fill the vacancy. Prior to dominating as a varsity running back, Errecart had led the team as a quarterback both his JV season and going into his varsity season.
As a quarterback for the 10-0 Roseville JV team last year, Errecart started this varsity season as a QB and captain. During his transition to varsity, the junior had played quarterback for the Tiger’s first two games against Bear Creek and Oakmont. Once Shima’s injury created a need at running back, Errecart quickly adjusted. Currently as a running back, Errecart has a total of four touchdowns, 595 all purpose yards, and averages 7.6 yards per carry.
Teammate Tyler Rohwer watched Errecart as he adapted to the new position, and has noticed his success.
“I think the switch to running back for Cole was a really good choice and he’s doing really well there,” Rohwer said. “He’s progressing fast and getting better every day. Next year he’ll dominate even more than he is now.”