“Don’t be afraid to lead,” “Take this opportunity to help out a neighbor in need,” “Support the community that supports you,” are just a few of the directives that Jeff Rayness, Head Coach of the Holmdel High School Football Team espouses during practice, pre-game, and in the weight room throughout the year. Those phrases were put into action these past few weeks as members of the Holmdel High School Football Team – Community Outreach Squad, in conjunction with the Holmdel Half Century Club, visited residents’ homes and undertook yard clean-up projects and home improvement chores for elderly Holmdelians who needed a helping hand. The brainchild of rising Junior Andrew Piscatelli (Class of 2024), the Community Outreach Squad was established with one goal in mind: to support the local community and particularly the older demographic. “Seeing how my grandparents,” longtime residents Andrew and Janet Piscatelli, who are in their 80s and have supported youth and high school football for over 60 years “struggle to keep up their own yard,” gave Piscatelli the idea.
Andrew divided the participants into five teams, established a Captain for each, and assigned each team a resident’s address with a list of tasks to complete, such as leaf clean up, limb and hedge trimming, grass raking, and weeding. “Our work really shows the community how much we appreciate their support of us and hopefully brought a few elderly residents who have lost touch with the schools and kids of our town back into the mix. We invite each one to come to our home games to watch us play and enjoy the band, cheerleader, dance team performances.” Hopefully, he said, other sports teams and clubs will follow his lead and do the same thing for the elderly in their off seasons.
Secondarily, Piscatelli noted, there is tremendous benefit to the team in doing a project like this. Citing Vince Lombardi’s famous quote- “Leaders are made, they are not born,” Andrew saw this as a great first step in leading leadership habits for the upcoming football season, especially for the younger players. “It builds camaraderie among the guys and allows teammates to come together well before we step onto the field.”
Andrew is happiest when with his teammates and recognizes the unique relationships the players enjoy with one another. “The Upperclassmen never attempt to bully or haze the younger players. We have more of a mentor-mentee relationship with the younger kids. Do we biker? Of course! We’re like brothers! We’re like a FAMILY!” Given reports in the news of football program bullying, hazing and outright physical assault, it is not lost upon these student-athletes that they have a strong support system in each other. “We laugh together A LOT, but when something bad happens to someone or their family, we cry together too, and pick them and each other right back up.”
Piscatelli not only loves his team, “I love football itself,” he explained, “Not just the games, but I love what it teaches.” When asked to clarify he responded without hesitation, “Football teaches – well, actually demands- commitment, tenacity, handling of adversity, learning to become physical in an otherwise passive world, leadership, teamwork, attention to detail, structure, time management, and my favorite of all – establishing personal goals.”
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Piscatelli never played football before high school but played just about every other sport. In middle school he served for two years as the team’s water boy and equipment manager, and “Oh, I got to pick up the trash the guys left around.” Once he saw the camaraderie amongst the players, listened to the tutelage of Coach Rainess, felt the excitement under the Friday night lights, and heard the roar of the crowd, he was hooked, and began putting the work in. His dedication to enhance his physical state, strength, and conditioning, has been exemplary. Since the end of basketball season, he has gained enough weight eating 6000 calories a day to pass the 200-pound mark, reached his weight room goals for the squat, hang clean, pull ups and even surpassed the 300-pound bench press mark just after his 16th birthday.
When asked what he sees for himself in the future, he responded with a smile and shook his head. “I don’t know, I’m just a little kid, in a big body, and I can’t even drive yet! Truthfully, I’m figuring that all out now. I would like to play college football and basketball, but I know that is not very realistic and I am probably better suited for football.” As an honors student, Andrew has many academic options, and is also interested in the service academics, where he can enjoy their structure, serve our nation, play sports, and get a top-notch education. “Wherever I go, I know I will take with me to college, and beyond, the many lessons I’ve learned as a football player. It sounds cliché, but it’s true.”
Final question: Did you and the guys clean up your grandparents’ yard? “No, that’s on my sister and me, and we’d better get over there before they hear about the others!”
Good luck to you Andrew, the Community Outreach Squad, and the rest of the Holmdel High School Hornet Football Players.