Every year Lenape Valley seems to put together a team that has cast of superstar football players. This year is no different as the 4-0 Patriots seem to amassing more success every week. During their 54-19 dominating performance against Kittatinny, Lenape Valley senior runningbacks Nick Rafferty and Mike Grieco combined for 263 yards and six touchdowns. This was enough to earn the dynamic duo the MSF’s Week 4 Co-Player of the Week award.
After going 8-3 as sophomores and 9-2 as juniors, two things have eluded this Patriots team; a State Title and a win over Madison. Rafferty and Grieco won’t relish too much in their individual successes until their team can achieve these two milestones…which happen to go hand in hand this year now that Madison is on their regular season schedule as well as in their playoff section.
Morris Sussex Football caught up these two speedsters to talk about their success so far this season, the characters that make up this Patriots team and the legacy they want to leave behind.
Morris Sussex Football: Why do you think this Lenape Valley team is so strong this year?
Nick Rafferty: In my opinion, the reason why we’re so strong is because of our team chemistry. There is no other team in the league that has a brotherhood like us.
Mike Grieco: This Lenape valley football team is so strong this year because of our chemistry
on and off the field. We are like a unit. We all act as one.
MSF: What is it about Lenape Valley in that year in and year out they are always so competitive?
NR: The competitive attitude comes from our great coaching staff and the tradition that we stand for. Coach Smolyn is well known for being competitive and winning games and we feel like we have to honor his reputation.
MG: Lenape valley year in and year out are so competitive because “Tradition Never
Graduates”. We play for the ones that have played before us. As a group, we always try to be
better than the year before. The Lenape valley program is unlike any other. It
starts out with the coaching staff. They have been investing in the program for
thirty plus years. They are dedicated to the players and in return the players are
dedicated to them. The whole community is part of the Patriots.
MSF: What is Coach Smolyn’s secret to his success?
NR: The secret of success is his tradition. He has been doing the same thing year in and year out at Lenape Valley we all respect and follow his decisions.
MG: Work ethic, high expectations and an unbelievable passion for the
MSF: If you both raced each other, who is winning in a 40 yard dash?
NR: I know Grieco is going to say he will win but for a big guy I’ll give him a run for his money. I say he’d beat me two out of three times.
MG: I would win the 40 yard dash. I believe that Raff has better top end speed but my
acceleration is on a different level.
MSF: Who is winning in a mile run?
NR: Since I gave him the 40 I’m gonna say I’d smoke him in the mile.
MG: The mile run Raff would win. He has much longer legs than me but it would be
interesting to see who would win because we are both so competitive.
MSF: Who would win in an arm wrestling match?
NR: He’s gonna say he’ll win again but this one I predict this one to be a draw. I have some lanky leverage on my side.
MG: I’m stronger but he is so much bigger than I am. So not really sure (laughs).
MSF: What current or past NFL player do you think you play most like?
NR: Offensively I’m going to have to say Mike Alstott. He was a great blocking fullback, but you couldn’t underestimate his running abilities or else he’d break one on you. Defensively I’m going to say Dannell Ellerbe only because the Ravens have such a great Linebacker core and I feel like we do too. So I compare myself to Ellerbe because I’m just another linebacker in a great group of them.
MG: Reggie Bush. He has great vision and unbelievable acceleration. He is always
looking for the cutback for the big play.
MSF: Who are the unsung hero’s of your team?
NR: The unsung heroes are definitely the offensive and defensive line. Without those guys doing all the dirty work, Grieco and I wouldn’t be in the position for this Player of the Week honor. They deserve all the credit.
MG: The unsung hero on our football team is #89 Vin Gallo. He can play almost every
position on the field. You can always count on him to do his job when he is on
the field. Always giving all he has to the make the team better.
MSF: Who is the strongest?
NR: The strongest kid on the team I’d say is Jimmy (Braun). He’s just a massive kid.
MG: Braun is the strongest. Raff and I are stronger in the weight room but if
we were to go one on one in the pit he would definitely throw us down.
MSF: Who gives the most motivating speeches?
NR: Coach Smolyn gives the best motivational speeches. He does it so nonchalantly. He never raises his voice, but his word choice and the things he says are just so powerful it makes you perform to the best of your ability.
MG: Raff and I try to lead by example. But in my opinion Kristian Barrett gets me and
the team pumped up the most.
MSF: In the next ten years, who on your team will be the most successful in life?
NR: First of all, I don’t even want to look one week into the future because of how great things are going right now. I define the word success by whether or not you reached the goals set for yourself in life and not by the amount of money you make. I don’t think I can pick who will be the most successful because I feel like every single kid on this team has the ability and determination to reach their goals ten years from now.
MSF: What was the funniest thing that happened so far this season?
NR: We have a lot funny kids on this team and everyday there is something funny that happens. But the funniest thing would probably be when Dante (James) picked up a punt that Sussex Tech kicked and just stood there. No one from Sussex Tech tried to tackle him, the refs didn’t blow the whistle, and everyone thought the play was over. He was just about to hand the ball to a player from Sussex Tech until he heard me and coach yelling at him to run. He ended up getting about 15 or 20 yards, but just seeing everyone stop and go was hilarious.
MG: Funniest thing that happened this season is “story time” during double sessions at
lunch break. Everyone has to tell a funny story that happened to them over the
summer. It’s been a tradition at Lenape for a couple years now.
MSF: What would surprise people about this team?
NR: I think people would be surprised how physical of a team we are, and how close each of us are on and off the field.
MG: Our physicality would probably surprise most people, and at any moment we can
create a big play offensively and defensively. It’s what makes us great.
MSF: What do you think opposing quarterbacks think when they look across to the defense and see Jimmy Braun staring back at them?
NR: Well I know if I was playing quarterback I’d be thinking, ‘Please don’t let this kid blitz and if he does please let him cramp right before he gets to me.’
MSF: Have you ever seen opposing offensive players just fall down instead of getting tackled by him?
NR: I don’t think I’ve ever seen them just go down because right before they’re about to someone else from our team would either drop them or Jimmy would get to them.
MSF: Is he as intense off the field as he is on the field?
NR: Jimmy is definitely an intense kid on and off the field. There is definitely something going on up there but that is why we love him.
MG: Jim Braun is, I guess you could say, a ‘freak of nature’. He puts the helmet on and a
switch in his head goes on. On Game Day he is a different Jimmy. He doesn’t talk
much and he has the devil in his eyes. He always wants to make a huge hit. He puts fear
in the minds of the opposing offences through his physicality.
MSF: Between both your varsity careers you’ve accomplished so much…school records, huge shutouts, an unbelievable amount of wins, etc. But two things have eluded you…a state title and a win over Madison. How important are those two things for this Lenape Valley team?
NR: All the great players in professional sports are nothing without a championship. For example Lebron James was never in the “all-time great” conversation because he never won a championship. Now that he did, he is right there with the best. I feel like that is the same thing for this team. I could care less how I get remembered as a player, but I want this group of kids to be remembered as one of the best teams in Lenape history; which is no easy accomplishment with coach Smolyn’s tradition. The road to states goes through Madison in the regular season and the postseason, so beating Madison and getting a state title is what we need to put us near the top of that great Lenape list.
MG: An undefeated season, the conference championship, and the state championship all go
through Madison. Enough Said.
MSF: Thanks guys! Congrats again on your success this season and best of luck the rest of the way![divider][/divider]
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