For the past two seasons, Raequan Andrews was a linebacker/running back for the Secaucus High School football team, with more of his emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s been playing both sides for a couple of years,” said Secaucus’ veteran head coach Charlie Voorhees. “He’s been a good linebacker, but we’ve been waiting for him to hit the home run as a running back. He started for us right away at linebacker and did a good job. He was always more of a linebacker, but we slowly started to drop him in as a running back. Last year, he showed some signs that he could run with the ball.”
But the Patriots began the 2017 season with a glut of players who could play running back. In fact, Voorhees has as many as seven backs that could carry the ball admirably.
“We saw flashes of Ray breaking out last year,” Voorhees said. “He had one big run against Emerson Borough for about 80 yards and a touchdown. I think we knew he had it in him. We were just waiting for him to be able to carry the ball 20 times a game.”
Andrews, a junior, knew he had the capabilities of being a big-time back, the one that the Patriots could count upon with every single snap.
“I always wanted to play more offensively,” Andrews said. “I actually wanted to play more offensively than defensively.”
Andrews said that he started to feel like he was moving in that direction with a positive preseason and a handful of scrimmage attempts.
“In the preseason, I liked the way I was running with the ball,” Andrews said. “I was able to pick up on some new plays.”
Veteran coach Bruce Naszimento returned to assist Voorhees this season. Naszimento, the former head coach at the now defunct Emerson and a long time assistant to Voorhees at Secaucus before leaving to help his son Zach with the Weehawken program, saw a lot of potential in Andrews’ ability to run with the ball.
“Coach Nasz always told me to run hard and have the ability to fall forward,” Andrews said. “He said that if I was going to fall to keep my neck back and fall forward to gain the extra yards.”
“I was relying on Bruce to work with Ray,” Voorhees said. “Bruce always wants to go with the hot back. I felt like Ray was ready to be our guy.”
Andrews had a chance this year, but he was deterred by a painful hip flexor injury that forced him to concentrate solely on defense for a few games. It was especially frustrating, considering that Andrews scored four touchdowns in the season opening victory over North Arlington.
As the Patriots prepared to face tough rival Harrison in a do-or-die game last Thursday night, Voorhees tried something a little different. Voorhees was going to allow Andrews to concentrate on being a running back and not worry about playing defense.
“It was the first time we did that,” Voorhees said. “He’s a hell of a linebacker, but I just felt that if we played him on only one side of the ball, it might help him get going.”
“I felt like I had something to prove,” Andrews said. “This was a game that was going to make us or break us. I had to accomplish something big.”
Sure enough, the experiment paid big dividends. With the rest of their season hanging in the balance and a loss being fatal to the Patriots’ NJSIAA playoff chances, Andrews had the game of his life.
Andrews carried the ball 24 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Patriots to a 28-6 victory over the Blue Tide, squaring the Patriots’ record at 2-2 and put the Patriots into 11th place in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I power point standings with four games to play before the cutoff for qualifying.
For his efforts, Andrews has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Andrews said that he was a little nervous going into the Harrison game.
“For the first time in my life, I was playing only one way,” Andrews said. “I was used to playing both ways. Honestly, I like playing defense more than I like offense. But playing only one way did give me a break and it was a shock to me that I did so well.”
It was not a shock to Voorhees.
“We knew he had it in him,” Voorhees said. “It just happened that this was the game for him to shine. He can run hard right at you, but he can also run away from you.”
Although Andrews is wearing No. 12 in his practice jersey in the picture here, he wears No. 89 on game day. That’s an odd numeral for a running back.
“He told me that it was his favorite number, so we gave it to him,” Voorhees said. “He’s never been a receiver. It’s kind of funny watching a guy run with No. 89 on his back.”
However, the Green Bay Packers have a player named Ty Montgomery who is a converted wide receiver and now wears No. 88 as a full-time running back, so there is precedence.
Voorhees doesn’t care what number Andrews wears, as long as he can produce. He’s now had two big games this season against North Arlington and Harrison and they were the Patriots’ two victories of the season.
“He’s a great kid, a wonderful young man,” Voorhees said. “He’s certainly one of the nicest kids I’ve ever coached. When he was a little kid, maybe in second grade or so, I saw him running around the field and I could just tell that Ray could run. It’s just all starting to come together now for the kid. It’s getting there. Ray is starting to understand what it means to run hard, to cut back with power, to lower his head and get the extra yards. And he can also run by people, which is always nice.
Added Voorhees, “We know now that Ray has that extra gear and can run away from people. I don’t even think Ray knows how good he can be, but this was a good start. He has a nice body. He’s a kid who runs track and he’s good at it, so I think that helps him as a running back. He’s just starting to realize how good he can be.”
And at this point, the pack of running backs that Voorhees had at his disposal has one premier guy among the rest in Raequan Andrews.
“It’s a nice place for us right now,” Voorhees said. “Ray is in a nice place. I think Ray is just starting to figure it out. Ray has worked out and worked hard to get where he is. It does take time to be a good high school football player. We’re seeing that with Ray.”
Voorhees reminded his players of the importance of the game. Lose and the season is basically all for pride, because Group I teams don’t make the state playoffs with three losses. It’s that competitive.
“We kind of knew that this was a big one,” Voorhees said. “I told them that this was the biggest game that they had all ever been involved in.”
And Andrews came through with the game of his life.
“One of my goals is getting into college to play football,” Andrews said. “I have to take that opportunity when it comes. It’s a real honor to be selected as the Athlete of the Week. It doesn’t happen often.”
When the Patriots face St. Mary’s of Rutherford this weekend, Andrews will be back playing two positions. It will be business as usual, but now, the Patriots know that they have a go-to back to go to. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.