Jersey strong!


Profs football team wins Stronger Than the Storm tug of war competition.

It didn’t matter much that this was a light-hearted, fun event designed to celebrate the resurgence of the Jersey Shore nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the New Jersey and New York coastlines.

The 10 members representing Rowan University’s football team—2,672 pounds of Brown and Gold muscle—were at the first ever Stronger Than the Storm tug of war competition to win.

And win they did.

Led by team captain Kyle Jones, a senior offensive lineman, the Profs won the heavyweight division of the competition, held on the beach in Seaside Park on National Tug of War Day. The event, a test of physical and mental fortitude, was organized by Stronger Than the Storm, the campaign launched last spring by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to promote economic recovery at the Shore this summer.

In besting their competition, which included athletes from other universities statewide, the Profs brought home bragging rights—and a five-foot-tall trophy that now proudly graces Coach Jay Accorsi’s office in Esby Gym.

“Our players did a great job representing our football program but, more importantly, Rowan University,” says Accorsi.  “They had a lot of fun and at the same time competed with great passion. I could not be more proud.”

“Whenever and wherever we put on the Brown and Gold, it’s important for us to make the University proud,” says Jones, whose teammates sported gold Rowan Football t-shirts for the event. “We have a standard to uphold.”

Supporting the Shore

The Profs gained an appreciation not only for representing their school on a statewide stage, but also of the recovery that still lies ahead for much of New Jersey’s Shore areas. The team competed on the beach. A half-mile down, they saw the Sandy-damaged pier where the now infamous Seaside Heights Jet Star roller coaster once stood. The coaster became a symbol of Sandy’s wrath.

In the spring, Jones, an athletic training and health and exercise science major from Franklinville, and fellow offensive lineman Zaire Pollard, a law and justice studies major from Camden, volunteered to help refurbish boathouses in Brigantine as part of the University’s Rowan Relief initiative. Seeing the areas of Seaside that still need work was daunting, Jones said.

“Sandy really did a number on this beach,” says Jones. “Seeing Seaside really brought it home for us…without a doubt. We saw that there’s still a lot to be done. Some piers still need rebuilding. Winning the tug of war was fun, but it was great to be out there for a good cause.”

Out to win

The Profs’ competitive juices got flowing the minute the competition started, says sophomore defensive lineman Sebastian Ljoka of Ocean City.

“We’re all competitive guys,” says Ljoka, whose family fared fairly well in the hurricane. “We live for competition.”

Teams from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia took part in the competition, which also included family and co-ed teams.

Game plan

The Profs had a game plan that included using Pollard, the biggest player at 302 pounds, as the tug of war anchor, says Jones, who took the position on the rope closest to the water pit.

“We figured Zaire had the lowest center of gravity,” laughs Jones. “We had a little plan going in and we realized quickly that it worked better if we pulled all together at one time instead of pulling the entire time. We felt there was a lot of pressure on us, actually. We were the biggest guys there and we felt people were gunning for us.”

After winning the heavyweight division, event organizers put together an “all-star” team that went up against the Profs in a just-for-fun competition.

“We ripped them right into the water pit,” Jones says.

The Profs will open their football season on Saturday, Sept. 7, at Delaware Valley College. They are coming off a 7-3 record in 2012 that ended in the first round of the NCAA Division III championship tournament. The tug of war competition helped to build camaraderie on an already-close team, notes Jones. Plus, he says, it was great fun.

“It was a good bonding experience. It helped to build team chemistry,” says Jones. “The more a team is like a family, the better it will be.”

In addition to Jones, Pollard, and Ljoka, the other Rowan Tug-of-War team members included: defensive linemen Mike Rinaldi of Marlton and Jake Hoska of Atco; offensive linemen Felix Wurmbach of Pilesgrove, George Meyers of Monroe, Derek Sierchio of Somerville, and Evan Hopkins of Pitman; and linebacker Vinny Simone of Mount Ephraim.