Jason Morrell heard Metallica and Iron Maiden bump through the speakers. He heard weights slam on the bench press and squat rack.
The ruckus caught the West Deptford football coach off guard, so he went to check out the commotion after he concluded his end-of-the-year staff meeting.
Two days after his Eagles were knocked out of the semifinals of the South Group 2 playoffs by Camden in November 2018, Morrell found more than half of his team working out in the weight room, already preparing for the 2019 season.
“To be quite honest with you, I didn’t think this was going to last,” Morrell said.
Morrell was dead wrong.
Usually, after the football season, the team will take some time off and resume workouts once school starts again in January.
But not this Eagles team. The players went to work as soon as they got knocked out of the playoffs last year.
“After that loss, we just had that fire in us,” senior running back Tyshawn Bookman said. “We had it so close in our hands to go to the championship … It was kind of like lifting with anger.”
One year later and the Eagles find themselves in the same position.
West Deptford, the No. 1 seed, will play fifth-seeded Delran on Friday in the South Group 2 semifinals with the hopes of getting over the hump and avenging a loss from the previous season.
“The seniors, they have a death clock that’s ticking right now,” junior quarterback Aaron Graeber said. “We don’t want to suffer that loss that we did last year, especially in this round.”
While the Eagles have worked all year to get past the semifinals, it’s not the only thing they’re playing for this season.
West Deptford has dedicated the season to senior running back Vinny Scirrotto, who has missed the entire year because of two stress fractures in his back. The Eagles have been wearing a numeral “9” on their helmets, which is Scirrotto’s number, to honor their teammate.
“It means a lot to me,” Scirrotto said. “It shows that they still care about me and still think about me on and off the field, and I really appreciate it.”
Scirrotto has served as another coach for West Deptford since his injury. He still goes to every practice and is on the sideline for every game. He said he helps out with anything from setting up drills in practice to trying to help his teammates remain levelheaded throughout the game.
“He’s a strong person for still being there even though he can’t play,” Bookman said. “If I was in his shoes I would be hurting, and I know he’s hurting as well but he’s keeping strong, and he’s teaching us the stuff we need to do and I love him for that.”
If Scirrotto was in the lineup, he’d be contributing at running back in West Deptford’s Wing-T offense — a formation that features lots of misdirection, counters and sweeps with multiple backs on the field. But even without him, the Eagles have plenty of pieces in their backfield that have led to success this year.
Bookman, who’s 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, has 895 rushing yards on 76 carries and 15 touchdowns to lead the Eagles. Behind him is Graeber with 512 yards on the ground and seven scores. Graeber said he added about 20 pounds over the offseason to prep for the physicality of the offense.
Then there’s senior tailback Gavin Shields, who runs with a bruising style. He has racked up 300 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior running back Mychael Gilmore is the Swiss army knife of the offense, Morrell said. Gilmore, who can play fullback, wingback and halfback, has rushed for 385 yards and five scores.
Senior tailback Kameron Dixon has been the biggest surprise out of the crowded backfield. He has stepped up with Scirrotto sidelined. Dixon has 255 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries.
“They all know their strengths and weaknesses and they want to be the best they can be in their own role,” Morrell said. “So nobody tries to do too much and nobody tries to be a superstar and not one guy has ever complained to me about getting more carries … which is really special.”
Bookman and most of the players in West Deptford’s senior class have played with each other since youth football.
He said that’s why the team is so tight-knit, unselfish and worked with one another extensively throughout the offseason leading up to this playoff game. Now, with the game finally here, Bookman wouldn’t want to hit the field with anyone else.
“If I were in a back alley and we had a brawl, I’d definitely take my team in that alley,” he said. “I honestly love them to death. They’re tough, I love them with all my heart.”