PINEY GREEN — West Carteret’s C.J. Rocci looked like a fish out of water last at White Oak on March 26.
The senior running back was on the bench, his leg propped up on the seat with an ice pack secured to it. Trainer Jordan Oreck was taking a bandage off Rocci’s bloody finger, the player’s eyes all the while trained on the movement on the field.
He let out a celebratory yell when backup running back Mike Goodrick ripped off a couple of good runs on the Patriots’ final scoring drive, but it was clear Rocci wanted to be out on the field and not stuck on the bench.
“I want to be out there with my guys right now,” he said. “They have a chance to get injured out there, too, so I want to be out there with them. It’s hard to sit here and watch. It helps to know that we’ve got the game in the bag.”
Rocci came off the field when his team held a secure 29-0 lead. The Patriots wound up winning 36-0, their first shutout victory since the 2018 season. Without the big lead, the running back would have had a much harder time sitting still with a game still in progress.
“Had the game been a little tighter, I think our trainer would have had to chain him on the bench,” West football coach Daniel Barrow said.
No football player wants to come off the field, but few do as much for their team as Rocci does for the Patriots. He was having a solid night in the backfield before the injury with 10 rushes for 46 yards and a touchdown. He had also caught a 31-yard pass for a touchdown, finished with two solo tackles and three tackle assists and returned a punt.
“Barrow tries to take me off kickoff return, which is frustrating,” Rocci said. “I’m trying to be out there every snap. I’d go out there right now if I could.”
The injury happened on a run play right after halftime.
“I just got rolled up on, but luckily I didn’t hear a pop or anything,” he said. “Hopefully, I can still play for Senior Night next week.”
Rocci will be on the field again Monday when the Patriots host Northside-Jacksonville for homecoming. The game was moved from Friday to Monday to accommodate a close contact COVID-19 quarantine for West.
Rocci spent the remainder of the White Oak game on the sidelines, watching as the Patriot offense put one more score on the board. He was as loud as the others when Jayden Rittenhouse connected with Jacob Graves for a 29-yard touchdown. He was supportive like the rest when Goodrick churned his way to a team-high 53 yards on eight carries.
“It’s difficult standing here watching, but I’m always going to root for my teammates,” Rocci said. “I know they can handle the business.”
Rocci’s injury won’t be a long-lasting one, an obstacle he fortunately has not had to contend with in high school. He has been the starter in the backfield for two seasons.
“I’ve had a few minor injuries in the past, like a rolled ankle, but I’m not an injury-prone guy, knock on wood,” he said. “It happens in football. We’ve had a few guys come out of this game. We just saw the (White Oak) quarterback get helped off the field with a concussion.”
Rocci noted that, with West’s small roster, any injury is a challenge. When talking about the various injuries that can happen in football, however, the most painful one he’d experienced wasn’t exactly an injury.
“Cramps is the most painful thing I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “I drink a ton of Gatorade, but it still happens.”