Two Lower Cape May Regional High School football players committed recently to continue their education and football careers at NCAA Division III colleges in New Jersey.
Aaron Cottrell will play linebacker next fall for Kean University, while Brennan Ray was recruited as an athlete by Montclair State University. That means that Ray, who played quarterback with the Caper Tigers, may be assigned a different position at the collegiate level.
“Montclair made me and my family feel welcome,” said Ray on his decision. “When I went there, it felt like home. It was the best spot for me to go.”
It was almost the same sentiment that led Cottrell, 18, to Kean.
“I just really liked it there when I went to visit,” Cottrell said. “The program was great … it was more of a family atmosphere than just football.”
Both Cottrell and Ray are accustomed to close-knit relationships, and playing on the same field at Lower allowed them to strengthen their brotherhood.
The Caper Tigers finished 2-8 last season.
“All of our players are family,” Caper Tigers’ coach Brian Hindle said. “There was not a team I was on that was more happy for each other’s success as these guys.”
Ray, who attends Lower as a choice student, grew up in Woodbine and played midget football in Dennis Township. But the 17-year-old said that he enjoyed playing alongside Cottrell in high school.
“We have been playing football together since freshman year,” Cottrell said. “We stuck with each other and worked hard together. We helped each other and the team get better.”
But, despite their bond, Ray and Cottrell will soon become New Jersey Athletic Conference rivals.
Montclair finished 5-5 (5-4 NJAC) last season, while Kean finished 4-6 (4-5 NJAC). The Red Hawks defeated the Cougars in their meeting last season.
The two conference rivals will meet again Sept. 29 at Kean with Cottrell and Ray in opposite uniforms.
“Playing against him will be tough,” Ray said. “After these four years, being rivals will be hard. But I still can not wait to see him on the opposite sideline.”
Cottrell added that competing against his high school teammate "should be fun."
Cottrell and Ray were senior captains. Hindle said their leadership in the locker room was unparalleled.
“The best thing in life is to be competitive,” Hindle said. “It will bring out the best in both of them to play against each other.”
Ray had the most single-season rushing touchdowns (10) in program history since Matt Dicken (16) set the record in 2002. Dicken, a running back, had a prolific career at Villanova University.
Ray, who will major in criminal justice at Montclair, said his goal in college is to succeed in both the classroom and the football field.
“If we had 11 Brennans,” Hindle said, “we would not lose a game.”
In addition to linebacker, Cottrell played fullback for the Caper Tigers. In their 21-20 victory on Thanksgiving over Middle Township, he had more than 100 yards of offense.
The Villas resident also had 90 tackles this season.
“Aaron is a quiet leader,” Hindle said. “He leads by example. His intensity during a football game is unmatched.”
Ray and Cottrell both have GPAs above 3.00. Cottrell, who is leaning toward business management as a major, said he “will give it all I have,” both athletically and academically at Kean.
“I see them both being successful in college,” Hindle said. “They both have bright futures.”