There's something exciting about a Friday night in the fall at a high school football game whether you're coaching, playing, broadcasting the game or watching it from the stands.

It's the coolness of the autumn breeze, roar of the fans around you, the hype of great teams with great players and the smell of the snack stand surrounding you as 22 players battle it out on the gridiron.

Things felt like that at Toms River High School East on Friday night's when Nico and Mario Steriti were wearing the silver and black of the Raiders uniforms on teams with a heap of talent all over the field.

There was something different, unique and special though about the skills and abilities the Steriti brothers demonstrated on a football field.

The Raiders at Toms River High School East pushed each other to get better and it led to them tying a school record finishing the 2009 season at 10-1 with a ranking of the 14th best team in the state by the Star Ledger.

These brothers were two of the best in the then Constitution Division as well as the Shore Conference and their individual feats helped catapult the Raiders to a successful 2009 season in particular.

Their numbers are great but their contributions to the game are more than those statistics, it's the heart they used in each and every practice and game, the way they were embraced by teammates and respected by opponents.

They left a mark on the game still etched on the turf nearly a decade later.

Chapter 1...Playing Days:

Nico Steriti, 28, played with passion and a competitive mindset of pushing for every yard and leaving it all out there.

He saw tremendous success on the field as a result.

In just three varsity seasons at Toms River High School East, Nico broke the school records for touchdowns with 46 and rushing yards with 2,800.

Nico continued to ground and pound at the University of New Hampshire, where he ranks 8th on their all time rushing list with 2,395 yards and 20th with 424 carries.

His success on the field though came at a price with all the pounding he took from getting tackled or being tackled and from laying out some hits which led to 12 concussions and 2 shoulder surgeries including for a torn labrum he suffered in college ending his playing days after 17-years.

Looking back on his time playing the game, he explains that sports were his way of expressing who he was as an individual and allow those emotions to come out.

"Sports were always a platform for me to express my inner most dormant qualities...my spirit, my imagination, my creativity, my ability to dream and foresee things," Nico Steriti told the Shore Sports Network. "As a child I had that ability to compete and to perform and it carried me through everything I did."

When Nico was an 8-year old kid in 1999 he wrote down in a journal that he wanted to one day play in the NFL.

The same sport he played to try and achieve that goal also distracted him from what was going on in the present.

"I was so focused on accomplishing something that was so far in the future and it took me away from what I was doing in the moment," Nico said. "Through the journey of just doing everything I could to fulfill my dream of becoming a professional football player...playing 17-years of the game and to play baseball, basketball, soccer, track & field and every sport growing up and being somebody who was one of the lead performers in those sports, I learned a lot. I learned that at the end of the day you have to do what you enjoy and what makes you happy."

We're all told at any given age that we can no longer play the sport we've loved since we were little kids, but our minds might not be ready to let go.

Nico's journey following football was the biggest game he ever had to tackle.

"There were thoughts that made me contemplate and question why I played for so long and why I sacrificed so much," Nico said. "I was at a point where I was in the dumps, I was getting mental health treatments...I was going through it. I was going through outpatient, I was hospitalized...so when all that stuff happens and you don't have your team or your coach and all these things that you gave so much to, your thoughts change and you think you did something that was a mistake but thought he journey of life and not quitting and traveling through my fire I realized that it was all purposeful, it was all part of it, and there was never a moment that wasn't perfect, it was just the way I was perceiving it in that moment."

Nico's younger brother, Mario, 26, had a ton of speed and was a ball hawk on defense and his reads on defense helped earn him high honors (see below).

Mario made a splash right away in high school by playing on the varsity level as a freshman and his future playing football was filled with potential and dreams.

"My dream growing up like a lot of kids dreams was to play at a high level, more specifically for me, I wanted to get a scholarship and play in college," Mario said.

While tackling running backs and receivers on the field, off the field he was trying to tackle an auto immune disease that would eventually end his career.

"I got diagnosed at 14-years old, battled with it throughout high school and tried to act like it wasn't there but it was more of a restriction than I ever would have imagined," Mario said. "By the time I was 19-years old I had career ending surgery when I had my whole large intestine removed and I had to face those demons and face that battle. I kind of felt like the rug was taken out from under me, kind of like my dreams were taken from me. At that point I kind of lost myself a little bit and said what do I want to do with this life, how do  I want to live this life."

He still had the itch to play even though he could no longer physically do so.

In turn, Mario was in constant communication with Nico while he was playing at UNH.

"I went to his games at New Hampshire and kind of lived vicariously through him," Mario said. "He would call me, he would talk football, he would talk game-plan so I felt like I had that college football experience through him."

Chapter 2...Where Are They Now?

Mario went onto major in Biology at Kean University and now teaches Science at Barnegat High School and hopes to be a positive role model for the next generation.

"In my cover letter when I was applying for schools I put that I wanted to be a positive, influential role model because these kids need it and good guidance and direction is always good for young kids," Mario said.

He also coaches running backs and defensive backs at Barnegat High School under Head Football Coach Rob Davis and it was a decision that put him right back in the game.

"It sparked something inside of me...a joy, a passion that I haven't felt in a few years," Mario said. "I love being under Coach Davis, I'm learning a lot from him and his program. He's there for the kids, he's genuine. We love football, we all want to talk x's and o's, we all want to win games but he also gets kids into college and he's pushing kids to move on with their athletic career and give them an opportunity to play in college."

Mario also coaches with Nico at their S3 Steriti Sports School, located in Farmingdale, where they pass on their sports experience to younger athletes and train them physically, mentally and emotionally for the field of play and how to tackle the obstacles they face.

Mario Steriti at Steriti Sports School. (Hollie Santos)

"What I learned most and especially in football is the next play mentality. You can't think about the last play, you can't think about the last game, you can't think about your past, you can't think about your mistakes, you have to focus on the next play, the next quiz, the next assignment, the next task and then doing it with the support around you," Mario said.

For Nico, it's helping athletes better understand the present moment and passing along what he learned about what it takes to be an athlete in pursuit of your dreams.

"What you're doing now is going to add up and what you give is what you get," Nico said.

He wants to offer guidance to young athletes and teach them to not take anything for granted playing sports and feeling like becoming a starter or playing at a higher level is a right of passage.

"At the end of the day, you're not entitled to it, it's a gift. There's a day that comes when the game ends in terms of your ability to compete on a high level and that's okay but it's important to prepare and to understand that fuel and that juice you have to be transformed into your life and to what you want to do," Nico said. "That's what we're here (at Steriti Sports School) to motivate kids on."

Nico Steriti at Steriti Sports School. (Hollie Santos)

Chapter 3....Brothers For Life.

From the time they were kids playing football or doing anything fun together, Nico and Mario have always had each other's backs and they continue to look at each other for support, guidance and just doing anything together...as brothers.

"Growing up, just to start with, Nico...he picked on me and bullied me just like a normal older bother would, nothing crazy but then he also inspired me and pushed me and I competed against him, I wanted to be better than him," Mario said. "He was my best friend growing up, he's still my best friend, he's also the best man at my wedding coming up."

"As I grew older and I started coming into my own as a person, I looked up to my younger brother because he just tread his own path," Nico said.

"It's like that bond you share with a teammate, that grind, that hustle and then competing together...it's special and then on top of it he was my brother so that trust and connection was deeper that some of my close friends because I know my brother has my back," Mario said. "I know that when I'm at Safety and I'm coming up to make a play, he's back there to maybe cover my you know what."

"If I could pick one word to describe my relationship with him is simple, it's just love, we just love each other, we love each other through all the BS, we love each other through our ideas," Nico said.

"We vibe with each other and maybe we but heads but we can do it constructively and we can do it with open hearts and minds and being brothers helps but being best friends is more important," Mario said. "I'll go to war with that kid any day of the week."

"I just love the kid man, he's my little brother, anyone messes with him I always protected him, it just is what it is, I never wanted to disappoint him ever and I never will," Nico said. "That's how you have to lead from the front as an older brother and as a younger brother he leads from the front and pushes me. This kid is going to do some special stuff in this world."

"I know when me and him put our minds together that we can do anything we want," Mario said.

This is the story of two football brothers who tasted success on and off the field in high school and having each others backs on the football field was only apart of them having each others backs off the field and in life.

Nico and Mario Steriti's accomplishments on the football field will never be forgotten and neither will their friendship and the kind of leaders and individuals they were back then and still remain today.

Special Thanks for this story go to Nico and Mario Steriti, Toms River Schools TV Producer Mr. Chip Phillips, Toms River High School East Principal Mr. Patrick Thomas, Toms River Schools Athletic Director Ted Gillen, Toms River High School East Head Football Coach (Current) Kyle Sandberg, Former Toms River High School East Head Football Coach Charlie Diskin and University of New Hampshire Associate Athletic Director for Communications Mike Murphy.

Here are statistics and accolades for Nico and Mario on the High School Varsity level, courtesy of Toms River High School East Football and MaxPreps:

Nico 2007:

  • 23 carries for 153 yards. 8 receptions for 184 yards. 5 overall touchdowns. 3 interceptions and 9 solo tackles.
  • Honorable Mention All Ocean County - Offense.

Nico 2008: 

  • 139 carries for 1,022 yards and 11-touchdowns (13 overall). 15 receptions for 197 yards. 4 interceptions and 18 solo tackles.
  • Super 100 All-State Football Team
  • WOBM/Shore Sports Network All Ocean County - RB
  • 2nd Team All Shore - RB
  • 3rd Team Star Ledger All Group IV - RB
  • 1st Team Star Ledger All Ocean County - RB
  • 1st Team All Division - RB
  • WOBM/Shore Sports Network Player of the Game (vs. Toms River South)
  • Thanksgiving Day Player of the Game (vs Toms River North)
  • Star Ledger Top All Purpose Performer vs. Brick

Nico 2009:

  • 223 carries for 1,625 yards. 19 receptions for 284 yards. 28 overall touchdowns. 2-7 Passing and 1 touchdown. 4 interceptions including a 102-yard touchdown return and 26 solo tackles.
  • 1st team Star Ledger All State - RB
  • Super 100 All State Team
  • Old Spice Red Zone Player of the Year
  • Shore Conference Player of the Year
  • 1st Team All Shore - RB
  • WOBM/Shore Sports Network All Ocean County RB & Player of the Year
  • WOBM/Shore Sports Network Player of the Game vs. Washington Township and Middletown North.
  • Star Ledger All Ocean County - RB
  • 1st Team All Group IV - RB
  • Stumpy Awards: All Shore Media 1st Team All Conference - RB, All Interview Team & Best All Around Player, All Shore Media Player of the Week: Washington Township with Honorable Mentions vs. Southern Regional, Toms River South and Old Bridge.
  • Constitution Division RB & Player of the Year
  • Chuck Mound Big Time RB Player of the Year Nominee
  • Toms River High School East Football Team Captain.

Mario 2008:

  • 24 carries for 82 yards. 22 solo tackles and 1 interception.

Mario 2009:

  • 89 carries for 631 yards. 12 receptions for 200 yards. 12 overall touchdowns. 31 solo tackles and 4 interceptions.
  • WOBM/Shore Sports Network All County
  • Constitution All Division - DB
  • Star Ledger 2nd Team All Ocean County - DB
  • All Shore Media 3rd Team All Conference
  • All Shore Media Player of the Week: Honorable Mention vs. Egg Harbor Township

Mario 2010:

  • 55 carries for 245 yards, 3 touchdowns. 1 pass for 23 yards and 1 touchdown. 4 receptions for 43 yards. 14 solo tackles.

Mario 2011:

  • 49 carries for 115 yards, 2 touchdowns. 5 receptions for 2 yards. 1 pass for 0 yards. 14 solo tackles.

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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