Brett Rajkowski sees his brother’s picture every day. And he definitely wants to add his photo to the collection.
Rajkowski is a senior center midfielder on the Father Judge High School soccer team, and ever since he entered the program he’s been a starter at center midfield for the Crusaders.
He’s accomplished quite a bit during his days, but he’s yet to do one thing his older brother Drew did before he graduated in 2014.
“In our hallway at school, there’s a picture of all the players surrounding (Judge coach John Dunlop) after they won the Catholic League championship in 2013,” Rajkowski said. “JD is holding the PCL trophy and my brother is in that picture. They were really good. I went to basically every game because my brother was on the team. He was a senior. I definitely want to add a picture to that case.”
Rajkowski is working hard to make sure that happens.
And he’s doing his best to make sure the future of the program is in great hands, too.
Rajkowski, who lives in Pine Valley, is in his fourth year as a starter, but he’s grown as a player and as a leader.
When he got to the school, becoming a key player on one of the top teams in the Catholic League wasn’t easy, but he had great backup around him and that made him a much better player. Now, he’s passing that on to the youngsters on this squad.
“I like to think that I’m a good leader of this team,” Rajkowski said. “I’m a senior and a captain, and I’m trying to help everyone, especially the younger guys. I know how it feels to be a freshman on the team. It’s a lot easier when you have someone helping you and making it easier.
“When I got here the seniors helped me a lot. They helped me with what to expect. The biggest change was playing in front of crowds. There were hundreds of people at these games, so they reminded me to calm down.”
This year, fans have a reason to support their Crusaders.
Last year, Judge didn’t compete in the Catholic League. The school decided to forgo playing sports in the fall, so the Crusaders played against any opponents they could find in the spring. It was a good schedule and that readied the team for this year.
The team also worked hard playing in summer leagues together, and that gave the Crusaders what they needed to compete in the Catholic League this year.
It’s still early, but the Crusaders have racked up some quality wins in jumping out to a 3-1 record after four games. The lone loss came to Archbishop Wood, which is expected to compete for the championship, along with Judge, Ryan, Roman and La Salle.
“Playing in the spring, we went undefeated and I think that helped us get ready for this year,” Rajkowski said. “We weren’t in a league, it was more just games scheduled so we would have a season. I think it was really good for us because we played toward the end of the school year and we had a summer league. We’ve been playing for the past couple months.
“The reason we had the season was for the seniors, but it helped the younger guys, too. All of us. I think we have better chemistry because we played together consistently for a while now. It made us ready for this year.”
Still, Rajkowski isn’t happy with where the team is yet.
The Catholic League is tough and he knows the team has to be firing on all cylinders when the playoffs begin.
“I don’t think we’re where we want to be,” said Rajkowski, who also plays CYO basketball. “Possession-wise, we’re not there yet. We need to start keeping the ball more and stop missing opportunities. We’re playing well, but we’re definitely not where we want to be.
“I’m working to get better, too. I try to set guys up, play more of a defensive role. I try to support our back four and when I can, I get up as much as possible and try to make plays happen.”
Rajkowski is all in on Judge soccer, but he’s starting to think about what he’ll do beyond high school. He knows he wants to play soccer, but he’s not positive about what he wants to do.
But just like playing soccer at Judge, he might follow in one of his sibling’s footsteps.
“I was thinking about maybe being a respiratory therapist,” Rajkowski said. “My sister does that, and she really likes it. We were talking and that might be a good fit for me. I’m not positive, but I did some research and it looks like a good job.”
He’ll be able to breathe much easier if he goes into college with a Catholic League championship. And while he knows it will be a daunting task, he thinks the Crusaders are as good as anyone in the league.
“Winning a Catholic League championship would be huge,” Rajkowski said. “There are a lot of good teams. We want to beat the top teams in the league. It’s a good league, but I think we’re a really good team, too.”