Brunelli throws his weight around to help Raiders

Arturo Brunelli has become one of the top linebackers in the Catholic League. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Arturo Brunelli is hoping to get a lot out of his senior season.

That’s because he knows it is almost certainly his final one.

Brunelli is a star linebacker on the Archbishop Ryan High School football team, and if you see him play, you know he loves contact. He’s almost always around the ball and he averages just under 10 tackles per game for the Raiders.

But all that hitting comes with a price, and while doctors haven’t said so, he thinks this is the final year he’ll be able to play football due to all those bone-crushing hits.

“I’ve had a bunch of stingers while playing, some are worse than others, but I get them and they’re pretty bad,” said Brunelli, a Parkwood native who lines up both inside and outside at linebacker. “It’s a nerve thing. It’s been happening my whole high school career. I can’t really continue in college. It’s like a nerve thing and it hurts really bad. It travels down my whole arm and it will get hot. It’s painful.

“I just want to finish this year and have a great year. I’m playing because I love playing, I love playing with this team. We’ve worked so hard to get better so I want to stick it out this year, have a great year and then see what happens, but I’m pretty sure this is my last year playing football.”

If it is his swan song, he’s going out on a great season.

The Raiders had won just one game over the past two seasons, but this year, they’re one of the better teams in the Catholic League.

After dropping two straight to open the season to Bishop Shanahan and Upper Moreland, the Raiders have won five of their past seven games, including a 4-2 record in the Catholic League Blue Division. It’s been a great year, but Saturday night wasn’t so great. Ryan lost to Bonner-Prendergast 21-14 in a hard-fought game at Northeast.

After jumping out to a 7-0 lead, the Friars scored 14 points before halftime and another touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter to establish a 21-7 lead. Ryan cut it to one score late in the fourth quarter and recovered the onside kick for a chance to tie, but fell short and Bonner-Prendergast held on for the close win.

It was a bad loss because the winner of the game earned the right to play in the District 12 Class 4A championship game for the right to play in the state playoffs. Brunelli and his teammates would have loved to get back to the postseason after qualifying last year without a win, but it does little to take away the great season.

The Raiders still have two games to play. They’ll meet Conwell-Egan on Saturday at Northeast, then shift their attention to Thanksgiving, where they’ll seek revenge on Washington, which bested the Raiders the last time the teams met in 2019.

This year might not have produced a playoff season, but according to Brunetti, this year has been a great one for the team and the future of the program.

“The biggest difference is the talent, this year we have so much more talent,” Brunetti said. “I think we have so much more skill. The linemen are bigger. We got a new guy at center, but none of our linemen graduated. So they just got bigger. And got experience.

“It’s the same guys, a lot of the guys are the same, but we just worked so hard. We started after last year. I did anyway. We were consistently in the weight room, we would get together to work out. We really put in the effort. The harder you work, the better you’ll do.”

The success made a huge difference.

Last year was a rough one for the Raiders. Not only were they, like every team around, under crazy restrictions because of the pandemic, but the team was very young. There were a few seniors on the team, and they contributed greatly to the cause, but the team was very inexperienced. And that showed on the scoreboard.

The lumps they took in 2020 set in motion the success they’re enjoying this year. And with two games to go, there’s still room for improvement.

“I’m having a lot of fun, it’s definitely the best time I’ve ever had playing football,” said Brunetti, who has been playing since he was 7. “Last year I didn’t have fun. I was on the team just to be there for my teammates. I would never quit, but it wasn’t as fun because I hate losing. It’s hard on everyone. But this year I’m enjoying myself.”

He’s also enjoying his strong campaign on defense.

He was First-Team All-Catholic last year, but this year he’s even better. Every game, he seems to pile up double-digit tackles, and it’s even more difficult because teams do their best to neutralize him by sending linemen after him. He just shakes it off and makes the tackle.

“It is fun to make tackles this year because I do see a lot of guys trying to block me,” Brunetti said. “But I get a lot of help, too. The defensive line does a great job freeing me up, attacking the blockers. We have a good defense.”

Brunelli may be in the twilight of his football career, but he is excited about the future.

He might to go college, where he would like to major in either finance or social work. He’s also pondering trade school.

“There’s a lot of things I like to do,” Brunelli said. “I think I would like college. I would like to do something where I can help people. I also like working outdoors. But I am pretty good with my hands, so trade school might be good. Not sure, maybe be an electrician.”

No matter where he goes, he’ll go as a proud member of the Ryan football team. And he hopes this year will help put the program in the right direction.

“We’re having a really good year and we’re getting young guys going,” Brunelli said. “It’s been a really good year. I’m really proud of what we’re doing.”