A player doesn’t have to score the most points or make the winning touchdown to stand out on Lenape High School’s football team.
In fact, going above and beyond for the team every chance you get is among the qualities coach Joe Wojceichowski encourages most in his players.
“Not everyone is the player getting all the playing time on Friday night and all the recognition, but everyone has something they can contribute to the team,” he said. “To have that kind of mindset, to know what your strengths are and how they help your teammates takes a lot of maturity.”
One student-athlete has proven to be the embodiment of that characteristic in his own way. Senior Tristan Neilson keeps his record-breaking efforts focused on the team’s biggest fundraiser of the year, which has players selling discount cards to friends, family and neighbors.
“All four years, every single year, Tristan has been our number-one card seller,” Wojceichowski said. “It is unbelievable. He is absolutely unreal. He sold 100 cards in two days.”
At the end of each summer, members of the LHS football team sell discount cards with coupons or deals totaling about $60 in savings that can be used at local businesses. Neilson has beaten his own record every year as a personal challenge to himself.
“Every year, I want to sell more than I did last year,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to hit 200 this year.” (Which Neilson did just days after asserting the seemingly lofty goal goal.)
The sales help absorb the costs of filming each game, Nike attire for players, a Friday team dinner before every game, an end-of-the year banquet and more.
“Depending on how well we do on the fundraiser, we’ll frame the seniors’ jerseys to present to them,” Wojceichowski said. “This is a huge fundraiser for us, and we put it right back into the program. There’s only so much the school can provide for the team, and this makes sure it’s a great experience for the kids.”
This year’s fundraiser was a bit different with student-athletes selling their discount cards online, and the fundraiser running a little longer than usual. If players were comfortable going door-to-door, they had that option, too, as long as they respected residents’ social-distancing boundaries.
Neilson, who’s currently applying to colleges and plans on studying sales, embraced both methods of fundraising and actually found it easier to sell discount cards this year. He’s developed an introduction and a sales pitch, and he uses a few tried-and-true sales methods, too, like putting the discount cards right in people’s hands so it’s harder to give them back than to pay for them on the spot.
He added that his work ethic helps him sell, as does letting his personality shine through.
“I feel like it mostly comes from being self-driven and establishing trust with a good attitude,” Neilson said.
Wojceichowski said typically about 75 percent of the team members hit the fundraiser’s 20-card requirement with the rest selling a little bit more.
And then there’s Neilson.
“This is my third year as coach, and I still talk to Tristan’s freshman year coach all the time,” Wojceichowski began. “We were just touching base, and he asked how fundraising was going. I was like, ‘Well, Neilson broke his record again.’”
The current LHS coach said it’s indicative of the kind of player and person Neilson is.
“That’s just who he is. He’s a do-er,” Wojceichowski said. “He really takes pride in his ability to help the team in any way he can. He has personally put so much money into this program, knowing that he gets the same benefits as everyone else no matter how much he sells. But he still goes above and beyond.”
Wojceichowski added that there are definite benefits from some friendly competition among Neilson and his teammates.
“That’s the beauty of athletes: They all want to be the best,” he said. “In previous years, they’ve really tried to outsell Tristan. I think this is the year they accepted that they can’t.”
With this year’s fall sports being a question mark for most of the summer, Wojceichowski said he believed that fundraising as usual helped make it feel like the football season was a go.
“As we started to kick off the summer workouts, we didn’t really know if there was going to be a season or not,” he said. “Then, as we started talking about having a season more optimistically, I think that certainly helped the kids.”
For Neilson, his love of football, wanting to support his team and even thinking about his future were more than enough motivation to keep selling.
“I’m not the star linebacker or wide receiver, so I feel like the way I can give back to the team is to sell these cards, and it helps me, too, because I do want to go into sales,” he said.
While his focus will turn to lacrosse when he goes to college, Neilson said there’s nothing like football.
“It was hard thinking that there might not be a football season this year because I’ve played football practically all my life,” he said. “There’s just something about it. I love lacrosse and spring sports, but they don’t compare to the football stands on a Friday night and running onto the field. It’s amazing.”
And after fielding questions about the uncertainty of this year’s high-school football season all throughout his fundraising efforts, Neilson is happy to know that he and his teammates can start counting down to game time.
“We have a great team and coaches, and it feels great knowing that we get to play this year,” he said. “Lenape pride!”