Rodriguez, Adams fuel Spartans’ claim to sectional title

Deptford wins second consecutive NJSIAA South Jersey Group III title

Special to South Jersey Sports Weekly: Deptford High School successfully defended its 2019 NJSIAA South Jersey Group III title at Delsea Regional High School earlier this month, winning back-to-back state titles and its fifth in program history. Standout performances from seniors Julian Rodriguez and John Adams helped Deptford hold off Highland and Toms River South.

Still defending champions from their 2019 title, Deptford’s track team was successful in winning back-to-back sectional outdoor titles earlier this month after edging out Highland and Toms River South to win the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III title at Delsea Regional High School.

Two prominent seniors were instrumental in helping the Spartans ensure the title stays in the Deptford High building for another year. And while they can both now celebrate at the top of their respective events, seniors Julian Rodriguez and John Adams have taken very different routes to get where they are now.

Two years ago at the sectional meet in 2019, Rodriguez scored a modest amount of points for a sophomore during Deptford’s first sectional title in 35 years, recording a fifth place finish in the 400-meter hurdles and a sixth place finish in the pole vault.

Rodriguez said looking back, watching the seniors and juniors ahead of him excel ignited a desire in him to keep getting better, so he can play the same instrumental role in the program in a year or two.

“It definitely opened my eyes to the possibility of me doing better,” said Rodriguez. “I was doing really well during indoor [track] before COVID hit, and it was kind of depressing when it wiped out that time to compete my junior year. I wanted to see new records for myself and just keep getting better.”

With the extended time off due to COVID to prepare for his senior year, Rodriguez  focused on relaxing his form and getting stronger in the weight room, believing those two things could be key to a successful senior year.

“I wanted my senior year to be the best that it could possibly be,” said Rodriguez. “I focused a lot on relaxing while running, because I was so tense when I ran a lot of the time. And then I did hit the weight room a lot, too.”

All his hard work paid off, with Rodriguez claiming three gold medals at the sectional meet in the 110-high hurdles, the 400-meter hurdles and the pole vault. Coach Kevin Sherry, who’s been with the program since 2008, said Rodriguez has always been one of the harder workers in the program since arriving as a freshman, a factor that finally paid huge dividends in his senior year.

“He’s always worked hard since day one,” Sherry said. “He’s one of those guys that we could see him progressing each year, and we felt really bad losing last year because we had high hopes going into last year for what he could possibly do.

“He’s super versatile,” added Sherry. “ I mean, look at what he’s done … He can sprint, he can hurdle, he can do all the jumps … He can really excel at whatever events he wants to focus on moving forward, he’s just that versatile.”

Also in the sprints, Adams was able to win the gold medal in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, with close finishes on the track to score major points for the Spartans. For Adams though, his journey has been one of perseverance and dedication through adversity.  

Both Sherry and Adams admit freshman year didn’t exactly qualify as great, but with a  commitment to getting better, Adams continued to work at dropping his times dramatically.

He was doing just that during his sophomore year in winter track, before being sidelined with a hip injury that kept him out for the entire outdoor season. That left Adams watching his team win the sectional title without him.

“I wasn’t able to really be on the team that won the sectional title in 2019, and that motivated me to really work harder, to get back there my junior year,” said Adams. 

He dropped from 7.4 to a 6.8 during the indoor season in junior year, before the pandemic eventually shut down the outdoor competitions. Regardless, Adams kept the same mentality alive, hoping he and his teammates would have a senior year.

“I kept that same mentality that I did when I was injured and came back my senior year for indoor, trying to do what I wanted to the year before,” said Adams. “Coming off this last indoor season just made me even more confident that I knew I could do what I believed I could to help my team win a sectional title. And the rest is history, as we know.”

While he believed the guys in the program had the potential to defend the sectional title coming into the season, Sherry said he and the team were just happy to compete and have an outdoor season again early in the year, and he didn’t set his sights on another sectional title until later in the season.

“I think at first, our main focus was just to be back out there, and we felt fortunate that we were able to go out there and do what we were able to do,” Sherry said. “We don’t focus on putting pressure on guys to win championships, we focus mostly on doing things the right way. And we expect that if we do that, times and results will come based on the work we’ve done.”