ROYAL FRONT — DJ Rizzo has fallen in love.
From the moment the Warren County eldest stepped onto the field for a Front Royal midget league football team at age 8, Rizzo was hooked.
“I played football, basketball, but as soon as I stepped on that court in those pads, it was a different kind of love,” Rizzo said. “You don’t feel much in your life. It was just crazy. Sport was just a way for me to release everything that’s going on in life. I don’t like to act in front of people. That’s not “It’s just not who I am. I like to stay calm, collected. But when I’m on the pitch, you have the legal right to hit someone. And that’s just a feeling of freedom for me.”
Rizzo, who plays on the offensive and defensive line, said what he loves most about the sport is team cohesion.
“Brothers you do – that’s something I will pursue in life,” Rizzo said. “The lessons I’ve learned are something I can pass on to my children and they can pass on to theirs. I hope my children will step onto the football pitch and make me proud. But just being in this family atmosphere has really given me I can’t wait to come to practice, come to school and see my guys in the hallway It’s just happiness – it’s love – it really is.
Another Rizzo love is being in the weight room. Rizzo said he is now a member of a local gym and lifts weights two hours a day six days a week.
“It’s another hangout, because football isn’t all year round,” Rizzo said. “But lifting weights and seeing the improvement is a mental boost.”
Rizzo said the bench press is not his strength, where he can develop around 300 pounds. However, he said he loves squats and can squat about 505 pounds.
“I like to squat,” Rizzo said. “Everyone says they dread leg day, but I like it. It’s really helpful with the explosion, the force coming off the ball and it helps a lot. I like squats, it’s fun. Weightlifting has become a part of me. It’s a part of my daily life. I love it. It’s like football. And I know it will help – coming to the football pitch while this work that I have done.”
Rizzo became a starter on the offensive line in his first season at Warren County. Rizzo said it wasn’t easy going up against older players, but looking back he’s glad he got through it.
“I’m glad I got through this because I feel like it helped me get to where I am right now — to overcome these challenges,” Rizzo said. “When you’re given stuff in life, you’re not going to be as good as you can be if you work for it. And that’s what being a freshman college player gave me.”
Rizzo said he also understood what brotherhood between football players looks like and that helped him as well. He said he made sure to be a leader for some of the younger players, like the older players did for him when he was a freshman.
Rizzo’s second year was a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Warren County head football coach Jerry Sarchet took over that year and shifted the offense to the sole wing.
Rizzo said it wasn’t really hard to learn the new attack, it was just different.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Rizzo said. “It was a different way to play. I’m not going to lie (2021 Warren County graduate and quarterback) Bryce Post made it pretty easy. On the line, it’s easy to block, to shoot. These are simple things So once I learned these simple things and I went over them many times And when you got a guy like Bryce you can just block hopefully and he’ll take off .
Last year, Rizzo’s season didn’t start the way he wanted. He injured his shoulder in the season opener against Clarke County. He had to miss the next three games and his value to the team showed on the pitch.
“Last year we missed it for a three-game streak, after the Clarke County game,” Sarchet said. “And ironically, we haven’t scored a lot of points in those games. So there’s a correlation between our point production and DJ on the line. So he’s the leader up front. He sets the protection. He makes the calls for us and makes the adjustments.”
Rizzo and the Wildcats bounced back and won three games and made the playoffs.
It was Rizzo’s first-ever playoff game, and he said it felt good.
Rizzo has also practiced other sports during his career. He played basketball as a sophomore and wrestled as a freshman during the winter season and he did track and field every year in high school.
Rizzo said he plans to return to wrestling this season. He said wrestling helped him become a better football player.
“My first year (wrestling) just learning hand movements and hand fighting really helped me on both sides of the ball as a lineman,” Rizzo said. “Not only is your body type one of the most important things, but your footwork and the way you move your hands. The way you move your hands is so important. helped a lot. So I think before I go to the prom, if I do, another year of wrestling (this year), mastering the techniques more and all that, maybe it will help me.
Rizzo has been a solid leader for the team over the past three years and is a team captain.
Sarchet said Rizzo’s leadership is important to the team.
“He has energy,” Sarchet said. “He’s just a great boy. He does everything we ask of him. And he’s my extension on the field, especially with the offensive line and up front. It’s that spark that keeps us going.”
The Wildcats open their season in Clarke County on Friday.
Rizzo said he believes this team can have a great season.
“I like what I see right now, especially up front,” Rizzo said. “Not even just ahead. We have more people who have come out this year. Some have never played football before, but we can help them. They can learn. Having these different athletes can help bring the team together. I think this season is going to be a memory.”
The first weekend in August, Rizzo received his first college football offer from Christopher Newport University. He said he hoped to get more, but he knows that no matter what, this high school season won’t be the last time he plays the game he loves.
“I hope it will attract more (offers),” Rizzo said. “But hopefully this season we’ll show, I’ll show, get the movie out in colleges. Hopefully more offers will come. But I mean, even if the offers don’t come, I’m still planning to go to college and maybe join a team, because I don’t know how long I could go without football. It’s just a part of me, it really is.”