PHILADELPHIA — Guillermo Rosario-Acosta stood in the rain on the turf field at General Brown high school as Indian River prepared for a joint preseason practice with the Lions.
Standing near the 40-yard line in pads and a navy blue practice jersey, Rosario-Acosta thought back to his breakout 2018 season.
He was thinking about his defining moment — there are quite a few games to consider.
There’s opening night when out of nowhere he produced 133 rushing yards and a touchdown versus Carthage. There’s a mid-September game versus Fulton where he scored three touchdowns for the first time that year (he finished the season with four such games). There’s the state regional game versus Vestal when he found the end zone four times.
But he was clear with his choice, “the semifinals versus Auburn at Watertown,” he stated.
That playoff game in late October was not unlike most of Indian River’s games that season, the Warriors beat Auburn into submission, 45-14, punching their ticket to sectional finals in the Carrier Dome.
Rosario-Acosta delivered a season-high 279 rushing yards while also scoring twice.
By that point in the season, Rosario-Acosta was established. On any other team in the area he would have been the clear number one back. But at Indian River he played in a shadow. Kwazsi Gaddis was in his senior season and playing out of his mind — by season’s end he had amassed more than 2,200 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns and was an All-North, All-CNY and All-State first teamer.
Against Auburn, a game where Gaddis rushed for only 91 yards, Rosario-Acosta proved to everyone, including himself, that he can be the guy.
A year later, he’s preparing to follow through. After attending a strength-and-conditioning camp over the summer with some teammates, Rosario-Acosta has been using training camp to adjust to his new role as the lead back.
“It definitely feels like I have a lot more on my back this year, I have to demonstrate a lot more,” Rosario-Acosta said. “I looked up to Kwazsi last year. Now he’s gone so it’s my turn.”
Even graduated, Gaddis’s energetic presence is still felt at practice. References to him and his style of play could be heard throughout different drills.
Rosario-Acosta had the opportunity to watch Gaddis up close for months.
“I looked up to him, like, every game coming up, I always looked up to him at every practice and every game,” Rosario-Acosta said.
Last season, he felt pushed to prove that he could be just as good of a running back as his mentor, and even now, with Gaddis gone, Rosario-Acosta still has that feeling that he needs to live up to the standard.
His dedication to proving his worth isn’t lost on his teammates — they’ve seen the work he’s put in. Junior offensive lineman, Garret Decker, who worked out alongside Rosario-Acosta at the strength-and-conditioning camp, has taken notice.
“He knows his role now, everyone knows that Kwazsi left and he’s going to be that guy, he knows he’s the next up and he expects that,” Decker said. “He worked hard this off-season, so he’s definitely prepared for that.”
Rosario-Acosta has always been more of a power running back who wouldn’t have much trouble breaking a tackle or two each time he carried the ball. As quarterback Bobby Alexander put it, “[Rosario-Acosta] was more of a down hill runner while Kwazsi was more of a dancer.”
But Rosario-Acosta also possesses a sneaky amount of speed that Decker believes improved over the summer.
“I’ve definitely seen improvement with his speed, he was fast last year but he’s gotten a lot faster,” Decker said. “He’s more powerful, his legs are really strong, and I think he’s definitely going to break some tackles. We saw that last year, but he’s very strong.”
Defenses quickly became aware of what Rosario-Acosta could do but could never afford to pay less attention to Gaddis. With that threat now gone — along with the departure of third running back Jayden Henhawk — defenses will zero in on Rosario-Acosta’s No. 2 light blue jersey on every play.
Coach Cory Marsell doesn’t think that Rosario-Acosta will be alone though, he wouldn’t be surprised if other Warriors emerge as threats in the backfield as well.
“Before last year, you didn’t know about Guillermo, you knew about Kwazsi but you didn’t know about Guillermo and you didn’t know about Henhawk before last year,” Marsell said “So we have some guys that are going to fill into those roles.”
No matter who those players are, eyes will still be on Guillermo Rosario-Acosta. They have to be.