Robbinsville football team blocks out distractions

Robbinsville football coach Irving Fryar suspended Oct. 22 after fraud indictment

All offseason, the members of the Robbinsville High School football team had to answer questions about their new head coach.

The Ravens found Irving Fryar, their coach and a former NFL wide receiver, in the spotlight once again in mid-October, albeit for reasons that were more dubious. In his first season at the helm of the Robbinsville High football program, Fryar was indicted, along with his mother, Oct. 16 on charges that they conspired to steal more than $690,000 through a loan scam.

On Oct. 22, as a result of the allegations, the Robbinsville Board of Education suspended Fryar for the rest of the year.

Mitar Rudanovic, who had been coaching the squad’s offensive and defensive lines, has taken over head coaching duties on an interim basis. Rudanovic, a former Rutgers University football player, will serve as in the head coaching role for the remainder of the season.

The Oct. 16 news about Fryar had the potential to unhinge the Ravens. They had gone from preparing to face Riverside in three days to finding their head coach in headlines, their coaching staff shuffled, their team subject to questions once again.

To succeed, they’d have to shut out the noise from outside the team and in their own heads about the man who had led them. They’d be dealing with more adversity than merely trying to turn an 1-4 start into a successful 2013 season.

It’s a task even athletes at the professional level struggle to achieve. But the Ravens had no choice, even though they had done nothing to place themselves in the situation they now sat. The state attorney general’s office alleged Fryar had done something, and an investigation years in the making had come to a head here.

Acting state Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced Oct. 16 Fryar, 51, and Allene McGhee, 72, were indicted by a state grand jury on second-degree charges of conspiracy and theft by deception. The pair allegedly tried to steal $690,000 by having McGhee fraudulently obtain five home equity loans on her home within a six-day period in 2009, according to a press release by the State Attorney General’s office. Fryar and McGhee allegedly deceived the five banks by applying for and closing on the loans within a short period and purposefully failing to disclose the existence of any prior loans, the Attorney General’s office said.

Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson assigned the case to Burlington County, where Fryar and his mother will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later date.

“This is not a case in which Mr. Fryar and his mother simply omitted or misstated information on loan applications,” Hoffman said in the release. “This indictment alleges that they engaged in an elaborate criminal scheme that was designed to defraud these banks of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is disappointing that someone with an illustrious career in professional sports who now is a minister and coach in the community is charged with this crime, but he must face justice like anyone else.”

Robbinsville school district superintendent Steve Mayer and school board president Michael Reca released a joint statement Oct. 17 to football players and their parents, addressing the charges against Fryar and pledging their support for the athletes.

“By now we have all heard and are attempting to process the news about our Head Football Coach Fryar,” the statement read. “Overall, we are most disappointed that this situation has let you down, and we want you to know how much we appreciate the hard work and character you have shown the past three months … I know that Coach Fryar spoke a lot about character and the importance of holding fast to your convictions and your word, which is likely confusing at this time. Please know that lessons in life never come without adversity and the importance of speaking truth and standing for your convictions has never been more important than now. Be encouraged to continue to work hard in football and in life. Be encouraged to build on the foundation that has been laid these past three months so that the substance of your own character becomes an integral and positive part of your own dignity and worth.

“With all of the news media and hype around this story, we do not want to miss what is most important: Your ability as a team to finish strong and support each other.”

The Ravens heeded the message, and kept hope alive for a winning season. In their first game without their head coach, the Ravens defeated Riverside, 40-22, Oct. 19 in Riverside. The win improved Robbinsville to 2-4 on the year, and conjured images of the 2012 season. Last year, the Ravens won their final four games after a 1-4 start.

The 2013 Ravens were scheduled to play at Ewing High School Oct. 25, after this edition went to press. The team rounds out its schedule with its home finale 7 p.m. Nov. 1 against Pemberton Township High School before hitting the road for its regular season finale at Holy Cross Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.