Updated: Thursday, December 21, 2017, 11:21 AM
They’ve been friends and teammates for a long time.
But as of Wednesday, Isaih Pacheco and Nihym Anderson were officially foes on opposite sides of a college football rivalry.
“He’ll always be my brother,” Pacheco said of Anderson. “No matter what happens in college.”
The Vineland stars each signed a national letter of intent with a Big Ten team. Pacheco hitched his wagon with in-state Rutgers and Anderson cast his fate with Maryland.
@VinelandFB stars Nihym Anderson and Isaih Pacheco could play against each other in Big 10 action at Rutgers and Maryland. Anderson: “I know his moves.” @RFootball @TerpsFootball @isaih_pacheco @NihymAnderson pic.twitter.com/kJDHfw0UQq
— Philip Anastasia (@PhilAnastasia) December 20, 2017
Another Vineland player, offensive lineman Noah Sansalone, signed with Bucknell during a red-letter day for the program.
All three athletes were honored during a ceremony in the school’s weight room on Wednesday afternoon.
“It means a lot,” Anderson said. “Coming from Vineland, to sign a college scholarship, it means the world.”
Pacheco, a quarterback who was recruited by Rutgers as a running back/athlete, and Anderson, who was recruited by Maryland as a linebacker, were front and center in coach Dan Russo’s rebuilding project at Vineland.
“These guys, they changed the culture,” Russo said.
After years as a soft spot on a lot of schedules, Vineland in the last two years emerged as a South Jersey power with a physically imposing lineup.
The Clan went 8-2 in both seasons, finishing in the Top 15 rankings and beating arch-rival Millville, another South Jersey Group 5 power, on consecutive Thanksgiving Day games.
“That’s what I’ll remember most, the Millville games,” Sansalone said. “Coming here early to eat breakfast, then going over there to play Millville.”
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Pacheco was a four-year starter for Vineland. As a senior, he ran for 1,414 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Pacheco compared signing with Rutgers to his decision to play for Vineland when he had options to join non-public programs in the area.
“Staying home in Jersey means a lot to me,” Pacheco said. “It feels warming to me. When I was growing up and playing in Vineland, I had a lot of choices. Other schools wanted me, but I decided to stay home in Vineland and play for my hometown. That’s what I’m doing at Rutgers, staying home and playing in Jersey.”
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Anderson was a three-year starter. As a senior, he made 64 tackles with seven sacks, and also ran for 817 yards and 14 touchdowns as a fullback.
“I’ll be the first person in my family to play college football,” he said.
The duo combined to raise the profile of Vineland football. In the 12 seasons between 2004 and 2015, the Clan went an aggregate 40-83 and never posted a record above .500.
But that changed after Pacheco and Anderson got some experience and took the field as juniors.
The program’s only losses in the last two seasons were to St. Augustine Prep (twice) and to Howell and Lenape in the South Jersey Group 5 tournament.
“It’s great for the youth; they’re going to come in and want to be like us,” Anderson said. “But we encourage them to be better than us. We went 8-2, so we tell them, ‘Go 12-0.’”
Starting next season, the old friends who have been teammates since youth football will be playing for Big Ten division rivals, with Pacheco likely to be carrying the football for the Scarlet Knights and Anderson looking to make tackles for the Terps.
“It’s going to be crazy playing against him,” Anderson said. “But I know his moves.”