Vikings look to improve on last season’s 4-6 mark
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Although North Arlington’s football team lost a key player in A.J. Nocciolo, the Observer’s Male Athlete of the Year for 2012-2013, veteran head coach Anthony Marck believes that his Vikings can be an improved team this fall.
“Don’t get me wrong, we obviously can’t replace someone like him,” Marck said of Nocciolo, who is now at ASA College in Brooklyn, a junior college. “He was with us for four years. He did so many great things for us. We can’t replace him, nor do we try to do it. But we have a different kind of team now.”
In fact, Marck likes the character of his current team.
“In my eight years, this is the tightest group we’ve had,” Marck said. “They are so close together. They work so hard together. They work harder than any group we’ve had. It’s a pleasure every day to come to the field and be with these kids. I genuinely get up every day excited to be with them. They’re a great group of kids.” And because of that, Marck believes that the Vikings can improve on last year’s 4-6 mark, mainly because the Vikings won their final three games of the tumultuous 2012 season, one that featured a loss of their practice facility at Rip Collins Field due to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
“We can be better,” Marck said.
Leading the way is senior quarterback Kenny Kuzmuk (5-10, 190).
“Kenny was the backup quarterback the last two years and he patiently waited his turn,” Marck said. “He’s a very bright kid and an outstanding athlete. We’re going to run the ball more this year. That’s the plan and we have to get his athleticism to the outside.”
Another key returnee is senior running back Mike Brazzel (5-7, 175). Brazzel rushed for 400 yards and had more than 300 yards in receiving last season while battling an assortment of injuries. Healthy, Brazzel is a very dangerous back.
“Mike may be the fastest kid we’ve ever had,” Marck said. “He’s a speed burner. He can get to the outside. He’s a super athlete and we have to line him up all over the place and get him the ball. He’s going to carry more of the load this year. He knows it and prepared well for the season.”
Junior Adrian Foote (5-9, 185) is a transfer from East Orange who will play right away and make his mark.
“He’s another fast kid and athletic,” Marck said. “The one thing I like is that they’re all athletic.”
Perhaps the best athlete of the bunch is senior Nick Martin (6-2, 235), who is a brilliant student athlete and is getting recruited by all of the Ivy League schools – a testament to Martin’s excellent academic standing.
“He’s what you want in a high school football player,” Marck said of Martin. “We recently had Cornell, Yale and Harvard in to see him. He’s in the top 10 of his class.”
Martin was a tight end last year who caught an astounding 63 passes last year, the top mark for any tight end in New Jersey. But to get Martin even more chances to touch the ball, he’s been moved inside to fullback. It’s going to make Martin even more of a serious threat.
“We feel that he can also help us there if he’s the lead blocker,” Marck said. “We’re a much better team with Nick at fullback. He gets positive yards when he gets it and we can run behind him.”
Senior Mohammad Jalal (6- 0, 170) is at one receiver.
“He’s been waiting in the wings for his chance,” Marck said. “He’s a hard working kid with good hands.”
Junior Alex Samaan (5-10, 170) is another quality target for Kuzmuk to throw to.
“He’s another speed burner,” Marck said. “He’s new to the position (wide receiver), so he’s still learning.”
Senior Ryan Austin (6-2, 215) is a capable tight end, making the Martin move to fullback that much easier.
The offensive line features four returning starters. Junior guard Danny Goffredo (5-10, 185) has been a three-year starter at guard.
“He’s been a starter since he came in as a freshman,” Marck said.
Senior Matt Karras (6-3, 250) started last year at center, with senior Anthony Muriale (6-0, 210) and junior Dominic Reo (5-10, 220) returning at tackle. Junior Brandon Pipher (5-9, 205) is the other starting guard.
Defensively, the Vikings play a 4-4 alignment, with Muriale and Reo at defensive end and Pipher and Karras at defensive tackle.
Despite being a quarterback, Kuzmuk is an outside linebacker, where he led the team in tackles last season. The other starter at outside linebacker is sophomore Joe Morales (5-10, 180).
Martin is a downright stud at inside linebacker. That might be the position he plays on the next level. The other inside linebacker is one of the best names you’ll find in local football. Junior Giuseppe Gugliuzza (5-10, 190) is a name right off the set of “The Sopranos.”
“He’s our most improved player,” Marck said. “He was our best camp player. He can definitely play.”
The cornerbacks are Brazzel and Foote, with Samaan at safety.
The Vikings open up their season Sept. 14 at Elmwood Park. They get their first chance to play on the new facility in Riverside County Park on Friday night, Sept. 20.
Marck believes the Vikings will be better this year.
“The schedule is relentless,” Marck said. “We have to get off to a good start. But the team chemistry is the key. It’s tremendous. Because of that alone, I feel we can be a lot better than we were last year.”
It should be exciting to watch.