Local grid stars have one last game to remember

Strange twist of fate reunites Banks, Urgola

Photo by Jim Hague From l., Dominic Reo of North Arlington, Giuseppe Gugliuzza of North Arlington, Kearny resident Kevin Woupes of St. Mary’s of Rutherford, fellow Kearny resident Keon Banks, also of St. Mary’s and Peter Urgola of Lyndhurst were all teammates on the South All-Stars at the annual Bergen County Senior All-Star Football Classic last Friday night, a game won by the South, 21-10.

Photo by Jim Hague
From l., Dominic Reo of North Arlington, Giuseppe Gugliuzza of North Arlington, Kearny resident
Kevin Woupes of St. Mary’s of Rutherford, fellow Kearny resident Keon Banks, also of St. Mary’s
and Peter Urgola of Lyndhurst were all teammates on the South All-Stars at the annual Bergen
County Senior All-Star Football Classic last Friday night, a game won by the South, 21-10.

OAKLAND – 

Kearny native Keon Banks and Lyndhurst’s Peter Urgola had a fateful encounter on the football field when both were freshmen at their respective schools – Banks at St. Mary’s of Rutherford and Urgola at Lyndhurst.

“Keon broke my nose,” Urgola said. “I was playing linebacker in a freshman game and my chin strap was broken. Keon was running and I tried to tackle him. He came up underneath the facemask and shattered my nose.”

Banks was flabbergasted that the event even took place. “I honestly didn’t remember it,” Banks said.

One might think that Urgola would always harbor some sense of anger toward Banks because of that incident.

But that wasn’t the case recently, when the two were part of the South All-Star squad that took on the North at the annual Bergen County Senior All-Star Classic held at Indian Hills High School last Friday night, a game won by the South squad, 21-10.

Banks and Urgola were two of five locals selected to play in the contest, giving each one last chance to wear their high school’s respective colors before heading off to college.

Banks and his St. Mary’s teammate Kevin Woupes, another Kearny resident, were on the South squad with Urgola of Lyndhurst and Giuseppe Gugliuzza and Dominic Reo of North Arlington.

Banks and Urgola were reminded of their first football encounter at a banquet honoring the All-Stars the night before the game.

“I really had no idea,” Banks said. “I told Pete I was sorry.”

The apology was accepted.

“It was a freak accident,” Urgola said. “It’s just wild how we’re teammates now for this game.”

Banks, the diminutive whirlwind who was one of the smallest players on the field at 5-foot-6, showed flashes of the brilliance that enabled him to rush for 1,301 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground his senior year. Banks also had two punt returns for scores, giving him 23 touchdowns, among the very best in Bergen County, and he finished his career finding the end zone an amazing 36 times.

You can make that 37 TDs for Banks, who got the South squad on the scoreboard with a 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a classic way for him to end his high school career.

“I was able to test my talents against some of the other great players in the county,” said Banks, who is headed to play at Montclair State University in the fall.

Banks said that he never looked at his height – or lack thereof – as a deterrent to becoming a top-flight running back.

“I never worried about that stuff,” Banks said. “I just came out and tried to play to the best of my ability. I never once worried about my size and never paid much attention to it. I just wanted to get the chance to play and prove myself, which I think I did.”

Woupes and Banks grew up with each other in Kearny and were totally inseparable all throughout grade school and then high school.

“I’ve seen Keon every single day of my life since I was 7 years old,” said Woupes, who will play defensive back at Bryant University in the fall. “We’ve always been together in everything. I was the fullback and he was the tailback. I did the blocking for him. It’s crazy to think that this was the last time we would play together. It’s a little bit sad.”

Woupes believed that the last time they were teammates was last November, when the Gaels lost to St. Anthony in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoffs.

“I thought that was it, but this gave us one more chance to be on the field together,” Woupes said. “We’ve been through a lot together. I’m going to miss being there for Keon.”

Woupes said that he was happy to get a chance to play in an All- Star game.

“I’m here with all the players you played against and read about in the newspapers,” Woupes said. “It’s a big thrill to put the pads on and get out there one more time.”

For Urgola, the game represented a sense of finality, because it was the final time he would put on a football uniform. Urgola is headed to Bergen County Community College in the fall, a school that doesn’t offer football.

“This is it for me,” said Urgola, who played linebacker in the game. “It’s pretty wild to think that I’m going to stop playing football after this. I almost can’t believe it’s over. But it’s a great feeling to get one last chance to play. It has been a lot of fun, getting to know everyone.”

For the North Arlington teammates, their careers will continue on and will become teammates with Banks at Montclair State.

“I’m obviously very happy,” said Gugliuzza, who also played linebacker in the All-Star game. “It’s a huge honor for me. Dominic has been my best friend for all four years of playing football at North Arlington. I’m glad to share this with him. We’re playing against the best in Bergen County, so it’s definitely getting me ready for college. It also gives me confidence that I can play in college. I was a little bit nervous coming into the game, but I definitely proved it to myself that I could do it.”

Unfortunately, Reo, the standout two-way lineman for the Vikings last fall, suffered torn ligaments in his ankle in the first practice prior to the game and was unable to play. He was in his uniform jersey, on the sidelines, but was wearing a protective boot on his foot.

“I’m very disappointed that this happened,” Reo said. “I was really looking forward to the game. It was only able to get one practice in, but I think I was able to handle myself well. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I think I was able to challenge myself a little. It’s just a shame that I couldn’t play in the game.”

Reo will play either defensive end or tight end at Montclair State with Gugliuzza and Banks.

“It’s great for me, because I got to be with some of my future teammates,” Reo said. “It was definitely a big honor.”

And for guys like Urgola, Reo and Gugliuzza, they were able to finish their high school careers on winning notes, after struggling somewhat with their respective high schools last season.

“It was definitely a great feeling,” Urgola said.

And it’s safe to say that Urgola had fully recovered from the broken nose he suffered from Banks. It’s funny how the game of football can provide wild circumstances – breaking a nose one year and teammates in their final high school game.

“It’s pretty crazy when you think about it,” Urgola said.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer