When Petey Guerriero left Lyndhurst High School for Monmouth University in 2016, he was destined to be a track and field star.
After all, Guerriero, the 2015-2016 Observer Male Athlete of the Year, signed a letter of intent to run track at the West Long Branch college. For all intents and purposes, Guerriero was going to make his mark in track. His football playing days were apparently done, even after rushing for 2,161 yards and scoring 21 touchdowns as a quarterback for the Golden Bears. Guerriero averaged 11.1 yards every time he carried the ball and averaged 240 yards per game.
But in his heart, Guerriero missed playing football.
“I guess going back to Lyndhurst High School and standing on the sidelines, watching the team, I realized that I missed it a lot,” said Guerriero, who had already established himself last winter and spring as a sprinter for the Monmouth track team. “I knew that I wanted to play football again and wondered if I was going to be able to do both.”
Guerriero’s scholarship to Monmouth was indeed for track, so a return to the gridiron seemed remote. But Monmouth veteran head football coach Kevin Callahan was familiar with Guerriero’s heroics on the gridiron.
“I knew who he was and I knew the Lyndhurst program,” Callahan said. “I knew that he was a high school quarterback who ran a lot out of the Wildcat formation. I knew he was here and decided to come for track and he did well in track.”
In fact, Guerriero was the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference 100 and 200-meter dash champion last spring for the Hawks.
However, there was this burning desire to play football again.
“I talked to the football coaches and they said that they had a spot for me,” Guerriero said. “I saw one of their games last year and it always was in my mind that it was something I could do. I just had to work hard towards playing football.”
Callahan realized that Guerriero could indeed participate in both track and field and football.
“I knew that he would be able to do it,” Callahan said. “But I didn’t know what he would do. I decided to give him an opportunity to see if he could handle it. It became clear during preseason that he was going to be able to do some things for us.”
Guerriero quickly moved up the depth chart in preseason practices. He was first listed as the No. 4 tailback, but then ascended up the chart with every practice and scrimmage.
“You could see he was talented and fast,” Callahan said.
Guerriero knew that he had his work cut out for him, considering he didn’t practice with the team during spring practice sessions.
“I was definitely behind,” Guerriero said. “I was definitely a little rusty, being away from football for a year. I was behind in the plays, but I was in good shape because of track. I jumped on pretty quickly and learned a lot pretty fast.”
Guerriero eventually became the Hawks’ main threat in the backfield and was making a major mark with the Hawks.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” Guerriero said. “I picked up the offense, learned the blocking schemes and it just clicked from there. I was definitely nervous at first, because I didn’t know what I might be able to accomplish.”
Guerriero has enjoyed a brilliant freshman campaign for the Hawks, who own a 9-1 record, including seven straight wins.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Guerriero has rushed for 913 yards on 147 carries (a 6.0 yard per carry average) with seven touchdowns. He has also caught 12 passes for an additional 63 yards, which puts him close to 1,000 total yards as a freshman.
Last week, in the Hawks’ 41-14 win over Gardner-Webb, Guerriero rushed for 109 yards on 18 carries, putting the Hawks in contention for an NCAA FCS (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) playoff berth.
And for his efforts as an accomplished two-sport collegiate athlete, Guerriero has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to accomplish everything that I have this season,” Guerriero said. “I’m really excited for what the future holds. I definitely feel like I can get a lot better. I can get bigger and stronger. I can get faster. Although I’m having a good year, there’s still a lot I can learn and benefit from.”
Guerriero is listed as a sophomore on the track team, but a freshman in football. He will have three more years of eligibility with the Hawk football team after this year.
“His ability to make the transition from being a high school quarterback to college running back has been excellent,” Callahan said. “I think his concept of the game has really helped him. I think he’s still developing as a college running back. He’s running with patience and following his blocks well. He sees how the hole opens up and sees how things may break for him. Once he got a feel for that, we knew he was going to be fine. You can see his explosiveness as a runner. He gets through the hole and he’s gone.”
Callahan said that he had no problems with Guerriero being a two-sport athlete.
“We’re comfortable with it,” Callahan said. “It takes a special kid to be able to handle both and Pete is a special kid. The demands on him are now so much greater. It could make for a very long year with academics and athletics. But I think he’s up to the task. He’s a good student. I don’t see a problem.”
Guerriero is majoring in accounting at Monmouth.
“I’m excited about the fact that we have three more years of eligibility with Pete,” Callahan said.
Guerriero said that he will take about two weeks off after football season is over to recuperate, then will head back to the Monmouth track team in time for the second half of the indoor track season.
“Toward the end of January or early February, I should be ready to compete again,” Guerriero said.
Needless to say, the football campaign has been so much better than Guerriero could have ever dreamed.
“I’m definitely surprised,” Guerriero said. “I wanted to be able to accomplish big things, but I also thought it was a little farfetched.”
Guerriero said that he remains in contact with Lyndhurst football coach Rich Tuero.
“We talk about a lot of things,” Guerriero said. “He told me that I could do it. I’m lucky to have people like him behind me and rooting for me.”
Guerriero said that he still comes home to Lyndhurst on a regular basis to get his dose of Golden Bear life.
“I just came back home recently for a game,” Guerriero said. “I pride myself on being from Lyndhurst. A lot of people don’t know what Lyndhurst is all about. I just want to go out and prove everyone wrong. There’s a famous quote that says you can measure height and measure weight, but you can’t measure my heart. I just want to continue to prove a lot of people wrong, the people who didn’t believe in me, who didn’t think I could do it. It’s definitely been a lot of fun.”
The Hawks have one regular season game remaining this weekend against Kennesaw State in Georgia, then possibly the FCS playoffs. Who would have ever believed it was possible for a track star to be a leader on a college football playoff team? Petey Guerriero sure believed _ and now he’s living the dream.