By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Over the years, the Harrison High School boys’ soccer program has been almost like the United Nations of high school sports.
The Blue Tide has featured players from practically all over the globe, especially those with South American heritage.
Last year, the team’s best player, All-State defender Modou Sowe, originated from Africa.
Now, this year’s premier goal scorer, Ali Lakhrif, comes from Morocco.
“He moved to Harrison in the middle of his sophomore year,” said veteran Harrison boys’ soccer coach Mike Rusek. “The season had already ended. I keep a soccer ball in my closet and I brought it out into the hallway to see if he could kick it around. I realized that Ali could speak four languages.”
But the one language that Lakhrif spoke the best was the universal tongue of soccer.
“When John (Rusek, Mike’s assistant coach and brother) and I first started out, Harrison was like the melting pot, because we got kids from all over the place. But Ali said he was from Morocco and that was a first for us.”
It didn’t take long for Mike Rusek to realize that Lakhrif was a special player.
“When the weather got nicer, Ali was taken to (the famed Harrison) Courts to play,” Rusek said. “After seeing him every day, I said to John, ‘I think we have a find here.’ I didn’t see him on the big field, but I saw that he had some good ball skills.”
When Lakhrif’s family moved to Harrison from Morocco, Ali had no idea of the town’s rich soccer background. But he soon found out.
“I came here and wanted to play soccer,” said Lakhrif, who speaks French, Spanish, Moroccan and English. “I wanted to do well wherever we came to, but when I found out about the soccer here, I was very happy about it.”
Lakhrif fit in well with the Blue Tide and scored 15 goals, including the lone goal against Kearny in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals.
“I thought that if I scored that many last year, I could get more this year,” Lakhrif said. But no one could have ever imagined the impact that Lakhrif would have this season with the Blue Tide.
After scoring three goals in the Blue Tide’s 11-0 win over Bloomfield Tech last Thursday in the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state tournament, Lakhrif now has 33 goals, which ties the single season school record for goals. Leo Bodasian had 33 goals in 1973.
Imagine all the great players that have come through the storied Harrison program over the years. Lakhrif has now scored more goals in a season than all but one of them.
“We’ve had some kids get into the 20s and even 30s,” Rusek said. “That’s a special and Tony Dominguez had 30. Harrison is traditionally one of the better soccer programs. Ali has now tied the record. It’s incredible.”
For his efforts, Lakhrif has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“He’s just a very hard worker,” Rusek said of Lakhrif. “He does all the little drills to get better. Every time he steps onto the field, he’s giving 100%. It’s nice to see that hard work get rewarded. It’s like watching a young professional. He’s such a tough competitor. He has that drive that you don’t see often.”
Lakhrif is also a very unselfish player. He’s collected 19 assists as well this season.
“He’s a forward for us, but I think on the next level, he’ll wind up in the midfield,” Rusek said. “He’s a good student, so he’ll go on to college. He’s still looking at schools right now. Very quietly, he’s scored 33 goals. You don’t hear a lot about him.”
The Blue Tide scored 135 goals this season, the most in Rusek’s coaching career. A lot of that scoring production is because of the Moroccan import.
“I’m all for the team,” Lakhrif said. “It’s not just for me. I think I’ve been in the right place at the right time. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I hope to go far in college. I got very lucky to come to Harrison.”
Needless to say, Rusek is pleased with Lakhrif’s production.
“I am pleasantly surprised with what he’s done,” Rusek said. “I was hoping that he could get 20 goals. Well, if we keep playing, he might get double that.”
The Blue Tide was set to face New Providence after press time Monday in the sectional semifinals.
“I’m more than happy with Ali’s production,” Rusek said. “I think we underplay just how talented of a player he really is.”
The record books at Harrison High School will now tell it all, because with one more goal, Ali Lakhrif becomes the all-time single season record holder. That’s a legacy to last forever.