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Category: Sports

Lucas tells all in poignant book ‘Under Pressure’

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Harrison’s favorite son writes about battles with painkillers

 

By Jim Hague

 Observer Sports Writer 

Ray Lucas makes no bones about where he’s from. He’s Harrison through and through.

If you have a lengthy conversation with the former Jets quarterback and current television and radio football analyst, Lucas is bound to mention his hometown a dozen times.

“Growing up in Harrison, playing sports was everything,” said Lucas, who just released a poignant and powerful memoir, entitled “Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do It Again.”

“The way Harrison sports were, if you weren’t tough, you didn’t survive,” Lucas said. “Sports were the equalizer in Harrison. Harrison football was the right of passage. You got the right to wear your jersey to school on Friday before the game. That was huge. I got to do it as a freshman. That’s what shaped me.”

Lucas, who went from Harrison High School to Rutgers to the NFL and stints with the Jets, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, now works as an announcer on the Rutgers radio network and on SNY covering the Jets, was talked into writing a book about his life by his agent, Mark Lepsetter.

“He said it like three years ago that I should write a book,” said Lucas, who worked on the book with author David Seigerman. “After everything I went through and where I came from, I started thinking about it. I talked to my wife (Cecy) and we decided to do it.”

The book, released recently by Triumph Books and found in bookstores and on line at Amazon.com, enables Lucas to tell his remarkable tale from growing up in Harrison, coming from a controversial family background to eventually tackling the demons of severe drug addiction to prescription pain medications.

Lucas was born in 1972 out of wedlock. His father was serving in Vietnam when his mother became pregnant by another man, an African-American.

“Out popped the chocolate boy wonder,” Lucas writes in his book.

When Tom Lucas came home from Vietnam, he married Ray’s mother and raised Ray as his own.

“My Dad is the greatest man I’ve ever known,” Lucas said. “I still try to be half the man he is.”

As Lucas got older, he heard the talk from people in town.

“I was in the sixth or seventh grade and I used to get beat up in school,” Lucas said. “I was the only black kid around. I didn’t know any better. He was my father and my mother was my mother. My sister was my sister and she’s white. I never had the guts to ask my Dad what happened. The man’s not my biological father, but he’s my Dad. He told me that he loved my mother too much to leave her be alone.”

Lucas became an All-State football and basketball player at Harrison High, eventually earning a scholarship to Rutgers to play football. At Rutgers, under head coach Doug Graber, Lucas flourished as the quarterback in one of the best offenses in the East. It led to a tryout with the New England Patriots, earning the respect of head coach Bill Parcells, who wrote the forward to Lucas’ book. Parcells took a major liking to Lucas and gave him a spot on the Patriots’ roster, even if it meant Lucas had to play special teams.

It opened the door for Lucas’ six-year career in the NFL, but it also led to more serious problems. Lucas had neck and back injuries that led to a host of surgeries and forced him to take any and all kinds of painkillers.

“I have a four-inch plate and eight screws in my neck,” Lucas said. “I’ve had three neck surgeries, two back surgeries, three right shoulder surgeries and one right elbow surgery. I’ve also had four right knee and three left knee surgeries.”

Four years ago, Lucas’ addiction to painkillers became totally out of control.

“I couldn’t look in the mirror anymore,” Lucas said. “I didn’t know who I was. I was taking 1,400 pills a month. Oxycontin, Percocet, you name it, I’d take it. I made sure I always had enough. I was down to 168 pounds. I was sick, really sick.”

Lucas was getting assistance from P.A.S.T. Retired Athletes Medical Resource Group after he had another surgery.

“They asked me to tell my story in Dallas,” Lucas said. “I didn’t want anyone to know my story and to know I was an addict. I made the decision to go to Dallas and when I got there, I knew I wasn’t alone.”

Lucas went straight to a drug rehabilitation facility in West Palm Beach for six weeks.

“I don’t even remember the first three days,” Lucas said. “I took 30 pills right off the plane and another 20 before I got to the place. The first day, I went through withdrawal and I wouldn’t ask that on anyone. It was extremely difficult.”

Lucas said that he went to rehab very defensive.

“I couldn’t trust anyone,” Lucas said. “I was extremely guarded. I didn’t have any of my friends around. I didn’t see my wife for four weeks. Once she came to see me and opened up to me, it was so good to see her. It was like seeing her for the very first time.”

Lucas’ courage in writing the book is incredible. It can’t be easy being a public figure, especially a beloved sports hero in his hometown, where he lives once again with his wife and three daughters, and opening up his private life in print.

“I feel blessed,” Lucas said. “When you screw something up so badly, you want to know how to fix it. I wanted to be a great father, a great husband, a great son, a great friend. I worked my tail off to get better. Now, everything tastes better and looks better. I love what I’m able to do now.”

Lucas realizes that he will never be pain free ever again. But he won’t go back to pharmaceuticals to cure the ills.

“My knees hurt, my back hurts, my neck hurts,” Lucas said. “But I’m choosing to deal with it. None of the pain is bad enough that I have to reach for something. I’m not afraid of a gun or a knife, but I am afraid of a little white thing. I know I don’t take my wife and kids for granted anymore.”

Lucas, now 42 years old, discussed the motivation for writing the book.

“I think it was something for me to do to reach someone who is suffering in silence,” Lucas said. “When you go through everything I went through, you want people to know that everything gets better. I never thought in a million years that I would become an author. It’s insane. When I started this, I wanted to make sure it was in my voice. That meant everything to me. It’s just another way for me to reach people.

Added Lucas, “The book has something for everyone. There’s a football aspect to it. There’s a life aspect to it.”

Lucas also spoke about getting Parcells involved in the book.

“Bill Parcells is the second greatest man I’ve ever met, next to my Dad,” Lucas said. “We’ve had some good times together and some tough times. I love the guy. He had no problems with me coming in and playing special teams for him. We talk still all the time. He always calls my wife the wrong name. But he truly cares about me. I knew that early on. I guess it was the Jersey Boy connection. We had mutual respect for each other from the very first day.”

Just like Ray Lucas has respect for himself nowadays, after all he endured, as written in his excellent book.

“Under Pressure: How Playing Football Almost Cost Me Everything and Why I’d Do It All Again,” by Ray Lucas and David Seigerman, is out in book stores and on Amazon.com.

A return to glory for NA girls’ volleyball

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

There was a time when North Arlington High School had a perennial power in girls’ volleyball.

Led by Hall of Fame head coach Don Cooper, the Vikings were one of the premier programs in northern New Jersey, culminated with the 2004 NJSIAA Group I state championship.

However, in recent years, the Vikings had fallen on somewhat of tough times. Head coach Bernadette Afonso had been working diligently to get the program back on the right track.

“Even with the tradition we had here, I knew it was going to take a couple of years,” said Afonso, currently in her sixth season as the head coach. “It’s tough filling the shoes of someone like Don Cooper. We did have some frustrating moments.”

But Afonso saw some light at the end of the tunnel last year, when the Vikings flirted with a .500 record and ended with a 14-15 mark.

“We started to play real well together last year,” Afonso said. “We have a good group of coachable young ladies.”

Now having a senior dominated roster, the Vikings knew that this was their last chance to make a mark.

“We feel like we put so much work into it for the past four years,” said senior outside hitter Leandra Acosta. “We knew we could have a good team this year. We had the potential to do some great things.”

“We haven’t had the best of times over the last four years,” said senior Lisbeth Infante. “This year, we’re trying to make up for it.”

The Vikings have exploded out of the gate in 2014, winning seven of their first nine matches.

“We’re like a family,” said senior middle hitter Elizabeth Danco. “We’re all on the same page.”

Afonso likes the way her team has jelled at the right time.

“We’re playing with consistency and confidence,” Afonso said. “And we’re sticking to that. We’re going to see what we can do from here on. Our seniors have really come together and we’re moving in the direction to where we want to be. Their commitment has been excellent. I’m not surprised with the way we’ve started. They’ve been with me for four years and I’ve watched them develop. It’s all coming into place at the right time.”

Afonso likes the Vikings’ attention to detail.

“They’re all students of the game now,” Afonso said. “They realize what they have to do. They play relaxed and play together and that’s the key.”

In a sport like volleyball, where each player has to rely on her teammates, togetherness is essential.

“They do have great chemistry together,” Afonso said. “Chemistry is 99 percent of this game. We had teams in the past that had equal or better skill, but they didn’t play together like this group.”

Senior setter Alexis Rosko took the time in the offseason to play club volleyball to get better.

“It’s a tough job being the setter,” Afonso said. “It’s a trying position to play. But she grew to love the position.”

Former Viking great Ashley Marrero, who played on the 2004 state championship squad, came in to help Rosko transition into becoming a solid setter.

“I learned a lot from her,” Rosko said. “I think because we weren’t expected to do anything, to be where we are, it makes it all more rewarding.”

“The more success she had at the position, the better we became,” Afonso said. “The setter runs everything. Her play is very important.”

Danco has been solid at the net, collecting 10 kills and six service aces per game.

“She’s a very versatile and smart player,” Afonso said of Danco.

Junior Melanie Goffredo is another solid player at the net.

“She’s our most improved player from last year,” Afonso said of Goffredo, who is collecting six kills per game and also has excellent passing skills.

Junior Brianna Wilson is the Vikings’ other player at the net.

“Her skills are improving,” Afonso said. “She’s the first server of the match, so she gets us going. She’s also our most consistent server.”

Acosta has developed into a fine hitter.

“Her skills are improving with every game,” Afonso said. “She’s not the tallest girl in the world, but she’s not afraid to block on the outside. She’s quick at the net and she’s not intimidated at all.”

“I see the banner and the stuff from the 2004 state championship team all the time,” Acosta said. “I say that we can do it as well. It’s definitely a great motivation, because we want to be state champs.”

Infante has also improved tremendously.

“Her confidence level is where it needs to be,” Afonso said. “I’m looking forward to watching her keep improving.”

“This is definitely a reward for our hard work,” Infante said. “Everything is going well this year.”

The Vikings have been getting contributions off the bench from junior setter Yohanna Gonzalez, junior back row player Alyssa Romano and junior setter Tizana Cristiano.

Needless to say, volleyball is a lot more pertinent and exciting this fall in North Arlington.

“It’s been a blast,” Afonso said. “I’m so happy for the girls. When you have chemistry like this, you find success. These girls were able to stick it out, work hard and now we see the results.”

The results are a winning volleyball team in North Arlington – once again.

Lyndhurst continues winning ways in girls’ soccer

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

It’s never easy when a high school girls’ soccer program has to replace a handful of graduating seniors. But the Lyndhurst High School program lost 12 seniors at last June’s commencement exercises, a staggering total for a small school.

The Golden Bears saw standouts like Grace Tomko, Dina Ingenito and Amanda Nowak move on, the latter two currently playing for the Felician College women’s soccer program. It’s a lot for one program to overcome.

However, the Golden Bears haven’t missed a beat thus far in 2014, winning five of their first six matches, including three straight shutout wins last week against Ridgefield, Queen of Peace and Dwight- Englewood.

The Golden Bears also won three straight contests by identical 8-0 margins. That’s a pretty impressive scoring outburst. Since losing in the season opener to New Milford, Lyndhurst has rolled off five straight wins, all via shutout.

Still, head coach Kim Hykey _ one of the greatest players in the school’s history now serving as coach at her alma mater _ believes that the Golden Bears’ best soccer is ahead of them.

“I still think it’s going to be a transition period,” said Hykey, now in her fourth season as head coach. “The talent is there. It’s just going to take a little time.”

The Golden Bears have a new goalkeeper this season in Sara Barreiros, who has been nothing short of brilliant thus far, posting five straight clean sheets after allowing just one goal in the opening loss to New Milford.

“She has the potential to be a good one,” Hykey said of Barreiros. “She’s not afraid to come out of the goal and hold the line.”

Sophomore Kelsie Kearns inherits the role of being the team’s sweeper. Kearns started as a freshman last year.

“She’s super tough and super fast,” Hykey said. “She’s a warrior back there. She plays bigger than her size.”

Claudia Engels, another sophomore, is the team’s stopper. Engles is also a returning starter.

Sophomore Caitlyn Blake and juniors Joanne Arvanitakis and Gabrielle Franchino are the other defenders who have obviously stood out thus far.

“The back line is young, but experienced,” Hykey said. “I love it, because it means our future is bright back there. Every coach would love to have a young and experienced back line.”

In the midfield, the Golden Bears will count on senior Giana DiTonto, one of just two returning senior starters from the team that went to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II semifinals a year ago.

DiTonto collected an astounding 22 assists last year, but Hykey is looking for a little bit more this year. “

She’s going to have to find the net a few more times this year,” said Hykey of DiTonto, who had two goals last year.

“We need her to think shot and not pass a little more this year.” So far, DiTonto has obliged to her coach’s wishes, as she has already surpassed last year’s goal total with five and has amassed an incredible 10 assists in six games. DiTonto is well on her way to a spectacular season.

Jessica Failace has also been a force in the midfield, scoring three goals thus far.

Sophomore Amanda Fulcher, who scored seven goals last year as a freshman, already has six goals this season.

The biggest contribution thus far has come from junior forward Destiny Keith, who has six goals, tied with Fulcher for the team lead.

“She has all the talent in the world and the speed to be very special,” Hykey said of Keith.

Freshman Isabella Pimenta has also contributed as a forward, scoring two goals and adding three assists.

What is truly remarkable about the Golden Bears thus far is that 11 different players have scored at least one goal, which means Hykey is getting a lot of players involved and they are all contributing in a positive manner.

For example, defender Blake has scored two goals already. Engels has also scored a goal and added three assists.

Mia Luna has scored three goals coming off the bench.

There is offensive firepower throughout the lineup, which bodes well for the future. So this might have been a work in progress, but the results have been outstanding thus far.

“We had to grow up in a hurry,” Hykey said. “I think more importantly right now is that we have to stay healthy.”

The Golden Bears already suffered a tough loss to injury, when talented sophomore midfielder Gabrielle Carrion went down with a broken foot. Carrion is working her way back to top playing shape and should be fine in the coming weeks. Carrion scored three goals and had four assists last year as a freshman.

“We can definitely compete,” Hykey said. “We just needed other people to step up. But we’ll be alright. We’ll be fine.”

Sure looks that way so far.

Tonight’s Nutley HS football game moved to Msgr. Owens Field

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Due to weather conditions this week and the need to preserve the final stages of construction on the oval, tonight’s Nutley High School home football game has been moved to Monsignor Owens Field 44 Park Ave.,  at 7 p.m.  Admission to the game is free.

Kardinals kick off new season with solid win

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

It’s the second year of Nick Edwards’ regime as the head football coach at Kearny High School and already there’s something new and improved about Edwards’ Kardinals.

They won their season opener.

That’s right, Kearny defeated Newark East Side and won handily, 34-6. The Kardinals own a 1-0 record for the first time since 2011 and only the second time since reinstituting the program in 2004.

The news gets better.

“For the first time in a long time, the freshmen, JV (junior varsity) and varsity all won,” said Edwards, who took over the program in June of 2013. “That’s definitely different from recent years.”

Edwards proudly professes that there are 30 sophomores involved with his program.

Needless to say, things are definitely moving up for the Kearny football program.

Edwards was asked about how things have changed in his second year at the helm.

“It’s definitely easier having a full offseason to work with the players,” Edwards said. “The offseason went well with our speed training and weight lifting. I definitely think having that year is paying off. I think the kids understand me more and understand what we’re trying to do here and what we preach.”

Edwards also believes that the kids know that he truly loves them.

“My door is always open for them and they have that understanding,” Edwards said. “We have a good relationship.” Winning helps, as with the season opening win, the Kards have already matched their win total of last year and the previous year. So things have definitely changed during football season in Kearny.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Edwards, whose team faces Livingston Friday night, then plays four straight home games. “It gives us a boost of confidence going forward.”

Edwards likes the makeup of his team.

“We have a good mix,” Edwards said. “The majority of the team is made up of juniors and sophomores who played a lot last year.”

The Kardinals are using the spread-pistol offense, meaning that the Kards like to throw the ball all over the field.

Leading the way is junior quarterback David Nash (6-1, 160), who enjoyed a solid opening game, throwing for a touchdown and running for another.

“He’s doing pretty well,” Edwards said. “He’s very smart and understands defenses. He knows the game of football.”

Junior Hector Paredes (5-8, 170) is the Kardinals’ main running back.

“He’s definitely one of those guys who just wants to win,” Edwards said. “He’s a hardnosed runner who goes all out in practices and games. Nothing ever changes with him.”

The Kardinals have a host of players to fill the four receiver and slot positions. Junior Sammy Sanchez (5-8, 165) had a great season opener, scoring three touchdowns, including an 84-yard interception return for a score.

Seniors Michael and Chris Benevides are a pair of twin brothers who each stand 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds and provide Nash with solid targets to throw to. Junior Tiago Teixiera (5-7, 160) and sophomore Allen Tejada (5-10, 170) are also excellent speedy route runners.

It certainly makes for exciting times for the Kearny offensive attack.

Senior guard Nick Springer (6-1, 230) and senior tackle Owen Martinez (5-10, 220) are returning starters, as is junior Damien Torres (5-6, 180) at center. That experience has to help Nash run the intricate passing offense.

Junior Michael Amaro (6-0, 190) is the other tackle and sophomore Gabriel Dos Santos (5-10, 220) is the other guard.

Defensively, the Kards utilize a 4-4 front, with senior J.C. Yamba (5-9, 175) and junior Christian Rodriguez (5-9, 185) at defensive end and sophomore Hebber Reyes (5-10, 260) joining Springer at defensive tackle.

The outside linebackers are junior Richard Diaz (5-8, 165) and sophomore Ozzie Cabides (5-9, 165), with a pair of sophomores, Brian Santos (5-8, 180) and Niko Yamba (5-8, 160), at inside linebacker.

The cornerbacks are Teixiera, Chris Benevides and Paredes, with Sanchez and Michael Benevides at safety.

Edwards is fortunate to be able to use as many players as possible, giving a host of youngsters a chance to play. The more kids play, the bigger the interest for others, knowing that they can get a chance to get on the field as well.

“We had a lot of kids who came back,” Edwards said. “So the kids know what to expect. We also have kids who understand the importance of schoolwork. We had 54 varsity kids and only one had to go to summer school. That’s a major accomplishment.”

Edwards likes the way the program is moving.

“The numbers are up,” Edwards said. “I never thought we would have 80 kids in the program, but we do. Coming from 30, which is what we had when I took over, I think it’s all good for the program. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and teaching them the right things.”

So far, so good.

NA boys’ soccer: Life without Cordeiro

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It’s not every day that a high school soccer team gets a player who could move from forward to midfield with ease, then score 30 goals and add 19 assists in the process.

But that’s what Danny Cordeiro did for the North Arlington boys’ soccer team last fall, en route to becoming the 2013-14 Observer Male Athlete of the Year. Cordeiro is already weaving his magic for the New Jersey Institute of Technology soccer squad.

So when the 2014 boys’ soccer campaign kicked off recently, the Vikings had to learn about life without Cordeiro.

“It’s not easy,” said NA head coach Jesse Dembowski. “We do have a solid senior group this year, but no one who could do what Danny did. As a group, the team is very dedicated and determined.”

That’s already been proven, as the Vikings have marched out to a 4-0 start thus far, including big wins over Saddle Brook and Becton Regional last week.

“We have a lot of younger kids coming up who have a lot of talent,” Dembowski said.

Senior Matt Smykowski is the Vikings’ main man in net. Smykowski became the team starter with roughly 10 games remaining last season. The Vikings ended the year at 9-7-1.

“Matt is a tall kid who was our JV (junior varsity) goalie for two years,” Dembowski said. “He’s very confident in goal and not afraid to come out of the goal to make plays.”

The sweeper is senior Nick Awad.

“He’s a tall, physical player,” Dembowski said. “We used to have him in the midfield, but he naturally gravitated toward the defense.”

The stopper is senior Moises Polanco, who started last year at the position.

The rest of the back line will be made of seniors Ed Lozado and Frank Pace and junior C.J. Burbach.

Senior Vinnie Ribeiro is the top returning starter in the midfield. Ribiero scored eight goals last year.

Fellow senior Jose Ruiz is another returning player in the midfield. Dembowski likes Ruiz’s experience and leadership.

Sophomore Cristiano Neves is another fine player in the midfield. Neves had a goal and an assist in the solid 4-0 win over Becton last week.

Junior Marvin Caballero is another Viking who will give Dembowski stability in the midfield.

“Marvin was a starter last year, but then he got hurt and missed the season,” Caballero said. “He will be big this year.”

Sophomore Hudson Ribiero is a solid forward. The younger brother of Vinnie had two goals and an assist in the win over Becton.

Senior Joe Cappelluti will be the other force to be reckoned with at forward.

“He was a goalie at the beginning of last season, then we moved him to forward and he scored a few goals,” Dembowski said.

Cappelluti scored six goals in his limited time in the forward line for the Vikings last fall.

So the makings are there for a special season for the Vikings, even after the departure of a special player.

“I like our team,” Dembowski said. “I still have big expectations. A lot of them came in and knew that they needed to step up. They have moved up together and they’re getting strong together.”

The four wins to start the season is proof that they can move on with success.

Maroon Raiders loom as one of NJ’s best in girls’ soccer

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

After finishing the 2013 season with an 18-2-1 record, the best in school’s history, Nutley High School girls’ soccer coach Mike DiPiano is looking for more of the same this year.

“We put a three-year plan into place and last year, we just sped up the process,” said DiPiano, who begins his third year as the head girls’ soccer coach at Nutley. “We beat four teams that played in a sectional final last year.”

The Maroon Raiders graduated 12 players and nine starters from last year’s team, including the 2013-14 Observer Co-Female Athlete of the Year Grace Montgomery.

“We worked on teaching the system to a new group of girls,” DiPiano said. “We have some seniors who have never played before. We have freshmen battling to play every day in practice. The competition has been good. We’re not taking the mentality that we’re rebuilding. We’re going after it again this year. Our goal is to play one more day than we did last year. That’s a reasonable goal with the team we have. We know what we have to do to get there.”

So far, the Maroon Raiders are living up to the challenge of being a state-ranked power.

The Maroon Raiders, ranked No. 20 in a New Jersey statewide poll, have won all four of their games so far, including a 7-0 whitewash of neighboring rival Belleville on Saturday.

“We want to be in the rankings and never come out,” DiPiano said. “It’s good for the entire athletic program at our school.”

The Maroon Raiders have one of the most potent scoring attacks in the state, thanks to returning standouts Victoria Kealy and Zoe Steck.

Kealy, a senior who has already given a verbal commitment to play at Rider University in the fall, scored 34 goals last year and is already on pace to top that number this season.

Kealy had three goals and added an assist in the win over Belleville.

Steck is a sophomore who scored 31 goals last year. She had two goals and two assists in the lopsided victory over Belleville.

“I don’t know of many teams to have that kind of luxury,” DiPiano said of his powerful scoring duo. “We just have to keep finding ways to get them the ball. It’s time for others to step up. It’s going to be a work in progress.”

The Maroon Raiders are utilizing two players in goal, namely senior Rachel Nichols and junior Sarah Roselli, who missed most of last season due to health issues.

The sweeper is freshman Lauren Holden, who has the potential to be a very good player.

“She’s going to have to learn on the fly,” DiPiano said. “She’s played already on some high level club teams, so she has experience. She is as tough as nails and doesn’t play like a freshman.”

The stopper is sophomore Darby Fischer, with senior Julie Fredericks, sophomore Angeli Bossbaly and freshman Jalae Small all seeing time along the back line.

Sophomore Jenny Callaghan is the team’s center midfielder. She’s a transfer who arrived at the school last year during the season, so Callaghan is basically a newcomer.

“She’s the real deal,” DiPiano said of Callaghan. “She has to be our playmaker in the middle of the field.”

Senior Kaitlyn Salisbury, junior Samantha Chimento and freshman Isabella Gonsiewski are also solid midfielders.

The Maroon Raiders will put their entire season on the shoulders of the two powerful scorers, namely Kealy and Steck, who are among the state’s very best.

As are the Maroon Raiders, who are proving that last year was no fluke.

Seniors Kiera Byrnes, Sarah Grueter and Samantha Moynihan will play roles on the team’s attack. Moynihan scored two goals in the win over Belleville.

Freshman Maise Jelley will be the Maroon Raiders’ resident jack-of-all-trades.

“She will play everywhere,” DiPiano said. “She’s done everything we’ve asked of her so far.”

DiPiano likes his team. He should. The Maroon Raiders are for real and will enjoy a great season into November. Whether that leads to a Super Essex Conference divisional title or an NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III crown remains to be seen. But either or both are not out of the question, thanks to having two returning 30-goal scorers.

Kearny girls poised for county, state title runs

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

Make no bones about it. The Kearny High School girls’ soccer team will be one of the finest contingents in New Jersey this fall.

The Kardinals have it all. They have experience, they have offensive scoring power, they have ball handlers and a rock solid defense.

“We have a nice, fast moving, exciting team,” said veteran head coach Vin Almeida. “We have to get the ball moving forward and the let them guide the offense.”

The Kardinals, winners of an incredible five straight Hudson County tournament championships, have all the ingredients of making a long run in the NJSIAA Group IV state tournament come November.

Leading the way is senior forward Barbara Paiva, who scored more than 20 goals a year ago.

“She’s a fantastic player with great ability,” Almeida said. “There are not too many girls who can strike the ball with both feet the way Barbara does. She’s one of the better ones. She’s so creative with the ball.”

Senior midfielder Kathleen Dos Reis returns. She was injured for most of last season with ankle problems, but she’s back and better than ever.

“She’s playing very well,” Almeida said. “We have to get her in the attack.”

Junior forward Amber Crispin is also back. She scored 16 goals last year.

“Amber is also one who can strike with both feet,” Almeida said. “She’s going to drop some balls into the net, because she can hit it hard.”

Almeida likes the offensive approach the Kards have.

“We’re coming back with a good amount of offensive firepower,” Almeida said. “We also have some young kids who can assist in that area. We have a nice rhythm offensively and we’re going to score a lot of goals.”

The lead goalkeeper will be junior Laura Vilar, who started in goal last year, but she will receive assistance in net by senior Amanda DeSousa.

“We should be solid with the experience we have coming back,” Almeida said.

The Kardinals return four starters along the defensive back line.

Senior Dana Green has tremendous size and skill to play a center back position. Senior Eliza Rodrigues is another solid experienced defender. Senior Salma Bouzidi has tremendous ball skills and speed for a defender. Sophomore Isabel Fernandez rounds out the contingent of strong defenders. All four earned accolades last season for their prowess in a 19-3 campaign.

“We have a lot of talent back there,” Almeida said. “Dana Green can be intimidating on the back line. Salma has great skill with the ball and we get her involved with the attack. It’s a good group.”

Dos Reis keys the midfielders, but the talent doesn’t stop there.

Senior Taylor Munro is a returning starter in the midfield. Senior Amanda Eustice returns strong after missing last season with a torn ACL in her knee.

The Kardinals would have had even more talent in the midfield if not for the injuries to Sydney Pace and Breanne Rodriguez. Both will not be able to play this season due to injuries.

“We have a nice competition going on for the last spot in the midfield,” Almeida said.

Junior Ryelle Seda and sophomore Merrin Keim are in the hunt, as well as freshman Natasha Magee.

Up front, the Kardinals have Paiva, Crispin and sophomore Lily Durning, who Almeida called “a good contributor.”

The Kardinals will also get assistance from sophomores Victoria Van Riper, Rachel Nieto and Sydney Viscuso on the back line, and seniors Cindy Guzman, Nicole Sanchez and twin juniors Ashley and Alexis Castaneda along the midfield.

“The challenge is to get them all some good playing time,” Almeida said.

The Kardinals have it all. “It should be a good one,” Almeida said. “We’ve looked good in the preseason. The girls just have to believe.” The Kearny girls’ soccer booster club is sponsoring the third annual beefsteak at the Scots-American Club at 40 Paterson St. in Kearny on Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $40.

But it should be an exciting season for the Kardinals.

“We’re due for a win on that side (penalty kicks in the state tournament),” Almeida said. “We’re hoping to finish it off in regular time. I think we can be a force to be reckoned with if we keep the right mind set.”

And as for a state championship? “There’s surely that possibility,” Almeida said.

Everyone in Kearny is hoping for that possibility to become a reality.

NA grid Vikings: Vow to improve in 2014

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The North Arlington High School football team posted a 2-8 record in 2013.

“We had a pretty tough schedule and played well at times, but we couldn’t finish,” said North Arlington head coach Anthony Marck, who enters his ninth season as the head coach at his alma mater.”We just didn’t have depth to compete. We’ve talked about finishing all during the offseason. It’s become the main point of our program, to finish everything. In the weight room, every repetition, make sure you finish what we start.”

The Vikings will eventually have a new home to start the 2014 season as improvements to Rip Collins Field continue toward the scheduled opening in two weeks.

So it’s a new start for the Vikings all around this season.

“You can sense it completely,” Marck said. “That’s the best part about this team. They’re all in. They genuinely like each other and get along incredibly well. They buy into what the other guy is doing. They enjoy each other’s company, on and off the field. I have no worries about who’s getting credit for doing what.” So Saturday afternoon, when the Vikings head to the new athletic facility in Riverside County Park to take on neighboring rival Queen of Peace at 1 p.m., they will be ready as a unit, ready to move forward, ready to forget what took place last year.

“We have a group of unselfish football players,” Marck said.

Leading the way is junior quarterback Mike Paolello (5-9, 165), who Marck cannot stop raving about.

“I’ve watched him since he was little,” Marck said of Paolello. “He was on a team in eighth grade that went undefeated and he was the quarterback throughout his whole life. His football knowledge is through the roof. His athleticism is almost freakish. I truly believe he’s a special player. He can throw it, he can run it. He’s the fastest player on the team and he can throw it on a dime.”

To feature Paolello’s skills, the Vikings will be more of a spread team offensively this year.

“We’ll be in the spread, running and throwing,” Marck said. “With him there and the ball in his hands, we can be so much more dangerous.”

The running back is junior Joe Morales (5-10, 185), who Marck likes for his toughness. “He’s a downhill runner,” Marck said of Morales. “He’s a strong, physical runner.

He just loves the game of football.”

The Vikings feature a bunch of talented performers at wide receiver and slot receiver. One of them is junior Edgar Carranza (5-11, 175), who has been a standout in basketball and now takes his talents to the gridiron.

“He has excellent hands,” Marck said of Carranza. “He has a knack for the football. We talked him into playing and he’s shown me a lot.”

Junior Kevin Sequeira (5-9, 160) is another basketball player who is playing football.

“He is an outstanding route runner,” Marck said. “He’s shown a lot of ability.”

The slot receiver is Alex Samaan (5-10, 180), who has been moved to slot from running back.

“He’s a good athlete and super fast,” Marck said.

The second slot is being shared by senior Giuseppe Gugliuzza (6-0, 200) and junior Tim Ford (5-8, 165), who Marck said is “a lot like Wes Welker.”

The offensive line features three returning starters in senior Danny Goffredo (5-10, 190), who is a four-year starter at guard, senior Brandon Pipher (5-9, 205) at guard and senior Dominic Reo (6-2, 210), who Marck said is “an athletic lineman,” at center.

Junior Brandon Dickson (5-11, 235) and senior Cesar Ramos (6-1, 185) are the bookend tackles.

“It’s a little easier having that experience upfront,” Marck said. “They are athletic and tough.”

The Vikings’ 4-4 defense features a lot of the same personnel.

Reo is a returning starter at defensive end, along with senior Colin Clifford (5-8, 165).

Pipher and Goffredo are returning starters at defensive tackle.

Morales is at outside linebacker along with senior Michael Cammett (5-8, 180). Gugliuzza is at inside backer with junior Devon Lopes (5-10, 180).

Carranza and Ford are the cornerbacks with Samaan at safety.

It’s only fitting that North Arlington kicks off the season against the Golden Griffins. It’s a natural rivalry that has been instituted thanks to the new North Jersey Interscholastic Conference.

“I’m excited about the season,” Marck said. “I’m excited about the speed that we have. We have a new team, a new field, a new field house. I think we have a chance to make some noise.”

Golden Griffins gridiron group move on without Momnohin

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The Queen of Peace football team enjoyed a resurgent campaign in 2013, winning six games, including a first round NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoff game against St. Anthony.

“Without a doubt, it was a success,” said Bob Kearns, who returned to his coaching roots last year to take over the QP program once again. “Coming back for me with a team in turmoil and not knowing where we were going to go. We kept a lid on things and had a very successful season, going back to the state playoffs and winning a game.”

The Golden Griffins also had the state’s leading rusher in Kevin Momnohin, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and scored 35 touchdowns last season.

“You never replace anything like that,” said Kearns, who guided the Golden Griffins to a 6-5 record last year. “He was a coach’s gift. The football gods were good to me, getting a kid like that. That’s for sure. But you can’t replace blue lightning. I can’t stop talking about him. I may never stop.”

Momnohin is now at Scottsdale Junior College in Arizona, hoping to hook on with an NCAA Division I program in the future.

In the meantime, the Golden Griffins have to move on without their franchise running back.

“I hope we can find another one like him,” Kearns said. “Maybe there’s another one. Who knows? He was just a coach’s dream, a special kid.”

Leading the Golden Griffins this season is sophomore quarterback Derick Suazo (6-1, 175), who Kearns said has the potential to be a good one.

“He’s a tough kid who has really picked up the offense quickly,” Kearns said. “He’s very composed at a very young age. He’s a leader. He’s very mature.”

Senior Brandon Cummings (5-9, 160) is one of the team’s running backs. He was Momnohin’s backup last year.

Senior Shaquan Chavis (5-7, 155) is a little scat back who adds speed. Muadh Abdus Salaam (5-7, 155) is another sophomore in the Griffin backfield.

Sophomore Javon Turner (6- 2, 175) is one of Suazo’s main targets at wide receiver.

“He has good hands and is a great route runner,” Kearns said. “He knows how to get open. He looks like he’s a winner on the field. He’s going to be a star. We have to get him the ball.”

Jasiah Provillon (6-0, 150) is another sophomore wide receiver.

“He has great hands and is a good possession receiver,” Kearns said. “When we need the tough yards, he’s the one we’re going to.”

The tight end duties are being shared by a pair of sophomores, namely Donte Small (5-11, 170) and Chad DiCastro (6-2, 170).

The offensive line features promising freshman Deshawn Brickhouse (6-2, 190) at tackle. Senior Peter Haas is the other tackle, with solid player Chima Dunga (6-2, 230) at guard. Joshua Fedd-Jackson, a 6-foot- 2, 310-pound sophomore, is the other guard.

Defensively, the Griffins fea ture a 4-4 formation, with freshman Kenyon Bowman (6- 1, 175) showing a lot of promise at defensive end, where Dunga also plays. Brickhouse will also get time at defensive end.

Jackson and freshman Rajohn Jones (5-8, 280) are the defensive tackles, giving the Griffins a lot of bulk along the defensive line.

Sophomore Ali Beh (5-10, 165) is a player to watch at linebacker.

Cummings and Chavis are also linebackers. The cornerbacks are junior Mike Scaravilli and freshman Michael Fields (5-10, 160), with Turner at safety.

Yes, the Golden Griffins kick off the 2014 season Saturday afternoon at Riverside County Park against neighboring rival North Arlington in what should be a barnburner of a contest to start the year.

“I love this team,” Kearns said. “They’re young and energetic and have a ton of speed. They want to learn.”

And all that talk about QP either dropping football or the school closing? It’s all hogwash, in the eyes of Kearns. “

We’re here to stay,” Kearns said. “We had to do something to keep going.”

So there is a relationship between a local Pop Warner coach in Newark and the QP grid program. Several of those players are now at QP this fall.

“We had to do something to survive,” Kearns said. “We had nothing. The young kids are going to get a baptism by fire this year right away.” Kearns also likes Suazo and what he brings to his program. “He’s a pleasure to coach,” Kearns said of his quarterback. “He carries himself well. Once you see him, you’ll see he can handle it. We just have to try to keep other teams off him.” Needless to say, the Golden Griffins will be a grid team to watch this fall.