When William Yuknalis first played for the Kearny Generals youth football program, he longed to get the chance to make tackles.
“I just loved playing defensive tackle,” Yuknalis said. “I loved the contact.”
After spending less than a month at Kearny High School, Yuknalis transferred to Marist in Bayonne, where his mother, Susan, is a science teacher.
“At first, when I went to Marist, I wasn’t going to play football,” Yuknalis said. “But then (former Marist athletic director) Ron Hayward didn’t give me a choice. He told me I was going to play. He said, ‘Come with me. You’re going downstairs to meet the coach.’”
Former Marist head coach Dwayne Williams handed Yuknalis a pair of shoulder pads.
“He said, ‘You’re on the team,’” Yuknalis said. “It was as simple as that. I knew that I loved the sport. I just didn’t know if I would play or not.”
Yuknalis stuck it out with Williams as head coach and then Juan Garcia for the last two years. He’s been a twoway starter along the line for the Royal Knights, but the soon-to-be senior loves playing defensive tackle or nose tackle much better.
“I can play both ways,” Yuknalis said. “As long as I keep myself in shape, I’ll be alright.”
The 5-foot-11, 270-pound Yuknalis went to a Football University Top Gun camp, held at Dover High School, in May and did so well among the other linemen that attended the camp that he was invited to participate in the national talent showcase coming up July 16-18 in Dublin, Ohio, with 800 or so of the best high school football players in the country.
“I knew that Football University went all around the country and I decided to show up and give it a try,” Yuknalis said. “I had no idea what was in store for me. I just showed up. I knew I could handle it. I did most of the workouts at Marist all the time.”
Yuknalis was graded and timed on his agility with a shuffle drill, as well as running the 40-yard dash and the standing broad jump.
“I went to the first camp mainly for the experience,” Yuknalis said. “I wanted to be able to get my name out there.”
Yuknalis graded No. 1 in the camp in tackles, where he went head-to-head against another lineman to see if he could to the tackling dummy.
“There were over 400 kids at the camp,” Yuknalis said. “I just wanted to see how I could stack up against the top players.”
Yuknalis’ overall performance at the camp in Dover enabled him to gain an invitation to FBU’s Top Gun camp, which will be held at Jerome High School in Dublin.
Football University held camps at 24 different locations throughout April and May, organized by an outstanding coaching staff spearheaded by former NFL quarterback and Arizona Cardinals quarterback coach Jeff Rutledge (a former member of the New York Giants); running back coach Robert Edwards (former running back with the Patriots and Dolphins); line coach Jim McNally (former offensive line coach with the Giants); defensive back coach Ray Buchanan (former Colts, Falcons and Raiders defensive back); and wide receiver coach Charlie Collins, who made his mark in the Canadian Football League.
Needless to say, Yuknalis is getting the chance to learn from the very best.
“I was happy to get selected,” Yuknalis said. “I think it’s going to prepare me a lot for college. I’m going up against people at the same level or better than me. At least I can go to Ohio now with a little bit of confidence. My coaches at Marist said that they are impressed with what I’ve been doing.”
Yuknalis has been preparing for the Top Gun camp by working out and weight lifting with his Marist teammates.
“I love doing the one-on-one drills,” Yuknalis said. “That’s what I do the best. I’m doing strictly defensive work here. I prefer defense over offense anyway. There’s a lot of instruction that goes on and that’s going to help me learn the game more. I believe I can learn more technique. I know I have to get better.”
Yuknalis has already been contacted by such schools as Marist College, FDUFlorham, Kean and Susquehanna, but he hopes that his appearance at the Top Gun camp can lead to even more schools gaining interest.
“I want to play football,” Yuknalis said. “That’s my main goal. As long as the school has a football field, then I’m willing to go.”
Yuknalis said that he’s gearing up for his final football season at Marist.
“I’ve been working hard in the weight room, trying to get ready,” Yuknalis said. “I want everyone to know who I am.”
If he has a strong performance again at the Top Gun camp, then chances are a lot more people will know exactly who Will Yuknalis truly is.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”