NA’s Manzo-Lewis recovers from knee injury to lead Vikings

Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington senior quarterback Mike Manzo-Lewis.
Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington senior quarterback
Mike Manzo-Lewis.

Before the 2014 high school football season began, North Arlington High School head football coach Anthony Marck consistently raved about his starting quarterback Michael Manzo-Lewis (known then as Michael Paolello).

“I’ve watched him since he was little,” Marck said in 2014 of his quarterback. “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.”

If someone didn’t stop Marck from singing the kid’s praises, the coach would probably just have warbled all night long like a 1940s crooner.

But on the second play of the first game in the regular season – against archrival Queen of Peace, no less – disaster struck.

“I saw someone in front of me and I saw our guard hit the first person he saw,” Manzo- Lewis said. “My left leg was planted and my body went the other way. I couldn’t believe it.”

The result was a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg. Manzo-Lewis was done for the season.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Manzo- Lewis said. “I never thought it could happen to me. It was a little sore, but it didn’t even really hurt. It was the worst feeling in the world.”

“It was devastating to us for a lot of reasons,” Marck said. “First, for the kid himself. I watched him become a young man. I could see how devastating it was to him. We didn’t just lose our playmaking quarterback. We missed his charisma and his fun-loving attitude. Losing Mike was tough on all of us.”

In October of 2014, Manzo- Lewis had surgery to reconstruct the knee at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, conducted by famed surgeon Dr. James Warren, the former New York Giants chief doctor who eight days prior had performed the successful patella tendon surgery on New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.

“At first, I was really upset,” Manzo-Lewis said. “I didn’t think about the future. It was a terrible feeling.”

“I knew that he needed time to heal,” Marck said. “I knew that he needed about 10 months to heal.”

Manzo-Lewis went to receive physical therapy at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute’s satellite facility in Lyndhurst three times a week. Manzo-Lewis also received help from a personal trainer named Brandon Landon. “He helped me so much,” Manzo-Lewis said of Landon.

“He made me keep going. He definitely motivated me a lot.”

But the one thing that Manzo- Lewis didn’t do was come back too quickly.

“There was a lot of self-motivation,” Manzo-Lewis said. “I hated seeing my teammates go through what they did. Those guys are definitely longtime friends and teammates. I went through so much with them to get ready for the season and now it was all over on the second play from scrimmage. I felt terrible for them.”

After his injury, the Vikings lost six straight games en route to a 2-8 forgetful season.

Manzo-Lewis didn’t feel sorry for himself. He just worked with Landon and worked with the people at Kessler to get healthy again.

“I did everything I could in the off-season,” Manzo-Lewis said.

“I remember seeing him post surgery and wondering if I’d have him back this year, back at 100%,” Marck said. “I knew that this kid was going to be special. His football acumen is through the roof. He knew he had a tough road back. The day after the surgery, he could move his leg. But I didn’t know. I just hoped for kid’s sake that he’d recover.”

Manzo-Lewis had to be patient to make his healthy return.

“It was so hard not to do anything at all,” Manzo-Lewis said. “I could not wait to get back on the field again. As soon as I started running, it didn’t bother me much at all.”

When the spring arrived, Mike Manzo-Lewis was ready to return.

“He was in the weight room every day,” Marck said. “He dove into his rehab head first.”

In June, when the Vikings started playing 7-on-7 scrim mages, Manzo-Lewis was ready.

“When we started training, he had all of his agility back,” Marck said. “Nothing restricted him. He said, ‘Coach, I feel 100%.’ He looked good running and throwing. He never wore a brace.”

Right around the same time, Manzo-Lewis decided to make a big change in his life – a name change.

“My stepfather was the one who raised me,” Manzo-Lewis said of Scott Lewis. “So I took my mother’s maiden name and my stepfather’s name. I had to go to court to legally change it. I had to go get a new driver’s license. Everyone still calls me by my other name, but this name is easier to spell and easier to say.”

Manzo-Lewis said that he felt some apprehension before the first game two weeks ago.

“There was a nervous feeling, I have to tell you,” Manzo- Lewis said. “But the knee didn’t bother me at all. I don’t want to wear a brace, because it will restrict me. The first drive of the game, I felt a little scared, because I was worried a little about getting injured again. But once I got going, it all felt the same.”

Right now, Mike Manzo- Lewis is living free and clear of injury. And he’s leading the Vikings with both of his parents truly honored by the name change.

By the way, he’s also playing some pretty good football these days as well.

In the season opener against Queen of Peace, Manzo- Lewis completed 14-of-26 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Manzo-Lewis also had 150 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 48-14 win.

Last Friday night against Wallington, Manzo-Lewis was at it again, collecting 167 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown, while completing 7-of-14 passes for 145 yards and three TDs in a 38-14 victory.

For his efforts, Manzo-Lewis has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. Manzo- Lewis is the first honoree of the 2015-2016 scholastic sports season. The weekly feature culminates next June with the presentation of the Observer Male and Female Athletes of the Year.

Marck always knew that Manzo-Lewis was a gifted player.

“He has the ability to play football,” Marck said. “He has God-given ability and does things that you just can’t teach. He’s able to put his foot in the ground and change directions, scrambling and throwing. The way he does it is remarkable. Every day, I cover my eyes, watching him take off, because I don’t want to get him hurt again. I worry a little about him.

Added Marck, “But then our offensive coordinator, Paul Savage, told me that it’s a new leg and that I should stop worrying about it.”

Marck loves what Manzo- Lewis brings to the table.

“He’s such a free spirit,” Marck said. “I should never have to worry about him. He’s the kind of kid who says, ‘Don’t worry Coach. I got this one.’ It eases my mind. He’s just fun to be around.”

Marck said that Manzo- Lewis plays a little like former Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie.

“He’s a lot like Flutie,” Marck said. “It’s a good comparison.”

Marck has only a few things in mind these days – staying healthy and heading off to college next fall. Despite his lack of size (5-foot-10 and 175 pounds), he knows he can play on the collegiate level. So does his coach.

“I would definitely like to play college football if the opportunity arises,” Manzo- Lewis said. “I don’t know how recruiting works, but I would definitely like it.”

“Someone has to give him a shot,” Marck said. “He already has the grades.”

And the personality and the two-game resume to back him up.

“I’ve had some successes and I can deal with success,” Manzo-Lewis said. “It doesn’t feel like I did that good, but then I see the numbers and I guess I did. I look at last year as being in the past. I’m just trying to move on.”

Sure looks that way.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
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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.”