Lyndhurst/NA wrestling co-op gets new coach in Collins

Photo by Jim Hague The Lyndhurst/North Arlington wrestling cooperative should contend for a state sectional playoff berth next month. Kneeling, from l., are Erik Gonzalez, Devin Yunis, Corey Leclerc and Luis Arzuaga. Standing, from l., are Ryan Smith, Matt DeMarco, Michael Cooper, Andrew Fernandez and head coach Joe Collins.
Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst/North Arlington wrestling cooperative should contend for a state sectional playoff berth next month.
Kneeling, from l., are Erik Gonzalez, Devin Yunis, Corey Leclerc and Luis Arzuaga. Standing, from l., are Ryan Smith, Matt
DeMarco, Michael Cooper, Andrew Fernandez and head coach Joe Collins.

The truth be told, Joe Collins really had no interest whatsoever in coaching the Lyndhurst/North Arlington High Schools wrestling cooperative.

Collins, a former head wrestling coach at Bayonne High, was quite content, thank you, as an accelerated program physics teacher at Lyndhurst High.

“I had no desire to coach, probably ever again,” Collins said. “I was having a good time as a teacher.”

But then Mike Goff stepped down after three years as the head wrestling coach in October, leaving athletic director Jeff Radigan with no head coach of the program that incorporates students from both neighboring schools – who spend most of the school year as chief rivals.

“It was three weeks before the start of the season,” Collins said. “I’m already in the building as a teacher. I heard nothing but good things about this team. They had a good workout room at the (Lyndhurst) Recreation Center with wall-to-wall mats. Goff had a great relationship with the kids. It was a good situation. I talked to my wife about it.”

But by then, Collins already knew that the coaching bug had bit him once again.

“I knew it wasn’t my place to change anything,” Collins said. “Goff had them moving in the right direction. I just wanted to try to keep it going.”

Collins was right. Goff guided the Golden Bears/Vikings to their first NJSIAA state sectional playoff appearance in 15 years last season. There wasn’t a need to change much.

“The kids were in a good place,” Collins said. “A lot of them had been wrestling together since they were youngsters. We have seven seniors on the team and four or five of them have been together forever. They are program kids who know about the sport, who listen and learn and do everything we ask them to do.”

Before the season, Collins had the team doing speed, strength and agility drills outside.

“We had them run 100 yards and do crunches,” Collins said. “We had them lifting truck tires. They did everything we said with zero resistance. I just wanted to keep rolling with that success.”

The Golden Bears/Vikings have had only two dual matches thus far, losing to Emerson- Park Ridge and Cresskill, two traditional Bergen County powers. They also participated in the recent Kearny Holiday Tournament, with several of the members of the team earning medals for their fine performances in the tourney.

Sophomore Matt Daub is the team’s 106-pounder. Daub was the champion of that weight class at the Kearny tourney.

“He has a very promising future ahead of him,” Collins said. “He lives and breathes wrestling. He goes to his wrestling club practices after he’s done with ours. He’s in there working hard every day.”

The 113-pounder is Alexandra Phillips – yes, a female wrestler. The team also has a female assistant coach in Erika Blumenfeld, so there’s a lot of gender equity within the program. Phillips is a first-year wrestler who has a background in martial arts.

“She’s working hard every day,” Collins said.

The 120-pounder is sophomore Ethan Hughes, the son of former Lyndhurst wrestler and head coach Darius Hughes.

“He’s tall and lanky,” Collins said. “He’s a leverage type kid.”

Ethan Hughes won two matches at the Kearny tourney.

Another 120-pounder is junior Connor Yunis, who is trying to break into the lineup.

The 126-pounder is Connor’s older brother, Devin, who was the program’s most successful wrestler last year, winning 25 matches. Devin Yunis just won the Kearny tournament as well. He was second in the districts and fourth in the region last year.

“He’s one of the team’s leaders,” Collins said.

Senior Corey Leclerc is the 132-pounder. Leclerc also has a lot of experience and was second in the districts two years ago.

Senior Luis Arzuaga, who attends North Arlington, is the team’s 138-pounder. Another North Arlington kid, senior Andrew Fernandez, holds the fort at 145 pounds. Junior Christian Campana is at 152.

“Arzuaga and Fernandez are great wrestling partners who work out together and make each other better. Andrew is a leader in the room. He’s a committed kid. They wrestle each other in workouts like their lives depended upon it. Campana is a scrappy wrestler with a lot of fire.”

Junior Nick Fernandez, the younger brother of Andrew, is the team’s 171-pounder.

At 182 pounds, the team has another stalwart in senior Matt DeMarco, who could contend for a berth in Atlantic City this season.

“All the teachers in school say great things about the kid,” Collins said. “He’s healthy this year, so that’s a good sign.” DeMarco recently took first in the Kearny tournament, but more impressively, he was fourth at the Bergen County Coaches Association championships over the Christmas break, the first medalist for Lyndhurst/North Arlington at the county tournament in several years.

Sophomore Ryan Denis is the team’s 195-pounder when he’s ready next week. Senior Michael Cooper is the team’s 220-pounder. Cooper was third at the Kearny tourney.

The heavyweight is senior Ryan Smith. Both Cooper and Smith were standout football players for Lyndhurst in the fall.

The team hopes to make a return trip to the state sectionals this season.

“That’s the team goal,” Collins said. “We have the potential to do it.”

Not to mention the talent with people like Devin Yunis and DeMarco. Collins just has to steer the ship. It’s already on course.

Learn more about the writer ...

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.”