Tragedy strikes Lyndhurst, as former grid star Akar dies

Current Lyndhurst head football coach Rich Tuero has one incredible memory of former Golden Bear offensive lineman and linebacker Deniz Akar.

“He’s the only kid I’d ever seen who bent in his facemask,” Tuero said. “I mean, he did a running charge and went head first and it bent the facemask in. I never saw that before.”

Because of his brute and in some cases amazing strength, Akar also earned a distinctive nickname _ “The Beast.”

“No one wanted to go against ‘The Beast,’” said Akar’s former teammate and close friend Tony Urgola. “In the weight room, he was stronger that anyone.”

Most Lyndhurst people are struggling to use Akar’s name in the past tense, because they cannot fathom the idea that “The Beast” has been tamed.

Deniz Akar died two weeks ago at the tender age of 20. Details of Akar’s death are still sketchy, but it is believed that Akar somehow died of a methadone overdose.

Whether Akar took his own life or died via a horrific and tragic accident might never be known, but one thing is for sure. Akar’s friends and coaches are having a tough time coming to grips with his passing.

“I’m 45 years old and I don’t know how to deal with it,” said Joe Castagnetti, the Lyndhurst head football coach when Akar played his senior year of football in 2013. “I don’t know how his teammates are handling it. I have this pain in my heart for that family. I went to school with his Dad (Ike). I went to school with his uncles and cousins. They’re all around my age. They all lost this good kid. There was always a family atmosphere here in Lyndhurst and Deniz was part of our family.”

Castagnetti recalled Akar as a football player.

“He was a very respectful kid, but he had a hard edge to him as a player,” Castagnetti said. “He was a tough kid who was never afraid to show his frustration. Deniz wasn’t afraid to tell you how he felt. He was athletic as a player. He was an offensive guard and a defensive tackle that we moved to linebacker basically out of necessity because of his agility and athletic ability. He had an unbelievable explosion off the football and used his hands well.”

Tuero was the defensive line coach who worked with Akar.

“I always had a close bond with the linemen,” Tuero said. “He was one of the guys, one of my guys. He also had a very good sense of humor. He was real and would tell you how he felt. He was a real person.”

Tuero liked the way Akar adapted as a player.

“He never played middle linebacker before, but he was tough and quick and had a nose for the ball,” Tuero said.

Akar was of Turkish descent, so he didn’t have a background in football like most of the other kids growing up in Lyndhurst.

“He never played football before high school,” Tuero said. “He had to pick it up quickly.”

Urgola said that Akar was more mature than the rest of his teammates.

“He grew up faster than the rest of us,” Urgola said. “I always looked at him like he was an adult. I always felt like he was about 35. He was absolutely like a big brother to me. He always had my back and had others’ backs as well. He just had this attitude about him.”

But according to another friend and teammate Jake Estevez, Akar had a warm side.

“I’ll always remember how happy he was,” Estevez said. “He was always so generous and cared about his friends. He was just a good kid. He was also very wise. He knew so much.”

Estevez said that he would drive around town singing “Hotel California,” by the Eagles or their own personal theme song, “More Than Words,” by Xtreme.

“Deniz introduced me to that song,” Estevez said. “It became like our song. We would sing it together.”

Estevez is currently attending classes at Montclair State. He said that he would see Akar from time to time.

“I would go to his house and hang out in his basement,” Estevez said. “We’d play Xbox and have burgers on the grill in his yard. We did a lot of great things together. We have a lot of great memories.”

Estevez had a fond memory of his friend.

“One time, he shaved his head, but only did it halfway,” Estevez said, “The other side, the top was bald and the sides were left there. He looked like an old guy. It was hard to go to practice with the guy who had the old man head. It was really funny.”

“We spent every Christmas together,” Urgola said. “It gave him a taste of my religion and his family did the same for me. That’s when I knew we were more than friends. I used to think that having a brother might be cool, but then I realized that I already had one. We had sleepovers when I was eight and sleepovers at the age of 19. He was my family. He was a great kid who had a heart bigger than mine. Yeah, he made bad choices, but we all do. It doesn’t make you a bad person.”

Tuero was holding his emotions while speaking.

“This one really hurts,” Tuero said. “It was an eye opener. Losing Deniz and seeing all the young people there, it just sucked. It’s really sad. It’s unbelievable that he’s gone. It didn’t seem like he had problems, but obviously, he did if he’s gone at 20 years old. All these people came to pay respects, Christians, Muslims, Jews, all in the same place, all of them overwhelmed about what happened to Denny.”

Castagnetti tried to put the tragedy into words.

“I just can’t believe we’re talking about Denny in the past tense,” Castagnetti said. “He’s only 20 years old. How can that be? I just hope and wish it sends a message to others in town, to others in our community. You can’t play around with things like that. Sometimes, you just find out the hard way and unfortunately, sometimes you have to find out for yourselves. It’s just so hard to contemplate.”

Estevez considered Akar to be “one of my best friends.”

“It’s just so shocking and so tough,” Estevez said. “I don’t think any of us had to deal with something like this before.”

And probably won’t have to deal with again for a very long time _ hopefully.




From left, former Lyndhurst head coach Joe Castagnetti, the late Deniz Akar and Tony Urgola all get together for a preseason team picture before the kickoff of the 2013 football season. Akar died two weeks ago at the age of 20. Photo by Jim Hague


Jake Estevez, shown here in his 2013 Lyndhurst football uniform, recalled singing songs with fallen friend and teammate Deniz Akar. Photo by Jim Hague



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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.”