Several local grid standouts earn All-NJIC honors

“To the victors go the spoils.”

That phrase is associated with United States Senator from New York William L. Marcy, who was referring to Andrew Jackson’s victory in the 1828 Presidential election.

In local high school football terms, it can best be associated with the Harrison Blue Tide, who thanks to their 5-4 record and second place finish in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Liberty Division standings, placed seven players on the All-NJIC Liberty Division first team.

Also, first-year head coach Michael Hinchcliffe was selected as the league’s Coach of the Year.

Needless to say, it was a great run for the Blue Tide.

“I’m really excited about the kids getting the honors,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s all about them. Every senior on that team deserved some sort of recognition. With all the losing in the past and all the bad vibes they handled, just putting that all behind them was something special. Now, to watch them have all these accolades is very special.”

Hinchcliffe knew that his team was highly respected by the way the other coaches in the NJIC treated him at the league meeting.

“I walked into the meeting and people are coming up to me and congratulating me,” Hinchcliffe said. “They were saying, ‘Wow! What a season.’ I think small schools have that special bond. They realized that it all came together for us this year and we were able do something that hadn’t been done in 27 years.”

The Blue Tide qualified this season for the NJSIAA state playoffs for the first time since 1989.

“I think that speaks volumes as to what they’ve done,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’m so happy for the kids.”

As for the Coach of the Year?

“It’s a great honor, no question,” Hinchcliffe said. “I don’t take it lightly. I don’t think about things like that. I’m happy to take the award, no question. But I won’t be truly happy until we’re moving toward a state championship.”

Leading the Harrison First Team All-League selections is senior quarterback Mike O’Donnell.

“I’m an older guy and don’t want to step on any older guy’s toes, but Mike may be the best all-around athlete we’ve had at Harrison. He has the heart and desire to be a champion.”

Receivers Dustin Huseinovic and Jerry Rodriguez were also First Team All-Liberty selections.

“Dustin made most of his big plays outside of the box,” Hinchcliffe said. “Our team next year revolves around his development. He’s legit. Jerry never played Pop Warner football and showed up in high school to play. He matured nicely.”

Sophomore Christian Montilla was also selected First Team offense.

“He’s unbelievable,” Hinchcliffe said. “Defensively, he was the sack leader in the conference, but the coaches liked what he did offensively. He became the leader of the offensive line, sophomore or not. He’s going to be someone that big schools come to take a look at him in the future.”

Yohanser Nunez was selected as the All-Liberty placekicker.

“I loved his play as a lineman, but he handled our kicking,” Hinchcliffe said. “He enjoyed kicking and did a good job. Just like the others, he bought into the system and had a great year.”

Defensively, Jeffrey Cisneros was selected as a linebacker and Mike Oeckel was selected as a member of the secondary.

“Cisneros stood out defensively, stuffing up holes and making plays physically,” Hinchcliffe said. “When a hole got stuffed, he was the one who did it. Oeckel had a few interceptions and we will teach him to make a break on the ball so he can get more next year. His best football is ahead of him.”

All in all, Hinchcliffe was pleased about his first year. He’s already making plans for next year.

“We definitely could surpass what we did this year,” Hinchcliffe said. “We got the bar to where we can point to. The support I receive from the community is tremendous. Every week, I was reminded just how hungry the football fans of Harrison were. We have to build the rocket ship to get to the moon. We have to make the proper steps to build a program. That’s our goal.”

Lyndhurst had three players earn First Team All-Liberty in offensive lineman Matt Schnoll, defensive lineman Mike Carrino and linebacker Anthony Lisanti.

“Schnoll had a great year,” said Lyndhurst head coach Rich Tuero. “He fought through injury and was able to play seven games. He just punishes people. He’s a big mamaluke.”

Tuero believes that Schnoll will be playing college football somewhere next fall.

“Carrino is a hard-working kid who battled through some injuries and was our best player on the defensive line,” said Tuero, whose team finished 5-4-1. “Carrino had some hip and knee issues, but he led the team in sacks. He’s so strong.”

Lisanti came to Lyndhurst from Bergen Catholic.

“We didn’t know much about him,” Tuero said. “He came into the season fifth on our depth chart and ended up leading the team with 118 tackles. He was real quick. He was like a gift from the Gods. The kid was unbelievable.”

Despite having only six games to work with before the season was shut down, Robbie Snead of Queen of Peace made First Team All-Liberty as a defensive lineman.

“There are some schools already looking at him, like Rutgers,” Queen of Peace head football coach Scot Weaver said. “He’s the real deal.”

North Arlington placed two players on the All-NJIC Meadowlands Division in lineman Vinny Crawford and punter Will Cruz.

“Vinny is a very good football player,” North Arlington head coach Anthony Marck said. “He was worthy of All-League on both sides of the ball. He was a mainstay for us. He did everything right, from the classroom to the football field to the locker room. He earned his place on this team because he never quit. He was always going 100 percent.”
Crawford is getting some looks from NCAA Division III schools like Western New England.

“He’s a smart kid who does well in the classroom,” Marck said. “He’s going to play somewhere.”

Cruz, who was also the starting quarterback for the Vikings, earned All-League as a punter, averaging 36 yards per kick.

“We asked Will to do a lot as a sophomore and he did it,” Marck said. “He played the quarterback position and I know how difficult that can be. He certainly made strides. The physicality and toughness was there. He just has to understand pass coverage a little better. As a punter, he helped us flip the field a few times and that helped in a few games.”

It was a fine year of accolades for the local grid standout, evidenced by the coaches’ voting.

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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.”