Lyndhurst’s DiTonto finishing with a flourish

When Vincent DiTonto was an incoming freshman at Lyndhurst High School a little more than three years ago, he made a pretty bold prediction to then new head boys’ soccer coach Denis Jelcic.

“I’ll never forget walking into practice those first days,” Jelcic recalled. “Vincent was one of the first kids I talked to. He said to me that he was just going to score goals. I watched practice and I noticed that we didn’t have kids who could even hit the goal frame, never mind put it in. But he said he was going to score goals. I had to believe him.”

DiTonto said that he remembered walking into the Lyndhurst gym and seeing an award that jumped out at him.

“I noticed a plaque on my way into gym class,” DiTonto said. “I used to see it all the time.”

On the plaque were records listed honoring David DeJesus, a former Golden Bears standout who held the school records for goals in a single season and career goals scored.

“I always had those records in my sights,” DiTonto said. “I never let that get out of my sights. That plaque was a reminder to me. It was something that I definitely wanted to do. It was always in the back of my head.”
DeJesus scored 66 goals during his career at Lyndhurst. He also scored 32 goals his senior year.

When DiTonto was a freshman, he tallied only four goals, so it meant that he definitely had his work cut out for him.

“I didn’t think it was so much possible after I was a freshman,” DiTonto said. “But with the help of my teammates, I thought perhaps I had a shot at them.”

DiTonto was a starter for the Golden Bears since his freshman year. His goal production gradually increased in time and he became a consistent scorer and ball distributor for the Golden Bears, one of the best offensive players in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference.

When DiTonto began his senior campaign in September, he was 23 goals shy of DeJesus’ career record.

“I knew what I needed,” DiTonto said.

As the season began to wind down, DiTonto’s chances of reaching the records became more difficult.

“I knew that the season was coming to an end,” DiTonto said. “I was going to try my best. My teammates were setting me up with some beautiful opportunities.”
But a lot of the record pursuit had to come from DiTonto himself.

“He knew that he was coming close to the record, but he said to me, ‘Let’s forget about all that and concentrate on winning games,’” Jelcic said.

DiTonto was also battling injuries to his ankles, his knee and his hip.

“He was pretty beat up,” Jelcic said. “But we gave him a few days off to recuperate, what we called maintenance days, and he came back refreshed. Frankly, he’s been going nuts.”

DiTonto has been on a goal-scoring tear over the last three weeks, scoring 19 goals in the Golden Bears’ last six games.

He scored one goal against the league’s top team, Harrison, then had three goals against New Milford and three against Secaucus in a wild contest that ended with Lyndhurst winning, 8-6.

The explosion gave DiTonto a seasonal total of 32, which tied DeJesus’ single season mark. In the process, DiTonto went past DeJesus to become the school’s all-time leading goal scorer in boys’ soccer with 68 career goals.

For his efforts, DiTonto has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. DiTonto also was honored in September of 2016 as the Athlete of the Week.

Jelcic said that DiTonto has been borderline unconscious with his ability to score recently.

“He’s been taking shots that have been going in from everywhere,” Jelcic said. “He’s been going nuts. He’s been really excited. I think he knows that the end of the road is near and he’s been loving every minute of it. He places the ball wherever he wants it. He’s been drilling shots left and right. And it’s all about perfection with him. If he scores three, he thinks he should have had six.

Added Jelcic, “No matter where he is, backwards, forwards, bicycle kicks, he’s been on a tear. He’s put the team on his back. It almost feels like he thinks he has to score every time he touches the ball. He has two, three people on him and he’s still fighting to score. It’s been crazy.”

DiTonto gave most of the credit to his teammates.

“I have such good chemistry with my teammates,” DiTonto said. “I could have never come close to these records if not for them. I think this has all hit me all at once. I am a little surprised by it all. I didn’t realize what has happened.”

DiTonto said that he worked diligently with his teammates during the summer months to get ready for this season.

“We would get together with a group and go to the field just to play,” DiTonto said. “We went down to the field whenever we could. I think that helped play a role in this, especially with my teammates.”

DiTonto reluctantly admitted a sense of pride in achieving the records.

“I am proud, but the team helped me a lot,” DiTonto said.

While DiTonto has become one of the top goal scorers in Bergen County, he has yet to make a decision about his future. A few schools have shown interest, but amazingly, no true scholarship offers have been made.

“I am still looking around,” DiTonto said. “I talked to some coaches, but nothing too serious. I definitely want to play in college. We’ll see what happens.”

“He doesn’t even want to talk about college,” Jelcic said. “He wants to wait until it’s all over.”

The Golden Bears were scheduled to face Fort Lee in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs Tuesday.

“He’s been extremely joyful to coach,” Jelcic said. “And it’s been great to watch him do what he’s done.”

And now, some other young up-and-coming soccer player will look at the name of Vincent DiTonto on the walls of Lyndhurst High and want to erase DiTonto’s records.

“If you would have asked me four years ago if someone would come close to that record, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Jelcic said. “But Vincent has been the main centerpiece of this program. It’s been exciting to watch 22 other kids get so much better as players because of him.”

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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.”