North Arlington seniors Modhagala, Austin sign letters of intent

If anyone four years ago would have told Sirish Modhagala and Tyler Austin that they would be signing national letters of intent for college scholarships at NCAA Division I schools when they were seniors, they probably would have told that person to have their head examined.

Neither Modhagala nor Austin, both seniors at North Arlington High School, would have even dreamed of the idea that they would become scholarship athletes at major colleges.

The idea of such a dream wasn’t even in place until a few weeks ago.

Both student/athletes were convinced that they were headed to smaller institutions with no scholarships in hand.

But there they were in the high school cafeteria last week, putting their autographs on national letters of intent, sealing their fate as scholarship athletes; Modhagala to run cross country and track and field at Seton Hall University and Austin to row crew at LaSalle University.

For a little NJSIAA Group I school such as North Arlington, having two athletes sign letters on the same day is a major accomplishment.

Modhagala transferred back to his home district of North Arlington after a brief stay at Paramus Catholic. He fit in well at North Arlington and quickly established himself as one of the best distance runners in northern New Jersey, winning the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference championship in cross country.

But Modhagala had no offers to attend college.

“Even after winning the NJIC championship, nothing happened,” Modhagala said. “At the time, I remember saying that even if I got a Division I school to talk to me, I’d be happy.”

Modhagala was all set to attend Division III Bentley University in Massachusetts.

“I was getting ready to go there,” Modhagala said. “I even wrote it in the (North Arlington) yearbook.”

But then, somehow, someway, the coaching staff at Seton Hall contacted Modhagala.

“It was crazy,” Modhagala said. “After I was all set to go to Bentley, after I had committed, I heard from the Seton Hall coaches. I never thought it would happen. After they contacted me, they gave me four days to make up my mind after offering me. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I honestly didn’t give Seton Hall a chance.”

Modhagala was certain that he wanted to attend school away from home.

“I was certain that I wanted to go out of state,” Modhagala said. “And here we are, signing with a school 20 minutes away from home.”

In the case of Austin, she got involved in crew because her older sister Carly was a member of the fledgling team. North Arlington just introduced crew as a sport in 2013.

“She’s the reason why I knew about it,” Austin said of her sister. “So I looked into it. I was a soccer player and a softball player. I didn’t know crew was a sport. In soccer and softball, there was a ball. There’s no ball in crew. It’s different. It’s in a boat. I didn’t even know what the boat looked like.”

But Austin climbed into a shell and became hooked.

“I was first with the novice eight team,” Austin said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is so hard.’ I never thought I would be able to row the boat so smoothly. I never thought any of it could actually happen.”

But now, three years after climbing into a racing shell for the first time, Austin is an NCAA Division I athlete. She joins Maria Polanco, the North Arlington rower who signed a national letter of intent with the University of San Diego last November.

“No, I can’t believe this,” Austin said. “I’m so into crew that I wanted to go to college strictly to row, so I was thinking about Temple University. I was very involved with different schools, but I looked into LaSalle because I knew they had a program.”
When Austin researched LaSalle, she liked what she saw.

“I e-mailed the coach to see if there was interest,” Austin said. “I then applied to the school and got in. I told the coach that I was interested and kept the coaches informed that I was interested.”

Sure enough, Austin was offered the partial scholarship to LaSalle.

“I was very happy,” Austin said. “I still can’t believe I’ll be rowing in college. I never thought it could happen.”

Austin will major in computer science at LaSalle.

“Not a lot of people know about rowing,” Austin said. “It’s a hard sport. It’s been my life for the last four years and it will be my life in college now as well.”

Modhagala was still having a tough time coming to the realization that he was indeed a Division I signee.

“There’s still a little part of me who thinks it’s all a dream,” Modhagala said. “I never thought I could break five minutes in the mile and I did it. I never thought I could break 20 minutes in the 5K (five kilometers) and I did. That all became a reality and now this is a reality.”

Modhagala will major in data analytics at Seton Hall.

“It’s so nice that I don’t have to worry about where I’m going,” Modhagala said. “I don’t have to worry about all of the things that this generation is plagued by. I know where I’m going.”

Both Austin and Modhagala were joined by their parents for the signing. Needless to say, North Arlington is a school that gets one Division I athlete every so often. Having two sign on the same day is a major achievement and certainly one to be very proud of.




North Arlington senior track standout Sirish Modhagala (seated center) signs his national letter of intent to attend Seton Hall University. Seated with Sirish are his parents, father Balaji Modhagala (left) and mother Vijaya (right). Standing from left are cross country head coach Stephanie Sinclair, athletic director Dave Hutchinson, track coach Joe Cioffi, track coach John Zukatus, assistant principal Dennis Kenny and superintendent of schools Stephen Yurchak. Photo by Jim Hague


North Arlington senior crew member Tyler Austin (seated center) signs her national letter of intent to attend LaSalle University. Seated with Tyler are her parents, mother Donna Austin (left) and father Robert Austin (right). Standing from left are athletic director Dave Hutchinson, assistant principal Dennis Kenny and superintendent of schools Stephen Yurchak. Photo by Jim Hague



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.”