Nutley’s Abreu gets one last chance to shine on gridiron

EAST ORANGE – Before he heads off to Montclair State to play football in the fall, Luis Abreu had one final opportunity to last week to represent his beloved Nutley High School and wear the colors and logos of the Maroon Raiders when Abreu played in the 25th Annual Robeson Classic, the high school football All-Star game held every year at fittingly Robeson Stadium.

Abreu, a standout two-way lineman for the Maroon Raiders for the last three seasons, was hopeful that he could get a chance to play in the Robeson Classic like other former Nutley teammates did in the past.

“I actually believed I had a chance to play in the game, but I really didn’t know for sure,” Abreu said. “But still, when Coach (Steve DiGregorio) told me, I was surprised and excited. I was all ready to put on that Raider helmet for the last time.”
Abreu was one of six local products on the East roster for the game. Abreu was joined by Nutley teammate Anthony Alberti, who is also headed to Montclair State in the fall, as well as Bloomfield products Joe Pentz, Marcus Wolf and Jeremy Witherspoon.

Harrison’s brilliant two-way player Dustin Huseinovic was also selected to the team and had his share of moments at wide receiver for the East.

Although the East squad, made up of players from Essex and Hudson Counties, lost to the West, made up of players from Passaic, Morris and Sussex Counties, 28-0, it was still an incredible experience for Abreu, who was more than prepared to play in the game.

Abreu spent the winter months as the Maroon Raiders’ 285-pound wrestler and advanced to the Region 3 tournament after having to come back from an early setback and had to qualify for the Region tourney from the consolation rounds. Abreu won a total of 31 matches the last two seasons for the Maroon Raiders, taking 16 of those victories via a pin.

“It was an easy transition for me to play football again,” Abreu said. “I was in the gym every day after wrestling season was over. I was getting ready for college football.”

Abreu said it was a little difficult learning the different blocking schemes instituted by Robert Hampton, the head coach of the East squad who is also the head coach at Lincoln High School in Jersey City.

“It was a lot of adapting for me,” Abreu said. “There was a lot more pass blocking here. With Nutley, we were more of a running game, so I had to get used to that pretty quickly.”

One thing was for certain: Regardless of the final score, Abreu was elated to be playing in a game that featured the best of the best.

“I took it as a huge honor for me,” said Abreu, who played offensive tackle in the game. “I was representing Nutley and my teammates. It was almost like a last ride before college. It’s been a good experience for me. I was able to meet new people and make friends. I got to meet a lot of guys who are also going to Montclair (State), so that was great to get to know them all before I get to school. We all talked about what we need to do as a team.”

Abreu was asked if he was in a football frame of mind in June, after being away from the game for the last seven months.

“It was good,” Abreu said. “I was making little mistakes, but the recovery from those mistakes was pretty easy.”

Abreu liked the talent level of the East squad.

“We have very good talent on this team,” Abreu said. “I got to learn a lot of different techniques, so that only builds experience for the future.”

Even with the setback on the scoreboard, Abreu was pleased with his participation in the Robeson Classic, which reached a milestone this year with its 25th anniversary.

“Overall, it was a good experience for me,” Abreu said. “I’m glad I was picked for this game. It’s a game with a lot of history. It was a huge honor for me to be in this game.”

And Abreu said that he’s ready for the next challenge in his athletic life.

“Of course, I’m ready,” Abreu said. “I can’t wait. I moved into Nutley when I was in seventh grade and back then, I was too big to play football. But once I was good to go when I got to high school, I set my mind that I wanted to play in college. And I’m getting a chance to play real close to home, which is great.”

Abreu will enroll at Montclair State undecided about a major. But he’s glad he’s going to become a Red Hawk after spending the last four years as a Maroon Raider.

Another part of the game was the Essex County Football Coaches Association holding its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at halftime.

One of the honorees this year was the late Joe D’Ambola, who spent more than three decades as an assistant football coach at Belleville High School under several different coaches. D’Ambola passed away in 2016. Members of D’Ambola’s family were on hand for the presentation.


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.”