North Arlington Jr. Vikings win Meadowlands Super Bowl

When the youth football season began for the North Arlington Junior Vikings, the town’s seventh and eighth grade team, veteran head coach Joe Witt thought he had the makings of a special team.

“They went 7-3 last year,” Witt said. “We knew we had something special, because we had 24 kids who were there every day. Not one kid quit. That was a testament to their makeup and character. We knew we had a good team and we were expecting to do well.”

However, there wasn’t a person alive who thought that the Vikings would turn out to be a completely dominant force.

Except maybe the head coach.

“We beat Lyndhurst in the first game and I knew right away that this team could win a championship,” Witt said. “We did very well the first game.”

Then, the Vikings traveled to MetLife Stadium, the Mecca of all local football palaces, to face Bridgewater in a scrimmage.

‘They had an unlimited weight class,” Witt said. “Our kids can only weigh 165 maximum.”

Again, there was more success. Although the scrimmage didn’t count in the record books, it made the coach wonder.

“I knew we were going to be special,” Witt said. “We had a very aggressive group of kids, a special group.”
As it turned out, the Vikings were more than special. They outgained their opponents to the tune of 2,914 yards to just 349 yards. They posted eight shutouts and outscored the opponents by a wide total of 361-27.

The Vikings were 8-0 in the Meadowlands Football League regular season, defeated Lyndhurst in the first round of the playoffs, 38-0, knocked off Rutherford, 45-0, in the conference final and then handled Manchester, 39-15, in the Meadowlands Super Bowl at the New Milford Recreation Facility last week to complete the magical 11-0 season and the league title.

It marked the first time that North Arlington had won the Meadowlands Football League Super Bowl since 2011.

Witt, who also coaches youth baseball in the town, has been the Junior Vikings head coach since 1995. He’s produced other undefeated Super Bowl champions before, but this year’s team ranks with the very best the town has ever produced.

And that’s great news for the North Arlington High School program, which has fallen on some tough times in recent years.

The quarterback of the Vikings is Devin Rivas.

“He had a great year,” Witt said. “He rushed for more than 500 yards and threw for another 500. He’s a leader. Other kids on the team look up to him. He’s an all-around good football player who is deceptively fast.”

The team’s leading rusher is a name that should be remembered in North Arlington football folklore.

Anthony Almeida is the team’s top running back.

“He’s probably the best player to come out of the system since Brian Kearns,” Witt said.

That idea says a lot, considering Kearns went on to have a great career at St. Joseph of Montvale and is currently having a phenomenal football career at Stonehill College in Massachusetts.

Almeida merely rushed for 1,332 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. In the Super Bowl, Almeida had an astounding 338 yards on 21 carries and five touchdowns. That’s no misprint. He also scored five touchdowns in the win over Rutherford.

“He’s a special kid, our best player,” Witt said. “Offensively, defensively, the kid does it all.”

The team’s fullback is Dante San Giacomo, who was the lead blocker in a lot of Almeida’s carries. San Giacomo had four touchdowns and 250 yards rushing.

Another running back is seventh grader Brendan Smith, who will return next year.

“I’m looking forward to him doing some big things next year,” Witt said of Smith.

The backup quarterback is Gerald Lawless.

The tight end is Lucas Young, who Witt called “the best receiver in the league hands down.”

Kyle Villani, Julian Castillo, Matt Colon, Kenny Jaramillo and Kieran McNeil are the wide receivers in an obviously deep and talented receiving corps.

The offensive line certainly did a great job, led by tackles Jason Gilbert and Anthony Aviles. The guards are Giovanni San Giacomo (Dante’s twin brother) and Robert Carselda and the center, who has a very appropriate football name, is Aiden Halas.

The Vikings sported a 4-4 defensive front, with Villani and Halas playing defensive end and Giovanni San Giacomo, Carselda, Aviles, Isaiah Alvardo, A.J. Correia, Adam and Ibrahim Gabor (the team’s second set of twins) and Jose Rodriguez all getting time at defensive tackle.

Aviles’ dedication caught Witt’s eye.

“He came into camp over 200 pounds and had to drop to get under 165 in order to play,” Witt said. “That says a lot.”

Giovanni San Giacomo led the team in tackles with 44. Yes, this coach certainly keeps accurate statistics.

Rushing superstar Almeida was one outside linebacker along with Rivas.

“He’s that good of an athlete to play both linebacker and quarterback,” Witt said of Rivas. “He’s that tough.”

Dante San Giacomo and Young were the inside linebackers. Witt sang the praises of Young.

“He was like our Lawrence Taylor,” Witt said of Young. “Teams had to make a game plan to try to stop Lucas.”

The cornerbacks were Ian Crudele and Brendan Smith with McNeil at safety.

Justin Grullon gave depth to the defensive line at defensive end. Anthony Baulo was the team’s kicker and also played defensive back.

Needless to say, it was a season to remember for the Junior Vikings program.

“We had some lean years recently, so this team made us very proud,” Witt said. “You see how hard the kids work every day and it pays off. It’s an unbelievably great feeling.”

Nothing like being a champion. And there’s certainly nothing like being an undefeated dominant champion, a Super Bowl winner.




The North Arlington Junior Vikings won the Meadowlands Football League Super Bowl recently, defeating Manchester in the title game to complete an 11-0 undefeated dominant season. Photo courtesy of Joe Witt



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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.”