Belleville native Luzzi-Liggins signs with Clemson

Richie Luzzi-Liggins was faced with the toughest decision of his young life last week. However, it was a decision that most college sports enthusiasts could only dream about.

Luzzi-Liggins, the Belleville native and St. Peter’s Prep senior, had narrowed down his college choices to two, namely Clemson and Alabama, which only happened to be the two schools that faced each other in the college football national championship game in January.

Luzzi-Liggins was indeed a football player at the downtown Jersey City private school, but his choice was strictly as one of the top sprinters in track and field in the state.

His track prowess enabled Luzzi-Liggins, who finished second in the 200-meter dash at the NJSIAA’s indoor Meet of Champions in February, to secure a track scholarship with either of the top two college football teams in the land. Not bad at all.

But making the choice was hard.

In fact, his family believed for a brief instant that Luzzi-Liggins was headed to Alabama.

“For a minute there, I thought we were headed further south,” said Niki Luzzi, Richie Luzzi-Liggins’ mother, who raised Richie and little brother Neko as a single mom. “Alabama was going hard for him.”

In the end, family tradition won out.

In 1968, Luzzi-Liggins’ grandfather, Rich Luzzi, who was a high school All-American in football at Belleville High, scored a touchdown on the longest play in Clemson’s storied football history. Rich Luzzi returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a score. It remains the longest scoring play ever at Clemson.

It was that history that played a huge part in what transpired last week, when Luzzi-Liggins signed a national letter of intent to compete in track and field at Clemson University in South Carolina.

“It was a major factor in my decision,” Luzzi-Liggins said after signing his letter, along with Prep track teammates Liam Christman (Holy Cross) and Gus Nations IV (Xavier). “My grandfather passed away in 2003. I was named after him. I wanted to put my family in the best possible position, the place where I would succeed.”

When Luzzi-Liggins first headed to St. Peter’s Prep a little more than three years ago, he never could have imagined he would evolve into a track superstar.

“I wanted to play football and baseball,” Luzzi-Liggins said. “It’s crazy how all this happened. I never thought of track. I was always thinking about football.”

But Luzzi-Liggins was convinced to go out for track – and the rest was history, becoming one of the finest sprinters in the country.

And with that came the attention from the big schools like the two best football programs in the land.

“I really was stressing about it for the last three weeks,” Luzzi-Liggins said.

Last Monday, Luzzi-Liggins and his mother boarded a plane and headed to South Carolina to visit Clemson.

“It was my last official visit,” Luzzi-Liggins said.

But it wasn’t the only time he visited the school.

“We had been to Clemson so many times,” Niki Luzzi said. “But this time, Clemson was going above and beyond for him.”

However, the official visit almost never happened.

“The plane was cancelled three times,” Niki Luzzi said.

Monday, Luzzi-Liggins visited Clemson as an official recruit. Later that night, as the mother and son boarded the plane back home to New Jersey, Luzzi-Liggins gave his mother the good news.

“When we got to the airport, we talked about a few things,” Luzzi-Liggins said. “I told my Mom that I was going to Clemson.”

“It was very emotional,” Niki Luzzi said. “I tend to cry a lot. I had to tell my whole family that he was going to be a Tiger. No one knew what he was going to do.”

Niki Luzzi knew that her son was going to be special.

“He was running when he was nine months old,” Niki Luzzi said. “He was talking at a year old. I’m not surprised he became as fast as he became.”

Needless to say, Luzzi-Liggins is happy the recruiting part of his senior year is now over.

“It’s a complete weight off my shoulders,” Luzzi-Liggins said.

“I think I just relaxed and exhaled,” Niki Luzzi said. “For a minute there, I thought it was elsewhere. I’m glad he chose Clemson. He’s going to succeed there.”

And there’s no doubt in Niki Luzzi’s mind that her father had something to do with the process.

“He has my father’s No. 22 tattooed on his arm,” Niki Luzzi said. “I feel like my father is always with us. There’s just something about Clemson that shows up everywhere.”




Belleville native Richie Luzzi-Liggins (seated back center) signed his national letter of intent to attend Clemson University last week, joined by St. Peter’s Prep teammates Liam Christman (seated left, Holy Cross) and Gus Nations IV (seated right, Xavier). Photo by Jim Hague



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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
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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.”