One last chance to shine as high school football players

LYNDHURST – For all intents and purposes, Emanuel LaLuz’s football career ended last December in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship game between LaLuz’s Lyndhurst team and eventual champion Rutherford.

In that game, LaLuz suffered a severely broken fibula in his ankle that required emergency surgery.

“It was scary,” LaLuz said. “They had to put it back together on the field. My Dad and my girlfriend tried to comfort me. I was trying to think good thoughts, but the pain was excruciating and unbearable. I guess everything happens for a reason.”

After the injury, LaLuz had one goal in mind.

“I wanted to play football again,” LaLuz said. “I told my therapists in physical therapy that I wanted to play in the All-Star game. That’s all I thought about.”

LaLuz was determined with his physical therapy regimen.

“I didn’t miss one PT session,” LaLuz said. “That made me run again.”

Last Friday night, LaLuz joined five of his Lyndhurst teammates – as well as the coaching staff, headed by head coach Rich Tuero – on the roster of the victorious South squad, which defeated the North, 14-3, in the annual Bergen County North-South All-Star Classic that was held at Lyndhurst High School.

Three North Arlington players and one from Harrison were also on the victorious South squad.

But it was LaLuz’s remarkable recovery and return to the gridiron that stood out among the 10 performers.

“I went to PT three times a week to get to this game,” LaLuz said. “I also did my stretches at home. I knew I couldn’t slack off. I had to be on time every time. It means everything to me to be back. All my life, I never wanted to go out like that. I never quit. I didn’t want to end my career like that. I wanted to get back on the field one last time with my friends and teammates.”

LaLuz went to physical therapy from February through May in order to get back on the field last Friday.

“I realize that a lot of people love me,” LaLuz said. “I owe it to them. I love them all too.”

LaLuz is uncertain about his future except for one thing.

“I love to play football,” LaLuz said. “I want to play football somewhere.”

Two of LaLuz’s Lyndhurst teammates, Paul Cimicata and Benny Franchino, are headed to Pace University to play football.

“It means a lot to be on this team,” Cimicata said. “It’s special for me to get one more chance to play with my brothers. There are no words for it. It’s so special. I was so pumped when I heard I made the team. I was super excited to get another chance to show what I’m about. It felt natural to be on the field again and great to pop (pads) again. I’m getting ready for the big stage.”

“It’s different than any other bond I’ve ever had,” Franchino said. “I wouldn’t change a thing about this year. It means a lot to represent Lyndhurst and to play for Coach Tuero one more time. I can’t ask for more.”

Cimicata is a defensive end while Franchino is a deadly placekicker.

Jeff Grasso is headed to Western Connecticut to play linebacker.

“It means a lot to play one last home game with my friends,” Grasso said. “I was excited to get the chance. It’s a great feeling. It feels like I’m home.”

Brian Podolski, the standout quarterback, is headed to Kean University to play football.

“It means the world to me to be here to get one last time to play together, with a group of guys I’m really close with,” Podolski said. “It’s a great feeling. I almost forgot what it felt like to put the pads on again. It’s football season all over again. I feel more excited to play on my field one more time, wear my Lyndhurst helmet and represent Lyndhurts one more time.”

For former Lyndhurst player Jason Lauria, Friday night represented his final football game.

“I’m here to play my best, because this is the last chance for me,” said Lauria, who is headed to Bergen Community College. “I want to leave it all on the field. I grew up with these guys and I have great relationships with them. To be able to play with them one more time is amazing. I wouldn’t want it to end any other way. It’s a real good way to leave, to have that one last game with my brothers.”

For the North Arlington representatives, it was a chance to earn a victory, which did not happen during the Vikings’ regular season.

“It feels good to get the pads on again,” said Will Cruz, the Vikings’ quarterback who played defensive back in the All-Star game. “I wanted the chance to strap it up and get the chance to play with the best in Bergen County. I was excited to get the chance to strap it up one more time.”
Cruz, who is headed to Rowan, but is unsure about playing, said that he remembers seeing former North Arlington players Michael Manzo-Lewis and Timmy Ford play in the All-Star game.

“No one from North Arlington has played in the game the last two years,” Cruz said. “I wanted the chance to represent our town and our school. It means a lot.”

Jaden Martinez of North Arlington was also on the team.

“I’m just trying to have fun,” said Martinez, who is headed to Monmouth. “We didn’t get a chance to win a game since sophomore year. I wanted to go out with a win.”

Val Boyko wasn’t expecting to be selected.

“It’s nice to play one more time,” said Boyko, who is headed to the United States Marine Corps in November. “I’m going to miss football and I’m never going to forget it. It’s been a lot of fun. I hope there’s football of some kind wherever I go.”

Christian Montilla of Harrison was a surprise selection for the All-Stars, considering he’s from Hudson County. But outgoing Harrison coach Dan Hicks asked Tuero if Montilla could get a slot on the squad.

“It means everything to me,” said Montilla, who is headed to Lincoln Tech to study HVAC systems. “I’ve been playing football for 13 years and it’s amazing that I get one more chance to play in an All-Star game with these great players. When Coach Hicks called me and told me I was in the Bergen All-Star game, I said, ‘No way.’ I got very emotional and hugged Hicks. It’s a big honor for me. I’m the first Harrison kid to ever play in the Bergen County All-Star game. I’m going out there and plant my name forever in Harrison.”

Tuero was glad to coach the team.

“It’s just an honor and privilege,” Tuero said. “Being the head coach and being in charge, being on that field one more time with my players is amazing. Everyone was excited.  It’s really a blessing. These are my boys. I had them for all four years. It’s the biggest group we’ve ever had from Lyndhurst. It’s awesome, really awesome.”

And it was awesome to go out with a victory.




Ten local athletes played in the annual Bergen County North-South All-Star Classic last Friday night at Lyndhurst. Front row, from left, are Jason Lauria of Lyndhurst, Jaden Martinez of North Arlington, Jeff Grasso of Lyndhurst and Will Cruz of North Arlington. Back row, from left, are Val Boyko of North Arlington, Christian Montilla of Harrison, Paul Cimicata of Lyndhurst, Benny Franchino of Lyndhurst and Brian Podolski of Lyndhurst. Photo by Jim Hague



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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.”