Buccaneers off to a flying start at 2-0

Jermain Johnson couldn’t ask for a better start to the 2019 high school football season for his Buccaneers of Belleville High School.

As he began his second season as the head man with the Bucs, Johnson guided his team to wins against Tenafly and Dickinson of Jersey City, the latter being an impressive 45-6 trouncing of the Rams last Saturday.

But Johnson has to be wary of the strong start.
A year ago, in his rookie campaign at Belleville, Johnson led the Bucs to four straight wins, their best start in 20 years.

But that was it. The Buccaneers lost their last five games, including a tough, but hard played 20-13 loss to Nutley in the NJSIAA regional crossover game – a game that was once called a consolation contest for teams that didn’t qualify for the NJSIAA state playoffs.

So that had to have been a concern for Johnson, wondering whether there would be a negative carryover for a team that lost their final five in a row.

Now, those worries have been alleviated with the two positive victories.

Johnson knows that this year is a totally different year.

“When I got hired in March, I knew nobody,” said Johnson, who was once a head coach at Paterson Eastside and was a highly respected assistant coach at the Wayne Hills football factory. “But I slowly saw the attitude change. Now, you can feel the energy in the weight room. It’s like night and day. I think we all know now what’s at stake this year. We’ve set goals for ourselves.”

Johnson said his team didn’t know how to handle the success last season.

“We started out 4-0, but we didn’t know how to finish,” Johnson said. “We didn’t know how to pull out the close games.”

But Johnson saw a change in the season opening win.

“Against Tenafly, we put them away,” Johnson said. “It’s like night and day. I told them, ‘See, you can do it the right way.’ We’re focused. We have a lot of kids back and in high school sports, that’s important.”

The Buccaneers are utilizing two young men at quarterback, namely senior Arturo Berly (5-9, 165) and junior Anthony Cecere (5-8, 160).

“Both of them played JV (junior varsity) last year,” Johnson said. “They’re both learning.”

The main running back is junior Derrick Leigh (6-0, 205), who has the size and the strength to be an every-down back.

Senior Ben Polk (5-10, 195) and mighty mite senior Jeremy Robinson (5-6, 150) comprise the rest of the backfield. Leigh and Polk both played varsity last fall.

The receiving corps features senior Giustino Cecere (5-6, 160), who started at wide receiver last year, and senior Ray Leak (5-10, 180). Senior Zier Stevens (6-3, 160), a newcomer to football, is another receiver.

The tight end slot is being shared by two sophomores in Terence Folkes (6-2, 205) and Colin Cook (5-10, 195).

The offensive line features four players who started varsity last season.

Seniors Jimmy Rodriguez (6-1, 260) and David Peterkin (6-2, 260) are three-year starters at tackle. The same can be said for senior guards Adam Ruales (5-10, 220) and Christopher Freid (6-1, 230). The only newcomer is junior center James Garnett (5-10, 270).

Defensively, the Bucs have a multi-dimensional formation, with moving parts in and out.

Ruales is one defensive end, along with senior Enrique Martinez (5-10, 205).

The defensive tackles are Freid and Rodriguez. Freid had an All-SEC Freedom Division season a year ago.

The outside linebackers are Cook and junior Tobias Lopez (5-5, 140). Don’t let Lopez’s size – or lack thereof – fool you.

“He has the biggest heart of anyone on the team,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely our best linebacker.”

The inside linebackers are Polk and senior John Castaneda (5-11, 205).

The cornerbacks are Giustino Cecere and Leak, with the safeties being Anthony Cecere and senior Pedro Almeida (5-6, 145). The Cecere brothers are hard-hitting machines in the secondary.

Johnson is very high on sophomore wide receiver/cornerback Al Horne (5-11, 170), who is working his way into the lineup after a slow start.

“He’s going to be a player of impact down the road,” Johnson said of Horne. “Once he learns everything, he’s going to play. He’s one of our best athletes.”

The Buccaneers return to action Friday night against Newark East Side, who has dropped the first two games by a combined score of 76-2. Then comes Ferris of Jersey City, who has fallen on the wayside in its two games by a combined score of 93-13. Needless to say, the schedule is extremely favorable.

It’s what the Bucs do after the first four games that will serve as the team’s barometer.

“I think we’re a lot further along than we were last year,” Johnson said. “We still have to iron some things out. Our practices have been good. It’s still a learning experience every single day.”

At least there is promise coming out of Belleville. That’s the first positive step.




The Belleville football team is off to a solid 2-0 start with wins over Tenafly and Dickinson of Jersey City. From left are Terence Folkes, Jimmy Rodriguez, Adam Ruales, head coach Jermain Johnson, James Garnett, Enrique Martinez, David Peterkin, Colin Cook and John Castaneda. 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.”