When the 2019 high school football season began with training camp in August, Anthony Lembo felt like he was the king of the hill.
Lembo was slated to be the starting quarterback for the Lyndhurst High School football team.
“He went into camp and won that position,” said Lyndhurst head football coach Rich Tuero.
Lembo was also set to return to the starting slot in the Golden Bears’ secondary, where he performed for each of the last two seasons. Lembo was a cornerback a year ago and collected a team-high six interceptions, displaying a natural nose for the football.
So it was the best of all worlds – quarterback on offense, safety on defense.
“Of course, I wanted to play quarterback,” Lembo said. “And I always play defense. I like defense more than offense because I like hitting people. But yes, I think I have a nose for the ball.”
Lembo was more than excited to be playing in the offensive backfield along with his best friend, Piotr Partyla, who is also known in these parts as “The Polish Assassin.”
“We’ve been really close since fifth grade,” Lembo said of Partyla. “We’re neighbors. Our backyards touch. He lives around the block from me. We would always play football in my yard on the grass. We go way back.”
Yes, as far way back as teenagers can go.
Things were going along smoothly for the first few games of the season – Lembo at quarterback and his buddy Partyla at running back.
But then, Tuero decided to make a bit of a change, putting Partyla in the role of being the Wildcat quarterback, taking the direct snap from center and going off to the races. The move obviously worked, considering that Partyla marched off to post two 300-plus yard games en route to a state-best 2,211 yards going into last Friday night’s NJSIAA North 1, Group II state title game against Parsippany.
Four games into his senior year, Lembo was a player without a position. He played wide receiver last year, but those spots were filled this year. If Lembo stayed on the field for offense, he would line up more like a tight end or an H-back.
But Lembo didn’t flinch. He proved to be the consummate teammate.
“I wasn’t really upset,” Lembo said.”I just wanted to win. If Pete makes us better at the Wildcat, then that’s fine. It was good for the team.”
In his heart, Tuero knew exactly how Lembo would handle the position change.
“We had a conversation about it and he said to me, ‘I don’t care, Coach,’” Tuero said. “He said, ‘I don’t know why you even asked me that.’ It was a perfect answer. It was a perfect showing that we’re a team.”
Tuero knows that Lembo is a football junkie.
“He watches more film than anyone on the team,” Tuero said of Lembo. “He’s a film rat. He is always studying the opponent. He’s really that kind of kid who you want on your team.”
So before the state title game against Parsippany, Lembo was content with his role. He was studying the Parsippany quarterbacks to see if they gave him any idea of where they wanted to throw the ball.
“I look at one receiver and then I look in the quarterback’s eyes,” Lembo said. “I think it definitely helps me to have played quarterback.”
Between last year and this season, Lembo has collected an astounding 11 interceptions.
But last week, Lembo studied the defenses for another reason.
You see, Partyla suffered a high ankle sprain in the Golden Bears’ semifinal win over Mahwah and did not practice at all in the week prior to Parsippany.
So it meant that Lembo was taking all the snaps in practice in preparation of the title game.
“I had 100 percent confidence in Lembo,” Tuero said. “He showed me that last year when he played quarterback, wide receiver and in the secondary. He did it all. But this week, he was the quarterback and he was great.”
Partyla started the game, but in the third period, he gave way to Lembo.
“He also runs hard,” Tuero said. “We had no problem calling his number. He’s fearless. He has a love of the game and he shows it. He did exactly what I thought he was going to do. I had full confidence in him.”
Lembo carried the ball 15 times for 105 yards and a 9-yard touchdown. He also completed one pass for 43 yards and he also had an interception, helping the Golden Bears secure a 26-7 victory, enabling Lyndhurst to capture its first NJSIAA state championship in 36 years and punching their ticket to a game at MetLife Stadium Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. for the overall North Jersey Group II title.
For his efforts, Lembo has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Lembo can’t believe that he will end his high school career in the Meadowlands.
“I’m in shock right now,” Lembo said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. We’re going to MetLife. It’s going to be so cool to play there.”
Tuero can’t sing his senior captain’s praises enough.
“He’s an awesome kid,” Tuero said. “His heart, his soul, his passion, his love of the game stick out. He’s a hard worker. He’s the perfect kid for anyone to coach. He’s also loyal, very loyal. It’s beautiful that he had such a big game in the state championship game.”
Tuero knows that Lembo will play somewhere in college football.
“He’s not done yet,” Tuero said. “No way.”
“I want to play college football,” Lembo said. “I’ve looked at a few schools.”
Chances are that a few schools are going to look at him as well, especially since Lembo owns a 3.8 grade point average and a score of 1,030 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. Lembo would like to study sports marketing in college.
For now, Lembo’s just living the dream.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I always dreamed of playing there,” Lembo said of MetLife Stadium. “Ever since we lost last year (to Rutherford in the state sectional final), it’s been my goal. Now, it’s going to happen. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. I would still be as happy if we just won, but it’s better to say you had such a big hand in helping your team win a state championship. It’s something I’ll always remember. I’ll show my kids and grandkids the video highlights.”
And those would be highlights that feature the one and only Anthony Lembo.
Lyndhurst senior quarterback/safety Anthony Lembo, this week’s Observer Athlete of the Week, holds the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group II state championship trophy he helped the Golden Bears claim after beating Parsippany, 26-7, last Friday night. 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.”