Four years ago, Piotr Partyla had to make a brutally tough decision – one that was excruciatingly hard for an eighth grader.
After graduating from grammar school, Partyla chose to go to Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington.
“I always wanted to play quarterback,” Partyla said. “I wanted to play as a freshman. I had a chance to play quarterback there right away.”
At the time, Lyndhurst head football coach Rich Tuero was a little upset with Partyla.
“Honestly, I was more embarrassed,” Tuero said. “Piotr gave me his word that he was coming to Lyndhurst and I was telling everyone that he was coming here. I was not happy.”But it wasn’t the best decision for Partyla. At the time, the Golden Griffins were struggling. Partyla was basically running for his life on every snap.
“I’ll always remember my time at QP,” Partyla said. “My teammates, my coaches, I’ll always remember them. I had a lot of fun there.”
Midway through that fateful freshman year, Partyla made the decision to transfer to Lyndhurst. The rumors were flying that Queen of Peace was about to close – which eventually it did.
“My whole approach was to never make Piotr feel like he did the wrong thing,” Tuero said. “If he wanted to come back, then the door was always open.”
So on a Friday in October, Partyla played for Queen of Peace. On the following Monday, he transferred to Lyndhurst.
From that point on, there was no looking back. Partyla was back where he belonged.
“I wanted to come back and play running back,” Partyla said. “Coach Tuero was always there for me since sixth grade. He welcomed me back. I felt a real positive vibe when I got back. I thought I was going to have to work my way in, but I felt comfortable right away.”
When Partyla’s sophomore year began with the Golden Bears, he didn’t know where he would fit in.
“I knew I would play and I knew I was ready,” Partyla said. “I had the experience of playing varsity in my favor.”
At that time, before he ever played one snap with the Golden Bears, Partyla had major goals in mind.
“I was already thinking of breaking records,” Partyla said. “I was always chasing that goal.”
And by breaking records, Partyla was going to have to surpass the totals that were set by Petey Guerriero four years earlier.
“It’s crazy, but that’s what I wanted to do,” Partyla said. “I just pretty much put my mind to it.”
Guerriero had a sensational career with the Golden Bears, eventually earning the 2015-2016 Observer Male Athlete of the Year. Before heading off to Monmouth to become an All-American Guerriero led the Golden Bears accumulating 2,161 yards and scoring 21 touchdowns.
“I always thought that Petey Guerriero was the guy,” Tuero said. “I always thought that I was lucky to have one like Petey Guerriero.”
Partyla wanted that – and more. He trained hard to get bigger, faster and stronger, spending countless hours with the staff at FASST, the training facility in Lyndhurst that has helped to develop so many of the top athletes in the area, including Guerriero.
Guerriero was definitely a motivating factor for Partyla.
“Ever since I saw him do so well, I wanted to do better,” Partyla said.
And Partyla remembered four years ago when Guerriero was named as The Observer Male Athlete of the Year.
“I saw this award when Petey got it and I said, ‘I wonder if I’ll ever get it,” Partyla said. “It motivated me as well.”
Flash forward to 2019 and the football season that was about to become legendary.
Partyla felt so keyed up for his senior year that he set lofty goals.
“I wanted to get more than 2,000 yards,” Partyla said. “I wanted to score more than 30 touchdowns and I wanted a state championship.”
Sure, it’s nice to dream. Most guys would like to take Charlize Theron to the senior prom as well.
Partyla’s goals seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream.
“I was determined to reach every one of my goals,” Partyla said. “I worked hard and I was ready for it. Every time I worked out, I put in extra reps (repetitions) to push myself to the limit.”
Partyla enjoyed a season like no other Lyndhurst football player ever had – or maybe ever will have.
Partyla rushed for 2,381 yards and scored 34 touchdowns, shattering Guerriero’s records in the process, as well as leading the entire state of New Jersey in rushing yardage. And he led the Golden Bears to an 11-1 record and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II state championship, the first state title for the Golden Bears in 36 years.
“I always motivated my teammates,” Partyla said. “I told them that we came up together and lifted together and did everything together. It wasn’t just me. I was very lucky to have great teammates with me.”
And for his efforts, Partyla received The Observer Male Athlete of the Year award – the same award that was presented to Guerriero four years ago.
“Now, I got it and that’s crazy,” Partyla said after receiving the award recently. “It’s so rewarding. I paid attention to Petey getting it and now I got it. It’s really amazing.”
Partyla became the fourth Lyndhurst male to receive the year-end honor, joining Guerriero (2015-2016), Patrick Rono (2010-2011) and Brian Kapp (2004-2005).
Tuero was proud that Partyla received the award.
“I always said that I would be lucky to get another one like Petey,” Tuero said. “Well, Piotr shattered those records. I knew Piotr would be a good football player, but not what he became. He’s one of the best to ever put on the helmet and shoulder pads for Lyndhurst, offense, defense, special teams. He’s one of the best.”
Tuero said that he will always remember Partyla’s approach to the game.
“His loyalty to the team and how humble he was,” Tuero said. “Also, his loyalty to me. He never let anyone feel lower than him. They were always equal. He always respected his coaches and supported everyone. You can’t teach that loyalty. It’s one thing if he wasn’t a nice guy, but Piotr is an awesome guy.”
Partyla is already working out with the Rutgers football team as a walk-on. If Partyla makes the roster, he will become a scholarship player. Once again, he has no guarantees. He has to prove himself all over again.
“It’s my dream school,” Partyla said. “It’s what I always wanted. Things happen for a reason.”
One thing’s for sure. If and when the high school football season kicks off again, Lyndhurst’s all-time leading rusher won’t be there.
“I’ll be lucky as all hell if I get another one like Piotr Partyla,” Tuero said. “But no way, because Piotr is such a beautiful person, a great kid. That’s hard to find.”
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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.”