Vikings hope to speed things up with QB Witt

The North Arlington High School football team made major strides toward improvement in 2019, far more than the 2-6 record indicated.

After all, the Vikings won a total of two games in the previous three years combined, going 2-25 during those three years, so winning two games last season was a major improvement in itself.

But the Vikings were far more competitive last season than in years past. They weren’t a complete pushover. The Vikings scraped and clawed and antagonized and annoyed opponents. Sure, some of the losses appeared to be lopsided, but they didn’t come without a fight.

So that’s the reason why fourth-year head coach Paul Savage has to feel optimistic heading into the shortened six-game regular season that the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has provided them.

After all, it is a season. That’s something in itself.

It was a tough season in 2019 for the Vikings and especially Savage, who ended the year in the hospital after a bad bout with Crohn’s disease, the dangerous inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation to the digestive tract.

“I knew it was going to be a tough road for us,” Savage said. “I honestly thought we had a chance to go 4-4 and we came up short. But we’re definitely moving in the right direction. Most everyone from last year is back.”

The main reason for Savage’s optimism is the return of his senior quarterback, the tough-as-nails mighty mite Joey Witt.

Witt (5-foot-6, 150 pounds) is as fierce of a competitor there is in the area. He’s so intense and tough, despite his size or lack thereof, that Savage has instituted a new offense that will best fit Witt and his immense talents.

The Vikings will be a triple option offensive team in 2020, utilizing Witt’s running ability and his skills when it comes to hiding the football.

“He’s tremendous with it,” Savage said of Witt’s prowess with the triple option. “He’s a four-year starter who earned three-time All-League (North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Meadowlands Division) honors.”

Witt was All-NJIC Meadowlands as a receiver in 2017 and 2018 and was All-NJIC Meadowlands again last year as a quarterback.

“Joey is a gamer,” Savage said. “He plays at a different speed that everyone else. And the others on the team feed off of that.”

The first wingback is junior Dylan McDermott (5-9, 180), who has all the makings of being a good triple option running back.

“He’s solid,” Savage said. “He’s fast, smart and blocks well. He’s an all-around good player.”

The other wingback is junior Christian Gerace (5-9, 165).

“He’s a smart kid who has a good football mind,” Savage said. “I tell him to do something once and then I don’t have to tell him again. He gets it.”

Another wingback in the mix is sophomore Devin Rivas (6-0, 190), a transfer from DePaul Catholic.

The fullback is senior Ricky Joa (6-0, 205), who will be the back to make the others go.

“He’s fast and explosive,” Savage said of Joa. “We saw some talent in him to move him to fullback from wingback. He has the speed to be a dangerous runner.”

The other fullback is sophomore Dante San Giacomo (5-5, 140), who will be a solid contributor.

“He’s going to get his share of carries,” Savage said.

The receivers are junior Jaivon Aquino (5-10, 170) and sophomore Kyle Villani (5-9, 160).

Don’t think that the receivers are simply blockers. They are also solid pass catchers.

“We throw out of the triple option,” Savage said. “We’re not afraid to throw the ball.”

The tight end is junior Iker Bouzas (5-10, 200).

The offensive line might not be the biggest one around, but they are certainly athletic. Sophomore tackle Giovanni San Giacomo (5-7, 160) is Dante’s twin brother, but just a little bigger.

“We’re not concerned with our size,” Savage said. “There’s no backing down with Gio. He’s an extremely tough guy.”

The other tackle is junior Nicholas Healy (6-1, 250).

The guards are Jorge Quintero (6-2, 260) and junior Bryan Jimenez (5-10, 230).

The center is a two-sport standout in senior Pete Ziakos (6-0, 270), who was an All-NJIC Meadowlands selection last year.

“Pete is a four-year starter,” Savage said. “He’s the backbone of our line. He’s a big, athletic kid that we count on.”

The defense operates out of a 3-4 alignment.

The defensive ends are Jimenez and freshman Isaiah Alvarado (5-10, 180), who is showing a lot of potential, according to the coach.

“He’s an aggressive, strong kid,” Savage said of Alvarado.

Ziakos is a tough customer at nose guard.

“He’s hard to deal with,” Savage said. “He has really strong hands and that helps him get to the ball carrier.”

The outside linebackers are McDermott and Joa, with Rivas and Villani in the mix there.

The inside linebackers are Giovanni Dan Giacomo, who made an astounding 86 tackles at the position last year as a freshman, and Bouzas.

The cornerbacks are Aquino, Villani and senior Mateusz Skora (5-10, 165). The safeties are Witt and Dante San Giacomo. Freshman Ian Crudele (5-8, 145) will see time at either cornerback or safety.

“Ian is a smart kid,” Savage said. “We trust him a lot in certain situations.”

The Vikings will open their season on Friday, October 2 at Secaucus at 7 p.m. They play their first home game at Rip Collins Field on Friday, October 9 against Becton Regional, also at 7 p.m.

Savage believes that the improvement will continue. After all, it has been 10 long years since the Vikings had a winning season (going 7-3 in 2010), but maybe this is the year.

“Honestly, if our linemen step up and help us to control the ball, that can hopefully push us forward,” Savage said. “We see the triple option as an advantage.”

That’s because the kid calling the shots at quarterback, namely Witt, is as good as they come.

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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.”