Lyndhurst football looks to rebuild it all back up again

It was a mystical, magical 2019 high school football season for the Golden Bears of Lyndhurst High School, tying the school record for wins in a season with 11 and capturing the school’s first NJSIAA state sectional championship since 1983.

But that season is history. The trophy is tucked away nicely and the banner hangs in the gym as a reminder. It’s a new season and the Golden Bears were ravaged by graduation, losing an unfathomable total of 26 kids to the Pomp and Circumstance that was eventually held with social distancing guidelines in July.

When one football team loses 26 kids to graduation, that team is usually known as Penn State University, not a small NJSIAA Group II school.

“We lost a lot,” said Lyndhurst head coach Rich Tuero, who begins his seventh season as the head coach at his alma mater. “It is what it is. We knew this was going to be an uphill battle.”

Sure enough, the Bears have already lost more games this year than they did last year. The Bears have already lost to neighboring rival Rutherford (45-24) and Waldwick (41-20) in the first two games of the abbreviated COVID-19 season.

“We have only two returning varsity starters,” Tuero said. “We have a very young team.”

And the poor get poorer. Starting two-way lineman Danny Martinez suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee during the first set of downs in the Rutherford game.

“It was a non-contact injury,” Tuero said. “He just turned awkwardly and went down. It was devastating. I feel bad for the poor kid.”

But Tuero remains upbeat.

“The kids are getting better,” Tuero said. “The coaches, the players, we’re all excited to build it back up again. Lyndhurst is a small town. These things happen. But we’ve done it before, so let’s do it again.”

In 2014, the Golden Bears went 1-9 with new head coach Tuero, taking over a program that was in somewhat of turmoil. And six years later, the Golden Bears were the toast of Bergen County, going 11-1.

“We just have to go back to work,” Tuero said. “We understand it. So we go through every practice, just trying to get better. If we do something wrong, we identify it and get back on it. Watching these kids get better has been great for me. And I have no doubt we will be back.”

Leading the way for the Golden Bears is junior quarterback John Lembo (5-foot-9, 165 pounds). He’s the younger brother of Anthony Lembo, last year’s starting quarterback who was expected to attend Stevenson University this fall to play football, before the coronavirus put a stop to those plans.

Tuero has a catchy nickname for Lembo. Pardon the coach if you’ve heard it before.

“He’s Johnny Football,” said Tuero, giving Lembo the same name made famous by former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. “That’s what we call him. He’s our leader. He has great vision. He’s also elusive and has a great arm. He’s going to be a good one.”

Senior running back Anthony DeMarco (6-0, 170) is one of those two returning starters that Tuero referred to earlier.

“He’s a hard-nosed kid, a really tough kid,” Tuero said. “He’s a captain and a big part of this team.”

DeMarco also plays a little at wide receiver as well.

Junior Joe Lavignani (5-9, 190) is a transfer from Paramus Catholic who will play right away for the Bears.

The Bears have a ton of depth at wide receiver, all of whom are underclassmen except senior Nick Cimicata (6-1, 170).

Juniors Ricky Rainey (5-10, 165), Brandon Rivera (5-9, 165) and Tristan Guzman (6-3, 160) and sophomore Tony Frangipane (5-6, 150) are all sure-handed pass catchers.

“We have great potential in our receivers,” Tuero said.

The offensive line features seniors Karam Daoud (6-0, 280) at tackle and Izaak Castellon (5-9, 240) at guard. Junior Angel Velez (6-2, 190) is the other tackle, while fellow juniors Ethan Rodriguez (5-8, 215) and Kledis Leka (5-8, 200) at guard and center respectively. Rodriguez is a returning starter.

Defensively, the Bears use a 3-4 set.

Castellon is on the nose, with Velez and Rodriguez at defensive ends. Rodriguez started at defensive end last year.

Cimicata and sophomore Brandon Pollio (5-7, 150) are the outside linebackers, with Rainey and sophomore Dwayne Tucker (5-4, 170) at the inside linebacker slots.

The cornerbacks are Frangipane and junior T.J. Jimenez (5-11, 160) with Lembo and DeMarco at safety. DeMarco started at safety for the state champions a year ago.

Yes, that championship season, one that seems so very far away now.

“We just have to keep working at getting better every day,” Tuero said. “The circumstances being what they are, with the coronavirus and all, we’re out there playing football. This is what it is. These kids can set an example for the younger guys. They can teach the younger guys how it’s done. We’re 0-2, sure. But we can finish 6-2. That’s what we’re embracing and going after every day. We believe it. I do and so does my staff.”

The Golden Bears are back on the field at Lyndhurst High School Friday night against old playoff rival Lodi at 7 p.m.




The Lyndhurst High School football team will look to rebound after a tough 0-2 start. Front to back are linemen Angel Velez, Izaak Castellon, Ethan Rodriguez, Kledis Leka, Daniel Martinez and Karam Daoud. Head coach Rich Tuero is to the left. 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.”