OBSERVER ATHLETE OF THE WEEK — NA’s Witt: The Vikings’ little big man

At the end of the 2019 high school football season, North Arlington head coach Paul Savage knew that he had to do something with the Vikings’ offensive approach.

Savage had to switch things up to best suit the Vikings’ personnel.

So Savage decided to go away from the spread offense that the Vikings used in the past to an offense that isn’t readily seen in high school football anywhere.

Savage went with what he best called “a flex triple option,” which best resembled the offense that has been used by the Armed Service Academies, namely Air Force and Navy.

And there was a main reason why Savage made the switch to the new fangled offense: Joey Witt.

The senior quarterback is perhaps the most athletic player on the field. Witt might not be blessed with a ton of size. On the roster, Witt is officially listed at 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, but he might even be smaller than that.

But Witt has been blessed with incredible athleticism, a trait that has enabled to carry Witt through all three major sports – football, basketball and baseball.

For the first two years of his football career, Witt was a wide receiver for the Vikings on offense and a defensive back on defense. Witt earned All-North Jersey Interscholastic Conference honors as a receiver, but in his heart of hearts, Witt always knew he was a quarterback.

“I was a quarterback my whole life,” Witt said. “I always thought of myself as a quarterback.”

So that’s where Witt played last season, calling the signals and making the most of his talents as a quarterback.

When Savage contrived the idea of switching up the offense to the triple option, he knew two things.

“I knew we had about five running backs,” Savage said. “I knew that all five were capable of doing something with the ball.”

And the other thing Savage knew?

“Joey was our main weapon,” Savage said. “Joey is a dynamic runner, but he had to be even more dynamic. I think having Joey in the new offense could eventually open up our passing game tremendously.”

Witt liked the idea of changing offenses.

“I was definitely interested,” Witt said. “I could tell that our pass offense really wasn’t working and we needed something new. I thought the triple option would work for us. I wasn’t concerned with learning it. I knew I’d be alright. I thought it would be a really tough offense to stop, because no one could prepare for it. I knew that I was going to be really good with it.”

“Joey knew that there’s no other offense like this,” Savage said. “No one else runs it, so it was an advantage to us.”

Last week, the Vikings faced Fort Lee in a crucial game. A loss would have doomed the Vikings, giving them a 1-3 record. With a season shortened by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, there would have been no recovery.

“There was a little bit of pressure on us,” Witt said. “But I like having all that pressure on me.”

Savage said that he had a talk with Witt prior to the game.

“I told him that he was one of our leaders and had to lead us to victory,” Savage said. “I said, ‘You have to do it.’ But Joey knew. He’s an emotional kid. Joey trusts me and knew that he had to have the ball in his hands. He has the option to run the ball or pass. It comes down to Joey and his leadership. It’s all Joey. He has the big responsibility and he has the football knowledge in everything involved. He can read the defense and make the decisions.”

With the season hanging in the balance, Witt, North Arlington’s little big man, came through in the clutch.

Witt carried the ball 18 times for 95 yards and one touchdown and completed four-of-six passes for 140 yards and two more TDs. On defense, Witt made a game-saving tackle at the 4-yard-line on the game’s final drive and broke up a pass on the last play of the game, leading the Vikings to a huge 28-26 victory.

For his efforts, Witt has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. Almost incredibly, Witt earned the honor a year ago to the date. Witt was the Observer AOW in the Nov. 7, 2019 editions – but that week came in a loss to Bogota. This time, the honor comes in victory.

The Vikings now own a 2-2 record. They have not been .500 or better at this point of the season since 2015. The Vikings will have games against Palisades Park, Wallington and Secaucus upcoming, all in the span of nine days.

But Witt knows that the Vikings will be ready for the challenge ahead.

“I think we’re all excited,” Witt said. “This game was a real confidence booster. If we didn’t win, we might have packed it in right there. If we lost this game, we could have put our heads down. But the entire atmosphere changed. It really did.”

Witt said that he had to get back onto the gridiron this fall.

“I’m not the kind of kid who wants to sit at home playing video games,” Witt said. “I want to get after it. I want the competition. I like to play. It’s why I play three sports. I need to stay active.”
And although Witt loves being the Vikings’ quarterback, he would much rather be the team’s safety, another position he plays.

“I love flying around the field doing what I want,” Witt said. “I like coming up and making a hit.”

Witt also loves playing basketball, but he hopes to play his favorite sport, namely baseball, in college.

“I want to play baseball at the next level,” Witt said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

For now, he’s the quarterback of a flex triple option offense.

“He really hasn’t gotten his feet wet in the position,” Savage said. “But he knows a lot more of what’s going on. He had a challenge and he stepped up to the plate.”

In the case of Joey Witt, it’s always safe using a baseball analogy, even during football season.

Learn more about the writer ...

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.”