Spring grid season shutdown hurts locals Kearns, Huseinovic

LYNDHURST — After the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the college football season last fall at most NCAA Division II and Division III schools across the country, some programs were given hope of a spring grid season.

At least, that was the plan in the Northeast 10 Conference, one of the top NCAA Division II leagues in the nation. Those schools told their football players to prepare for a six-game season in the spring.

With that in mind, two local college football standouts, namely Brian Kearns of North Arlington and Dustin Huseinovic of Harrison, went right to work to get ready for a different schedule in the spring.

Kearns is set for his senior season at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts. Huseinovic, the 2017-2018 Observer Athlete of the Year out of Harrison High, is getting ready for his junior campaign at Pace University in Pleasantville, N.Y.

The two teams were scheduled to face each other in the newly formed spring football season.

But Kearns and Huseinovic have become friends and workout partners with their regular physical get-togethers at FASST, the highly regarded strength and conditioning facility located on Park Avenue in Lyndhurst.

They might be rivals on the gridiron, but when it comes to physical training and regimen, Kearns and Huseinovic are shoulder-to-shoulder.

“We talk to each other all the time,” Kearns said. “It’s fun. I got to know Dustin before this.”

In fact, Huseinovic went to Stonehill for a recruiting visit while he was still at Harrison and stayed with Kearns, who he didn’t know beforehand.

But the two have become close during this unexpected time spent at home. With both schools doing most of their class work virtually because of the pandemic, both Kearns and Huseinovic have remained locally through the crisis.

Both players were expecting to leave this week to prepare for the spring football season. In fact, Kearns spent last week getting all the necessary medical clearances in order to return to campus. He was slated to leave Sunday. Huseinovic will head to Pleasantville to resume classes in the classroom later this month.

However, the situation has since changed. Last Wednesday, the Northeast 10 Conference announced that it was cancelling all plans for a spring football season. They hope to return to play in the fall.

“This has definitely been the toughest go for me,” said Kearns, who hasn’t played football since September of 2019 after undergoing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery on his right knee just two games into that season. “It’s all so disappointing. I worked so hard to get ready. I was all set to go back.”

Kearns, who played high school football at St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, had developed into one of the top running backs in the NE-10. As a sophomore in 2017, he was the program’s workhorse, setting a new school record for carries in a game with 44 against St. Anselm and had a game of 243 yards (second highest single game total in school history) on 34 carries.

Kearns had 961 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final full season in 2018.

Kearns said that he has been working out at FASST six days a week for 90 minutes.

Huseinovic has been attending early morning workouts with Kearns, hitting the facility every morning at 7 a.m.

“I don’t mind getting up early,” said Huseinovic, who doubles as a linebacker and a defensive back for the Setters. “I think it gives me a little bit of a mental edge. I was really hopeful to be back playing in the spring. It was great to get it going again.”

Huseinovic received word about the cancellation of the spring season via an e-mail Wednesday.

“It sucks,” Huseinovic said. “Everyone up there is upset. I really don’t want to dwell on it.”

Huseinovic had a sensational season in 2019, earning All-Northeast 10 Conference Second Team honors. He collected 76 tackles, 55 of which were solo tackles. He also had two sacks and two interceptions. As a freshman, Huseinovic had 48 tackles with three sacks and interception, earning All-NE10 Third Team.

Huseinovic is trying to put the entire situation into a proper perspective.

“When I think of how frustrating it is, I think of all the doctors and nurses who are risking their lives to treat people,” Huseinovic said. “I think of all the first responders who are out there working for us. I remember how they have it far worse than us, how it’s on a larger scale.”

Kearns said that he was already driven to return to action after suffering the crippling injury 18 months ago.

“I already had extra motivation to come back,” Kearns said. “I’m going to make the league pay in the fall. It’s now a personal thing for me. It makes me that much hungrier to get back.”

Both Kearns and Huseinovic enjoy working hard alongside each other.

“I like showing up here and competing with him,” Kearns said. “I tease him all the time. I’ve gotten to know Dustin really well because of this. It’s always awesome to have a guy like Dustin here to work with me. I need to have someone who offers a challenge to me.”

“The person next to you is doing the same workouts,” Huseinovic said. “He’s pushing me to be the best version of a player I can be. We definitely thrive off each other. We don’t let either one of us slack off. Just Tuesday, I came in to do strength and conditioning and Dustin made me do some tough ab (abdominal) workouts.  He’s definitely helped me become a better player.”

Kearns said that when he received the news of the spring season cancellation, he went off his football diet for a bit.

“I treated myself to a few Oreos,” Kearns said. “Luckily, we only had a few left, or I would have taken out the full tray.”

Kearns is just one class shy of his business management degree in sports, commerce and culture. Huseinovic is working toward his degree, also in business management, but he wants to possibly pursue the fashion industry, working with athletic footwear and clothes. He will carry a full 16 credit schedule when classes resume for the second semester Jan. 30.

“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Kearns said. “It’s something out of our control. I know families who work in hospitals and lost family members. I’m trying to take the positives out of this. I keep it all in the front of my mind.”

But Kearns realizes how much the pandemic is now playing games with his mind.

“It’s going to be two years since I last played,” Kearns said. “That’s crazy to think. It’s given me too much time to recover and too much time to think. It’s crazy scary that it’s going to keep me here for another six months.”

But at least there’s a local safe haven that will keep the local rivals prepared.

“There’s nothing we can do to change it,” Huseinovic said. “We just have to keep working together. When we play each other, we’ll be ready.”




Brian Kearns (left) of North Arlington and Stonehill College and Dustin Huseinovic (right) of Harrison and Pace University were working out at FASST in Lyndhurst to get ready for a spring football season, but the two learned that the Northeast 10 Conference that Stonehill and Pace play in canceled the spring season last week due to the COVID-19 crisis. Photo by Jim Hague



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.”