Lyndhurst gridders off to solid 2-0 start

LYNDHURST – If there was a way that Rich Tuero could just take a rag and wipe 2020 from his mental calendar and his memory, then the Lyndhurst head football coach would do just that.

Not only was there a pandemic to deal with, but when the Golden Bears actually got a chance to play, they were an uncharacteristic 2-6.

Needless to say, it was just a season to forget in more ways than one.

But Tuero isn’t bemoaning his team’s fate. It was just an aberration, a freak.

The 2019 year, which included the program’s first state championship since 1983, was a standard to live by. The 2020 season? In typical Lyndhurst fashion, fuggedaboutit.

“We have to lean on the guys who were here in 2019,” Tuero said. “We have to count on them to raise the bar. They have to set the example for everyone else. I still bring up that year all the time. It’s something we can do as well. If we want to compete for a title, we have to do what that team did.”

Tuero said that there are some similarities between 2019 and this year.

“These kids are very talented,” Tuero said. “They have the capability of going on a championship run. No doubt about it, there are comparisons. No one has respect for us. We definitely are using last year as motivation for this year. We were lucky to get some things in last year that will help us this year.”

One of the key reasons for Tuero’s optimism is returning starting quarterback Johnny Lembo (5-10, 180), known in Lyndhurst as “Johnny Football.”

“He’s the man,” Tuero said of Lembo, who went a perfect 8-for-8 for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the Golden Bears’ 50-14 victory over Manchester Regional in the season opener Friday night. “He can sling it. We’re excited that Johnny is back.”

The tailback is senior Ricky Rainey (5-9, 175), who was a starter at wide receiver last year, but has moved inside this season.

“He was always a tailback,” Tuero said. “We needed him on the field, so we moved him to receiver last year. He’s back at his natural position. He’s a stud tailback.”

The fullback is senior Joe Lavignani (5-7, 165), a transfer from Paramus Catholic.

“He can run the ball like a tailback,” Tuero said. “He works his tail off.”

The wide receivers are senior Jake Schutt (6-2, 170) and junior Antonio Frangiapane (5-7, 165). The slot receivers are senior T.J. Jimenez (6-1, 175) and junior Damian Weaver (5-10, 175), the standout wrestler who just might join his brother Dylan at Rutgers when his high school days are done.

“We’re excited to have Damian back with our football program,” Tuero said. “He’s a very good football player. He’s a great kid.”

Tuero said that the four receivers have been working with Lembo in summer workouts on a regular basis.

The offensive line features seniors Ethan Rodriguez (5-9, 210) and Daniel Martinez (5-7, 190), both of whom started last year – Rodriguez at tackle, Martinez at guard. The other offensive linemen are sophomore John Herman (6-1, 220) at tackle, junior Dwayne Tucker (5-8, 180) at guard and sophomore Michael Rizzo (5-8, 190) at center.

The line isn’t blessed with the most amount of size, but Tuero likes what he sees.

“They’re short, but tough,” Tuero said. “They are also well coached. I’m not concerned with them at all. I’m confident in their abilities. They’re not going to pass the eye test, but they are as tough as nails.”

The Golden Bears utilize a 3-4 defensive formation.

Rodriguez is the team’s nose guard, with senior Angel Velez (6-1, 185) and junior Kevin Carranza (6-0, 220) at defensive end.

Martinez and Tucker are the inside linebackers, with Tucker impressing everyone every day.

“He keeps getting better and better,” Tuero said. “He was a young sophomore last year, but he’s a stud.”

Rainey and junior Brendan Pollio (5-8, 170) are the outside linebackers.

The cornerbacks are Jimenez and Frangiapane, with Weaver and senior Trystan Guzman (6-3, 190) at the safeties.

Tuero said that he knows his team doesn’t exactly win beauty pageants with their size, but he is certain that they are very good football players.

“We know that upfront we don’t pass the eye test,” Tuero said. “But they are tough and play with a chip on their shoulders. Teams might look at us and think they’re going to come in and pound us. But we’re going to impress people. If teams think they’re going to roll past us, they have another thing coming. We’re going to be in a dog fight with these guys.”

The Golden Bears will play host to Garfield Friday night at 7 p.m. The Boilermakers own an 0-2 record in the early going, so if the Golden Bears play up to their head coach’s expectations, then they can have a 2-0 record this season, which is a heck of a lot better than what last year brought.

“I know this team is ready,” Tuero said. “These kids are talented. I think we can be a good team.”

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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.”