A great day for Maroon Raider athletics — 10 Nutley athletes declare intentions to an assortment of colleges

NUTLEY – Mackenzie Albert and Olivia Real have been best of friends and soccer teammates since the days of learning the times tables and consonant blends in second grade in the Nutley school system.

So that’s why it was only fitting that the buddies share their finest moments as Maroon Raider athletes together, as Albert and Real signed their NCAA National Letters of Intent together last Wednesday after a special presentation in the Nutley High School gymnasium.

In all, 10 Nutley seniors declared their intentions for college and signed letters with their respective schools.

For Albert and Real, they signed NCAA Division I NLIs that included a free trip to college and a spot on their schools’ soccer roster.

“It’s a pretty big day for us,” said Albert, the high-scoring striker who signed her letter with Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. “I’ve been playing with Olivia since second grade and I know we always had this day in our minds. I’m happy to share the day with her and my other classmates.”

“It’s pretty cool that we get to do this together,” said Real, who signed her NLI with Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. “We always had the same goals and to achieve them together is great.”

Albert will major in general biology with a focus on animal sciences to eventually become a veterinarian in the future. Albert prided herself in becoming a better student. Ever since her first high school report card, where Albert’s collective grade point average was a paltry 1.8, she improved dramatically as a student to where she now carries a 3.4 GPA. That’s an incredible improvement.

“I feel like it made me a better person,” Albert said of her incredible academic ascent. “It definitely helped me get ready for college.”

Real’s plan is to major in communications at Winthrop, which won Real’s heart over other D-I programs like American University and Bucknell.

“I just like the community there at Winthrop and the soccer program is on the rise,” Real said. “It’s going to be a good spot for me.”

While the Nutley girls’ soccer team was well represented, the Maroon Raiders’ football team placed three  members at different schools.

Frank Kokos will head to Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania. Paul Poplawski is taking his football talents to Kutztown University, also in Pennsyvlania. Matt Harbison, the Maroon Raiders’ savvy quarterback, will go to The College of New Jersey to call the signals for the Lions.

Kokos, who will major in sports science with the hope of being a workout trainer some day, picked Misericordia for a simple reason.

“They were the first school to offer me,” Kokos said. “They seemed to accept me and were willing to take a chance on me. They made me feel right away like I was one of their own. They saw a future in me.”

Poplawski was impressed with Kutztown’s campus and facilities.

“The campus is beautiful,” Poplawski said. “I’m very excited about playing there. It doesn’t hurt that they’re always winning.”

Poplawski will major in either criminal justice or accounting at Kutztown.

Harbison, a former Observer Athlete of the Week, was sold on TCNJ after going to see a game played there.

“The environment there was incredible,” said Harbison, the son of Bob, Nutley’s head basketball and baseball coach. “That’s the first thing that sold me. There was a great group of guys so that helped.”

Harbison will major in civil engineering and TCNJ has a great engineering program.

“I worked my tail off to get where I am,” Harbison said. “I know this is the best place for me to enhance my football career.”

Nick Schroeder, who has spent the last four years playing basketball for Matt’s father, is headed to York College in Pennsylvania. Schroeder, another former Observer Athlete of the Week honoree, was also happy to share the day with people like close friend Harbison.

“I grew up with all these guys and now I’m going on to the next level,” Schroeder said. “I just have to stay focused and think about what I’ve worked hard for. I have so much to learn to be the best that I can be.”

Schroeder will also major in engineering at York, but will study environmental engineering.

“I can’t ask for more than this,” Schroeder said.

Dylan Santos is off to William Paterson University where he will play baseball.

“The NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference) is one of the best Division III leagues in the country,” said Santos, who will major in physical therapy and exercise science. “I like the coaches there.”

Head coach Mike Lauterhahn is well known in local circles, as is his father, Bob, one of the most respected basketball officials in New Jersey.

It also helped situations that Dylan’s father, Izzy, also played baseball for William Paterson, so it made perfect sense that Santos would head there as well.

Aidan Scarpelli is also remaining close to home, as Scarpelli will attend Ramapo to play soccer.

“I got to meet the coaches and the team on my visit there,” Scarpelli said. “Ramapo just won their conference title, so that says a lot. And I’ll be close to home, so if my family needs me, I’ll be right there.”

Scarpelli is undecided about his major, although he’s leaning toward business.

Lacrosse standout Jake Cirminiello will also stay close to his Nutley roots, as he will attend Kean University to major in health science with the hope of becoming a chiropractor.

“Kean’s program is on the rise, so I like that,” Cirminiello said. “I really enjoyed my visit there. I don’t mind being close to home.”

Cirminiello plays practically every position on the lacrosse field, including goalkeeper in a pinch.

Allison Huelbig was a teammate of both Albert and Real on the soccer pitch, but Huelbig will head to Franklin & Marshall to run track.

“I really like the campus and the surrounding area,” Huelbig said of F&M’s Lancaster, Pennsylvania location. “There’s a city surrounding the campus so it’s not a rural school in the middle of nowhere.”

Huelbig will compete in the jumps (triple, high and long) as well as the 200-meter dash. She will major in marketing while at F&M.

“I think it’s pretty cool that we’re all here experiencing the same thing,” Huelbig said. “We’re getting to see each other succeed and that’s pretty nice.”

And to have one school send off 10 of its athletes off to college in the same afternoon is pretty special and truly remarkable.

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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.”