It would be easy for Rich Tuero to bemoan the lack of experience on this year’s Lyndhurst football team in the aftermath of graduating 14 players from last season’s team as well as losing two valuable senior two-way players to season-ending knee injuries in the summer.
Instead, Tuero sees a group of talented youngsters who are showing maturity beyond their years and are embracing the challenge that awaits them.
“We’re just a young, young group on the field. We have a lot of sophomores and juniors,” said Tuero, now in his ninth season as the Golden Bears’ head coach. “We knew coming into the season that this is what it was going to be.
“We absolutely can compete. I think a lot of teams are where we’re at. Maybe they have more returners than us, but I think we’ll be in every game. I think we can compete with anybody.”
Proof of this team’s youth and maturity is in this season’s captains. Before this year, Tuero never had a sophomore captain. But this summer, two sophomores, Shawn Bellenger and Roddy Morinho, proved more than worthy of such distinction.
“They both earned it, they did everything right in the offseason,’ Tuero said. “Both of them are multi-sport athletes and you would never know because they came to every single lift that they could. Whatever the activity was, they made sure they were here leading. They’re all about the team and they earned it. And the team respects it. That’s the best part.”
Bellenger (6-0, 175), who Tuero called the “smartest guy on the field,” is a true pro-style quarterback and pocket passer tasked with replacing last year’s Observer Male Athlete of the Year John Lembo.
Morinho (6-1, 180) will be a starting running back as he and fellow senior Dwayne Tucker will give Lyndhurst a pair of power runners to split the carries.
“(Roddy’s) putting his head down and running through you. He’s a power style runner,” Tuero said. “That’s how he’s always been and that’s what he is.”
Damian Weaver (5-11, 170), one of the state’s top wrestlers, takes over as the top receiving target following the graduations of Rick Rainey and Jake Schutt who combined for 78 catches for 1,280 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. The next leading receiver, Tony Frangipane, will miss his entire senior season due to a torn ACL suffered during a summer 7-on-7 event. Helping to fill the void from the injury is Tony’s twin brother Greg.
The other devastating injury will be felt on the offensive line as Kevin Carranza, who started the last two years at right guard and on the defensive line, tore his ACL during Lyndhurst’s scrimmage at North Arlington. Junior Shane Keeler and senior Bryan Santos are competing to fill the void at guard.
The rest of the line is all juniors as Jake Herman is a returning starter at right tackle and Michael Rizzo enters his second year as the starting center. Nick Adamo (6-1, 275) takes over at left tackle and Conor Gill will be the left guard.
Sophomore Ziad Selim and junior Matteo Morelli are battling it out for the starting tight end spot.
Weaver, one of just two returning starters on defense, is back at cornerback, but his toughness and wrestling background allows him to be deployed all over the field if necessary.
“He’s one of our best dudes and he’s a dude,” said Tuero. “He’s one of our best athletes, he can tackle clearly and he’s not scared, he’s got no fear. Like all wrestlers, he has that grit.”
Sophomore Anthony Amaro and junior Julian Guzman will see time at the other cornerback spot and Greg Frangipane is the top safety and junior Kamilo Torres will also see time in the secondary.
Tucker, who had 79 tackles a season ago, is back at inside linebacker alongside Michael Rizzo in Lyndhurst’s 3-4 scheme. Morinho and senior Jake Renzi are set to start on the outside and Daniel Mbande should also see snaps at linebacker as well.
Adamo anchors the defensive line at nose tackle, while senior first year player Rilwan Olunlade, Herman and Santos are at the ends.
Cameron Werner, who established himself as one of the NJIC’s top kickers after making 32-of-35 extra point attempts is back for his junior season and Weaver is the main kick returner.
Lyndhurst will be tested immediately as it travels to Waldwick on Thursday, Sept. 1, then returns home on Sept. 9 to face a Rutherford team, considered to be the best in the NJIC this season.
“I don’t know how many games we’re going to win, I don’t know how many games we’re going to lose, but I love this group.,” Tuero said. “‘Only the strong survive’ has been the motto of this team and it shows. These kids are working hard every day, they listen to their coaches, and it’s going to show (with wins) whether it’s this year, next year or the future sometime.”
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.