Harrison’s Vega shows he belongs in historic North-South appearance

Jayden Vega could have simply been content with simply making the Phil Simms NJ North-South All-Star Football Classic. After all, the senior defensive tackle had already made history by being the first Harrison player to earn a spot in the game since current Blue Tide head coach Ray Lucas more than three decades ago.

But if you thought that would in any way lessen the chip on his massive shoulders, you would be mistaken.

On June 11 at Kean University, Vega showed he belonged with some of the best talent in the state. He was a part of a North team that used a dominant defensive performance to earn a 10-6 victory over the South in the 42nd edition of the game in front of more than 2,000 people.

“The whole weekend (I was thinking about showing I belong). I was thinking that the whole weekend,” Vega said. “I felt I had something to prove.”

“We’re from Harrison, all we have is chips on our shoulder. They never fall off,” said Lucas, who served as the quarterbacks coach for the North team. “Every single player that played here put the work in to get here.

“For the town, for the players, for the school, it’s huge. The fact that he got selected is more important than anything. It shows that we’re still doing stuff in Harrison.”

Even a stellar team performance wasn’t enough to make Vega content. Rather than boast about his play, Vega felt that he could have done even more.

“It could have been a little better,” said Vega. “I had moments where I could have been better, I had moments where I could have made the tackle or got (the offensive lineman’s) hands off of me. But again, I’m still working and trying to get what’s best for me.”

“One-hundred he held his own,” Lucas said. “He played extremely well and I hope the (college) coaches see that.”

Even when you’re 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds like Vega, it would have been easy for his talents to go unnoticed. Interior linemen rarely generate the attention that quarterbacks and other skill guys do. That rings especially true for a team that struggled the way Harrison did last season.

It appears that the lack of team success and the perception of the NJIC Union Division the Blue Tide played in.

Prior to transferring to Harrison for his senior season, Vega played at state power DePaul Catholic, where he saw limited snaps on a loaded defensive line.

Whatever the reason, Vega found himself as one of the few players in the game with his college future still up in the air.

“I’m ready for it. I want it. I want someone to come see me and I want to go to school,” Vega said. “I’m ready for whatever. I’m just waiting for an opportunity.”

“This kid needs a shot, that’s it,” said Lucas. “He proved himself that he can hang around with the big boys.

“He’s a Division 1 athlete.”

While Vega’s football future is unknown, one thing’s for certain, Vega enjoyed an opportunity that rarely comes around for a player from Harrison. It was an experience he said he won’t soon forget.

“I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life,” Vegas said. I bonded with these guys and I felt as if I’ve known them my whole life. We talked all night, talked all day, worked our butts off, bonded together and came out of here with the win.”

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)