Officially, the Lyndhurst football team begins the 2023 season on Thursday, Aug. 31 when it travels down Route 3 to longtime rival Secaucus. In reality, the Golden Bears’ work this season began nearly 10 months earlier just days after the conclusion of a disappointing 3-6 campaign.
“Nov. 7 we had a meeting and it was all about next year,” head coach Rich Tuero said. “We have been chomping at the bit. We got right after it and was in the weight room on Nov. 14. Teams were still playing, teams were still practicing that were in the postseason and we were already in the weightroom getting ready for 2023.
“I truly believe that we have the opportunity to return to glory. These guys are working their tails off.”
Lyndhurst returns eight starters on offense, headlined by what should be one of the NJIC’s best tandems in junior quarterback Shawn Bellenger (6-2, 190) and junior running back Roddy Morinho (6-0, 190).
Bellenger, a three-sport athlete with a 4.2 GPA, threw for 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns, while also running for two scores last year. Meanwhile, Morinho, who ran for 724 yards and 10 touchdowns a season ago, is especially primed for a huge year after gaining 15-plus pounds of muscle and extensively training with running backs coach and Lyndhurst great Petey Guerriero.
“You already see a major difference between Roddy last season and Roddy what he looks like now in practice,” said Tuero. “It’s really not even close and that’s a testament to Roddy’s hard work and Petey being fully committed to the program as a volunteer (coach).”
Senior Daniel Mabande (5-9, 180) brings impressive speed to the backfield and Viktor Kanjuk (5-8, 140) is carving out a role as a third down back who could make an impact in the passing game. Michael Rizzo (5-9, 175), a two-year starter on the offensive line, moves to fullback for his senior season
Lyndhurst received a big boost to the offense over the summer when Anthony Pizzuti, one of the area’s top basketball and baseball talents, elected to come out for football for the first time. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound receiver brings rare size to the position and has the potential to be a game changer on offense.
“We’re really excited about Anthony,” Tuero said. “He’s one of the best athletes in the building. I am very excited to see because he has hopped right in and looks like he’s going to make some noise.”
Senior Cameron Werner (5-11, 160) returns at receiver after flashing potential as a deep threat a season ago.Senior Renzo Pelaez and junior Anthony Amaro (5-11, 170) will also see extensive action at the position. Sophomore Matthew Jarvis (5-11, 180) is the starter at tight end after seeing some time late last season.
The Golden Bears’ offensive line should be a strength as it returns four starters, headlined by senior left tackle Jake Herman (6-2, 220), a three-year starter.
“He’s just a leader. He knows what everyone’s gotta do,” said Tuero. “He knows what I expect of him. He never complains, he never questions, he never says boo. He just comes to work, checks in and kicks butt everyday.”
The interior of the Lyndhurst line is one of the biggest in the NJIC with senior left guard Nick Adamo (6-1, 290), junior center Mike Longo (5-10, 285) and senior right guard Shane Keeler (6-2, 225) all returning starters from a season ago. Keeler moves over from right tackle, a spot now held by senior Conor Gill (6-4, 215).
Abraham Martinez (5-9, 175) doesn’t have the size of the other five, but is pushing hard for a starting spot with Michael Cutola (6-1, 185) also providing versatility and depth on the line.
Gill and Herman are returning starters at defensive end, a position bolstered by the return of senior Robby Thomson (6-4, 180), who is back after missing last season.
Adamo returns to anchor the line at nose guard with Longo and Gill also rotating.
Morinho moves from outside linebacker to inside in Lyndhurst’s 3-4 defense where he’ll line up alongside Rizzo. Senior Isaiah Lopez is set to start outside on the strong side with Mabande on the weak side. Martinez and Cutola are also in the mix at linebacker.
A lot of the secondary is up in the air with Julian Guzman (5-11, 175), Nate Boyd (5-7, 140), Kamilo Torres (5-11, 170) and Werner all vying for starting spots at cornerback and safety. One spot that is solidified is Amaro, who is a returning starter at corner.
Werner is the kicker and Pelaez is the punter.
Following the first game at Secaucus, Lyndhurst’s home opener is eight days later against New Milford.
For this group, the mission has been to return to the state playoffs for the first time since it won a sectional title in 2019. If so, it will be the desired destination of a journey that started during last year’s postseason.
“It’s really an expectation at Lyndhurst. I still can’t believe we didn’t make it last year,” said Tuero. “Obviously the main goal is to win it all, but we need to get back to the playoffs and get back to our ways in Lyndhurst. It’s not a hope, but an expectation to make the playoffs in Lyndhurst.”
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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.)