With so many new and unproven faces at wide receiver, Lyndhurst quarterback Shawn Bellenger entered the summer anticipating an offense that would rely even more on the running game and his ability to scramble playing a larger part of his role.
“I really felt that going into (the first 7-on-7 scrimmage in July) maybe we’re going to be a little bit more of a running team, maybe I’m going to have to run a little bit more,” Bellenger said. But after that 7-on-7 and having some more guys come out, I knew our passing game was going to be heavier than we thought heading into the summer. It’s just about how hard we worked all summer.
What once was a big concern has now turned into a strength for the Golden Bears.
Lyndhurst has opened the 2023 season with convincing victories over Secaucus and New Milford. In those games, Bellenger connected with five different players on touchdown passes.
Bellenger’s play has the Golden Bears offense averaging 34.5 points per game and makes the junior signal caller The Observer’s first Athlete of the Week of the 2023-24 academic year.
“I’m not really that surprised. We’ve been working all summer and the guys stepped up,” said Bellenger. “We had Anthony Pizzuti, who’s our biggest target, come out and play football this year. Cam Werner has stepped up big time at the Z, Anthony Amaro too. Using our running backs in the passing game was huge, I threw a touchdown to Roddy (Morinho) on Friday and also Matthew Jarvis at tight end.”
So far, Bellenger has completed 22-of-42 passes for 336 yards as six different teammates have two or more receptions over the first two games. His five touchdown passes are just two fewer than he threw all of last season.
“He’s just getting better every single weekend,” head coach Rich Tuero said. “It started out last year that way, where he was getting better and better each week as a sophomore. Now, he’s just the man. He’s been awesome for us.”
Most importantly, Bellenger has not thrown any interceptions, after having eight in 146 attempts as a sophomore. Both Tuero and Bellenger credit the change to being more disciplined and not trying to force throws.
“Last year, I felt I made a couple of decisions that weren’t great decisions,” said Bellenger, who has a 4.2 GPA. “I threw a bunch of interceptions and this year, so far, I don’t have any interceptions and I think that’s because I’m taking what the defense is giving me rather than just trying to make the big play every play.”
Bellenger credits his added time watching film for the better decision making as a junior. In addition to his own games, he makes sure to study QB play while watching NFL and college football games. Bellenger also felt that watching the recent Netflix docuseries Quarterback that followed Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes as well as Kirk Cousins and Marcus Mariota proved beneficial in his own development as a player.
“He’s literally the leader of this offense,” Tuero said. “He knows where everyone is supposed to be, knows everyone’s responsibility. He takes over and takes control of the offense. He’s doing an awesome job and getting better every week.”
Tuero remembers seeing Bellenger and Morinho as seventh graders and saw the potential in both of them to be special players. That confidence in them was so great, that both were named captains in the spring of their freshman year.
It was an honor that Bellenger considers “one of the best moments of my life so far.”
“I definitely didn’t expect to be named a captain before my sophomore season since it’s not a very normal thing for a sophomore to be named a captain,” Bellenger said. “But I definitely took the role in and I made the most of it because I had to lead my team out there. I got to be a leader out there.”
That leadership included attending virtually every offseason workout in the weight room even while playing basketball and baseball for Lyndhurst and several other days working with his new receivers.
So far, that work is definitely paying off for Bellenger and Lyndhurst, but neither are satisfied yet as they have bigger goals in sight.
“We definitely have to keep working because we’re on the right path right now. But we definitely have to keep working to what our expectations are,” said Bellenger. “Our expectations are a Group 2 championship. We still have a lot of work to do, but we know we have the group and we have the guys to do it.”
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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.)