SCOREBOARD North Bergen faces tough grid challenge with young roster Bruins battling injury bug as Ascolese tackles huge obstacle
by Jim Hague
Sep 30, 2008 | 3639 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It may be the biggest challenge in the prestigious four-decade coaching career of the legendary Vince Ascolese. The long-time North Bergen High School football coach, who ranks No. 3 all-time in victories among New Jersey scholastic football coaches with more than 320, has never had to rebuild a roster like he has had to for the 2008 season.

"As far as personnel goes, we've never had anything like this," said Ascolese, who has been the head coach at North Bergen since 1973. "We're starting eight underclassmen on defense. We were really devastated by graduation. But we understood that. We just have to try to get better. We're going out to practice every day and practicing to get better."

Things didn't exactly start out well for the Bruins, as they dropped a 24-8 decision to Montclair to kick off the season last weekend.

But that won't deter Ascolese and his team from trying to keep Hudson County's longest consecutive NJSIAA playoff streak alive. The Bruins have participated in the post-season in every year since 1987 and have only failed to make the playoffs once since the playoff system was implemented in 1978.

Even last year, when it looked as if the streak would come to an end, the Bruins somehow found a way on the last weekend to get in.

But making the playoffs this season, especially after the Bruins were decimated by graduation, might be the biggest challenge in Ascolese's rich and storied career.

"We really have to spend a lot more time on fundamentals," Ascolese said. "We just have a young team. We haven't been this young in a very long time. Sure, I take it as a challenge. I think we all do. We're out there every day trying to get better. We have a lot of good kids who want to work hard. It's my job to make them better."

To add insult to injury, the Bruins lost their top returning rusher from a year ago, senior Armando Guerrero (5-11, 190), to a hamstring injury in the preseason and Guerrero has yet to return. Guerrero rushed for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.

"It's been a long process, trying to get him healthy," Ascolese said. "We're taking it slowly."

On top of that, another top returning player, senior Mike Mentor, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, in one of the preseason scrimmages, forcing Mentor to the sideline for the entire season.

The top halfback is now sophomore Chris Adorno (5-7, 150), who has shown some flashes of brilliance in the early going. Senior Danny Burgos (6-1, 175) is another halfback in Ascolese's storied Wing-T formation. The fullback is senior Danny Forbes (5-10, 180), who was the team's leading ground gainer in the loss to Montclair.

The quarterback duties are currently being shared by senior Carlos Cortes (6-3, 190) and sophomore Peter Ramanand (5-8, 170), who played a lot of the season opener at wide receiver, but entered the game late at quarterback and threw a touchdown pass, ironically to Cortes.

"Ramanand is capable of playing a lot of different positions," Ascolese said. "I like his versatility."

Senior John Tarabek (5-10, 185) is one of the Bruins' top receivers.

Junior John Stark (5-10, 185) is the team's starting tight end.

The Bruins are starting a basically brand new offensive line, with senior Mitsael Trinidad (6-0, 235) and junior Rafael Palacio (6-2, 270) at tackle, senior Sebastian Carvajal (5-10, 190) and junior Jeremias Vilches (5-9, 205) at guard and senior Mike Hedler (5-9, 205) at center.

On defense, the Bruins start Carvajal at defensive end, along with sophomore Wayne Estrella (5-10,175). Senior Ben Mena (5-11, 220) and junior Chris Durand (5-9, 300) are the defensive tackles.

Forbes is a mainstay at inside linebacker, with sophomore Luis Obregon (5-10, 190).

Adorno is manning the safety position, with sophomore Chris Vann (5-8, 155) and senior Joey Nieves (5-8, 165) at the cornerback slots.

The outside linebackers are Stark and a player with a very familiar name - freshman Vinnie Ascolese (6-0, 170), the coach's grandson, who becomes the first frosh to start for the Bruins since former Reporter Athlete of the Year Evan Rodriguez (now enrolled at Temple University) six years ago.

For the elder Ascolese, it's the opportunity to come full circle, after having coached his three sons, Michael, Vinnie and Gregg. Now he gets the rare opportunity to be his grandson's head coach as well.

"I'm treating him like any other player, but yeah, it's different than coaching my sons," Ascolese said. "It's been a long time since I coached my sons (Gregg was a standout for the Bruins in the early 1990s), so it's a good feeling. But it is a little different. I'm just happy to be able to coach him. I didn't think he was going to play for us right away, but he's going to help us. More than anything, I have to still be a football coach with him."

But it certainly makes for a very interesting sidelight to the football season. No other Hudson County grid coach has ever had the privilege or the chance to coach not only his sons, but now his grandson.

It is definitely a distinction that should go to the granddaddy of all Hudson County grid coaches, Vince Ascolese.

While the Bruins might have had a tough time in their opener, they will bounce back. Ascolese knows no other way. The Bruins face East Brunswick this week before facing St. Peter's Prep next weekend.

"We're hoping to get better," the elder Ascolese said. "We're young, but we're hoping that they grow quickly. We're working to make sure they get better."
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