Jose Veras was 12 years old when his family moved from his native Dominican Republic to Jersey City. At the time, Veras was proficient in sports like baseball and basketball and those talents helped to open doors in his new home.
“I was pretty good at baseball and basketball,” Veras said. “I didn’t know anything about track.”
When Veras enrolled at Dickinson High School, his main goal was to make the basketball team.
“I wanted to play basketball,” Veras said. “That was my sport.”
Veras was a basketball player at the school throughout his freshman year.
However, Veras’ cousin, Fabril Polo, was already a member of the Dickinson track team. Polo put the idea in Veras’ head that would change his life – and the face of Hudson County and state track and field – forever.
“He was the first to tell me that I should try out for track,” Veras said. “I figured it was just running and that I could do it. When I was younger, I knew people tried to chase me and couldn’t catch me, so I knew I was pretty fast. I just thought I could try a different sport.”
Little did Veras know at the time that he was about to begin a journey that would culminate in perhaps the greatest all-around and versatile career of any high school track and field athlete in Hudson County history.
Veras joined the outdoor track and field team as a sophomore and immediately had an impact.
“He came out as a sophomore and I wanted to see what we had here,” said Dickinson head cross country and track coach Leo Laboy. “I saw him run and I saw his form and I figured that we finally had a sprinter that could help us. Then, he asked to run his first race, which was the two-mile [the 3,200-meter run] at the Patriot Invitational in Secaucus. I said, ‘Go ahead and see what you can do.’ Well, he goes and wins the race and ran an amazing time like 10:03 in his first race ever.”
At the same meet, Veras also tried the high jump for the first time and cleared six feet.
“I figured there and then that this guy is an animal,” Laboy said.
It was just the beginning.
Veras would go on to master any event he would try, going the 3.1 miles in cross country in the fall, then heading to the track in the winter and spring, where he would range from the 400-meter run to the 3,200-meter run, handling the high jump, long jump and triple jump as well as both the 100-meter high hurdles and the 400-meter intermediate hurdles.
Here’s just a sampling of what Veras did during his amazing senior year.
• In cross country, he won the Jersey City, South Hudson and Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships, finished sixth at the NJSIAA North 2, Group IV championships and was 34th overall in Group IV.
• In indoor track, he won the HCTCA gold medals in the 55-meter hurdles, the long jump, the high jump and the 800-meter run. In the North 2, Group IV championships he won the hurdles, the high jump and the 800-meter run. He finished third overall in the 800-meter run and fourth overall in the high jump at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
• In outdoor track, he won the HCTCA championships in the 110-meter high hurdles, 400-meter intermediate hurdles, the 800-meter run and the high jump, setting new meet records in the two hurdles races and the 800. He won the 1,600-meter run in the Jersey City meet as well as both hurdles races. At the NJSIAA North 2, Group IV sectionals, he won the 400-meter hurdles, the 400-meter run (an event he hardly ever ran), the 800-meter run and the high jump. He won the overall Group IV 800-meter gold medal and was second in the high jump and competed in three events at the Meet of Champions, finishing fourth in the 400-meter hurdles.
One gets tired just reading all those accomplishments.
And for his efforts, Veras has been selected as the 2010-2011 Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year. He is the first Dickinson athlete to ever receive the award in the 20-year history of the annual honor.
Veras received his award last week with his coaches and Dickinson Principal Arlene Farrell present.
His coaches were asked to describe the brilliance that Veras showed throughout his career.
“I’ve never met anyone like Jose,” said Dickinson assistant coach John Kennedy. “We’ve never seen anyone with the ability to compete at a high level in all the different events like he has. His work ethic was tremendous. A lot of people say that his talents are natural, but I think his work ethic carried him. No one worked harder in terms of preparation.”
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think he could achieve what he did,” Laboy said. “It’s utterly amazing what he’s done. Whatever he competes in, he’s winning. No one else is like him. No one else does what he does. He wanted to try every single event. He tried the high jump and was good at it. The long jump, he was good. The triple jump, the same thing. He’s even our best javelin thrower, but never did it in an event. He wants to try the pole vault so bad.”
Added Laboy, “He did put us on the map on the state level. Everyone knows who Jose Veras is now. People recognize him and come up to him. It’s almost unbelievable to think about what he’s done. We’ll never get anyone like him, not with the versatility he has. He’s the complete package. It’s just amazing. You show him something once and he goes and does it.”
Laboy said that he showed Veras how to triple jump and high jump (two very technical events) on a video tape. That day, he went out and did it. A few days later, he was winning in both.
“He’s just special,” Laboy said.
Veras still can’t fathom his immense accomplishments.
“I see all my medals on my wall in my room and I just say, ‘Wow!’ ” Veras said. “I can’t believe how many things I’ve won. I’ve made a lot of friends through track. It feels good to have done so well. My name is out there and will live on in the school.”
Not to mention the entire county. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. And his star is just beginning to rise. He will head to South Plano Junior College in Texas to work on competing in the pentathlon, focusing on his versatility. Eventually, he’ll tackle the chores of being a decathlete.
Did he ever dream this could all happen?
“No, no, no, no,” Veras said emphatically. “My freshman year, I came here and just wanted to be a kid walking in the halls of Dickinson. Now, everyone knows me. I didn’t dream I’d be this good. The people who know the most say I’m the best. That really says a lot.”
So does his incredible ledger of success. In fact, that tells the whole story of how truly remarkable of a high school career Jose Veras enjoyed.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read his blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.
HUDSON REPORTER MALE ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
1991-1992-Jason Casessa, Hoboken
1992-1993-Alex Rodriguez, Secaucus
1993-1994-Eduardo Gomez, Hoboken
1995-1996-Rashard Casey, Hoboken
1996-1997-Czar Wiley, North Bergen
1997-1998-Koz Perez, North Bergen
1998-1999-Mike Forcum, Hoboken
1999-2000-Jonathan Robinson, Memorial
2001-2002-Bryan Durango, Memorial
2002-2003-Jason Blanks, Hoboken
2003-2004-Danny Lopez, Weehawken
2004-2005-Mike Brown, St. Peter’s Prep
2005-2006-Garrett Askew, Hudson Catholic
2006-2007-Evan Rodriguez, North Bergen
2007-2008-Chris Jones, Lincoln
2008-2009-Michael Kuzirian, Memorial
2009-2010-Kevin Innis, St. Peter’s Prep
2010-2011-Jose Veras, Dickinson