Ever since his football playing days were over at Syracuse University, Keeon Walker always wanted to remain involved in the sport in some capacity.
“I think we all had that vision of playing on the next level,” said Walker, who had a few free agent tryouts with the NFL and dabbled with playing Arena football. “When that didn’t happen for me, I had the idea of coaching come to mind. And I would do anything to have the chance to come back home.”
Walker was an assistant coach at places like Ferris and Union City High School, but always aspired to come back to his roots, namely Hoboken High.
“When that chance happened a few years ago, I jumped at it,” said Walker, who was first the defensive backs coach and later both offensive and defensive coordinators at Hoboken in different years. “Being in both leadership positions got me ready for the main job.”
When veteran Hoboken coach Lou Taglieri resigned recently as the head coach with the Redwings, Walker was quickly considered to be the top candidate to replace Taglieri.
“Tags had been here a long time,” said Walker, who was an All-State and All-America running back during his days at Hoboken, was recruited as a running back by Syracuse who became a standout strong safety for the Orange from 1999 through 2002. “He had mentioned it to me that he was about to hang it up and that I would be a good choice to replace him. I think that’s why he had me change my responsibilities, to put my way of thinking in and implement that right away.”
The 36-year-old Walker feels that he’s ready to take over the role. After all, the program has known only two head coaches in the last 30 years, namely Ed Stinson, Walker’s head coach at Hoboken, and Taglieri.
“Sure, there’s a lot of pressure on me to keep it going,” Walker said. “I’m a guy who played football here, just like Coach Stinson did and Coach Taglieri did. I want to see the same results that they had. They stayed here for a long time. There’s a lot of pride being from here and coaching here.”
Stinson won six NJSIAA state championships during his tenure the Mile Square City, while Taglieri captured four.
“I know people are saying, ‘OK, let’s see what you can do,’” Walker said. “There’s a ton of pressure. But I’m ready for it. I know what I’m able to do. I want to give back to the community that helped me.”
Walker is already giving back. He’s been a firefighter in the town for the last decade.
Walker said that he’s fortunate to be able to keep some of the assistant coaches who worked under Taglieri, namely veteran John Peluso (who also was an assistant to Stinson), Ivan Ramos and Anthony Henriquez (who were both All-State performers who went on to play NCAA Division I football, Ramos at Rutgers and Henriquez at Kent State).
“We have guys who are able to fit the system and know where I want to go,” Walker said.
So do the Redwings go back to the old Delaware Wing-T offense that Walker was so successful with as a player at Hoboken with Stinson, or use the spread that Taglieri utilized the last two years with the Redwings and do-everything superstar Wilden Germain?
“I honestly haven’t thought about that yet,” Walker said. “There hasn’t been a ton of change over the last 30 years or so. I think we’ll go with whatever works best for us.”
Well, one thing’s for certain. Walker won’t have Germain, who unfortunately graduates in June. If Germain was around, it would make the decision that much easier. We have to wait to see. But having Walker as a head coach is a pleasant sight, because there were not too many better players and certainly not many better people than Keeon Walker, who was such a nice kid growing up that he never had the wherewithal to tell a local reporter that he was misspelling his name as “Keon” for four years of high school…
Weehawken also has a new head football coach and athletic director in 33-year-old Nick DeStefano, who was once the head coach at Bogota and in recent years was an assistant at Nutley, Fair Lawn and Pope John of Sparta.
“I wanted to get into the administrative side of sports,” DeStefano said. “Now I get to do both. It’s the perfect job that opened up at the right time.”
DeStefano replaces Zach Naszimento, who resigned earlier this year.
DeStefano said that he has been familiar with the Weehawken program for years, because of his affiliation with Bogota, which shares a wrestling co-operative with Weehawken _ and very well might have to in football if Weehawken’s participation numbers don’t increase.
“We have good tough kids here,” DeStefano said. “We also have excellent facilities. The administration has put a lot of faith in me and what I can bring to the program. Right now, the focus is on seeing how many kids we have to play football. It may have to be Ironman football at its finest [with the majority of kids playing both offense and defense].
Added DeStefano, “The word of co-op has not been mentioned since I walked into the building. We’re absolutely going to field a varsity team this year.”
DeStefano is currently teaching in Clifton. He will begin in Weehawken June 1.
“But I have been coming into the weight room and watching the Weehawken kids,” DeStefano said. “Everyone has been so positive. We opened the weight room three times over spring break and the place was packed. I’m happy with the turnout so far.”…
The rosters for the annual Phil Simms New Jersey Scholastic Football Coaches Association North-South All-Star Classic were announced Sunday at a press conference in Piscataway and three local players were selected for the North squad, namely Harrison Fernandez of Union City, Eddie Wilson of Hoboken and Alex Lozano of Lincoln. Those three will get to practice and play among the 100 best high school football players in the state, with the Giants’ Super Bowl hero adding his name to the game for the fourth straight year. The game will be played at Kean University in late June…
Hudson Reporter High School Baseball Top Five: 1. Bayonne (11-3). 2. St. Anthony (8-3). 3. Memorial (9-4). 4. Hudson Catholic (8-3). 5. St. Peter’s Prep (8-4).
Hudson Reporter High School Softball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (10-2). 2. Ferris (9-3). 3. Weehawken (9-2). 4. St. Dominic Academy (8-4). 5. Hoboken (9-4). – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com