Some high school football teams have to endure a smattering of injuries. It’s been said that injuries are part of the game.
Other teams try to survive with perhaps a handful of maladies that send players to the sidelines.
Then there’s what the Patriots of Secaucus High School had to withstand in 2017. It would best be described as “The Season of Injuries.”
“It started with the second day of practice and just kept going,” said veteran Secaucus head coach and athletic director Charlie Voorhees, who incredibly enters his 20th season as the head man with the Patriots. In Hudson County, only Rich Hansen at St. Peter’s Prep has served as a head coach longer.
“Every team deals with a couple of injuries, but we had nine season ending injuries,” Voorhees said. “It was incredible. We had a roster of say 40 kids and we lost nine for the year. I never had to deal with anything like it. And they were all freak things. Even watching on film, we couldn’t figure out what went wrong. We tried to best address our needs, but these were just freak injuries.”
Two of the injuries, to running back Raequan Andrews and center Hunter Pein, were of the devastating variety. Andrews totally blew out his knee midway through the season and Pein endured a catastrophic arm and elbow dislocation.
Needless to say, the Patriots stumbled their way to the finish line, posting an uncharacteristic 2-6 season that began with such hope and promise. Andrews was named Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week last October for his 187-yard, two touchdown performance against Harrison. Pein was the heart and soul of the team, one of the very few players in Secaucus history to be named a team captain as a junior.
While Andrews will not be ready to start the season, taking proper precaution to fully recover from his injury, Pein is back and ready to go.
Needless to say, so are the rest of the Patriots.
“They’re extremely hungry,” Voorhees said. “These kids have waited four years for this opportunity. They’re really good kids who want to leave their mark at Secaucus High School. They are all ready.”
The Patriots will also have a familiar face helping out the coaching staff. Former Emerson High School head coach Gerry Caputo has joined the coaching staff, joining another former Emerson head coach Bruce Naszimento in assisting Voorhees. It gives the Patriots a distinct Union City flavor. Caputo has spent the last five years as an assistant coach at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey.
“In my opinion, we’re very fortunate to have Gerry come to us,” Voorhees said. “He’s a good passionate coach. I know of his history and success through Naz [Naszimento]. It’s a good fit, Putting Gerry and Naz together is incredible. You can’t beat their experience. I’m glad he came with us.”
Leading the way for the Patriots is senior Julian Rocco (5-11, 185), who was one of the walking wounded a year ago, missing the season due to a back injury.
“He’s healthy and ready to go,” Voorhees said of Rocco.
Andrews (5-11, 180) will be back in the lineup by mid-September.
“Rae is just a great guy and a great player,” Voorhees said. “The kids all rally around him. We’re not going to push it with him. I know he wants to play and he’ll play when he’s ready. We’re going to find out if he can play.”
The Patriots have a host of other capable runners, including the Schaffer twins, Bobby and Tommy, who both stand 5-foot-8 and weigh 180 pounds. Seniors Chuck Snyder (6-0, 2015) and Derek Fernandez (6-0, 185) and junior Billy Portalatin (5-7, 180) are all solid runners. Portalatin is the most intriguing one of the bunch, but he can flat out run.
“We’re waiting to see what he can do,” Voorhees said of Portalatin.
The receiving corps is also deep and talented, with senior A.J. Kirwin (5-8, 160) leading the way. Three juniors, namely Kosei Hayashida (6-0, 175), Christian Mercado (6-0, 170) and Brandon Tabasco (5-9, 160), add to the corps. Tabasco has a nickname that could probably be easily guessed.
“We call him ‘Hot Sauce,’” Voorhees said.
Sophomore Veton Tolaj (6-0, 185) might be the best of the bunch.
“I’m very high on him,” Voorhees said.
The tight end is senior Michael O’Donnell (5-10, 180).
The offensive line is bolstered by the return of Pein (5-11, 215) at center.
“Hunter is a three-year starter and the heart and soul of this team,” Voorhees said. “He’s someone you want to have around. Having him back is a huge lift.”
The tackles are junior Nick Nardone (6-0, 210) and sophomore Zachary Pascarello (6-0, 230), with juniors Justin Fearon (5-8, 200) and Alex Tejada (6-1, 220) at guard. Fearon is a Secaucus legacy, considering both his father and brother previously played for the Patriots.
Defensively, the Patriots line up in a 3-4 formation. Senior A.J. Perez (6-1, 240) is the nose tackle, with junior Isaac Portiquet (6-1, 185) and Nardone at defensive end.
The Schaffer twins are the outside linebackers, with Snyder, Fernandez, senior Sahill Nagpal (6-0, 170) and junior Jon Mieles (5-8, 200) on the inside.
Hayashida and Portalatin are the cornerbacks with Kirwin and Tolaj at the safety slots.
The Patriots opened their 2018 season against Elmwood Park on the road Aug. 30. They will play host to rival Lyndhurst Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.
“It’s the same team from last year, only healthy,” Voorhees said. “We’re older, faster, thicker, quicker. I think last year is already gone. We’re only thinking about tomorrow. These kids do not look back.”
There’s no need to look back. It’s a horror show that they all very well remember, because they lived through it. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.