As it turns out, baseball’s loss became track and field’s gain.
Three years ago, when Richie Luzzi-Liggins was a freshman at St. Peter’s Prep, he thought he was headed to a career as a football and baseball player. Those were the two sports that Luzzi-Liggins enjoyed playing as a youngster and he just thought he would continue the progression into high school.
But one day, during a freshman baseball game, Luzzi-Liggins belted a triple into the gap at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium.
As Luzzi-Liggins reached third base, local umpire Flip Taylor gave Luzzi-Liggins a strong piece of advice.
“He said to me, ‘With speed like that, you should be running track,’” Luzzi-Liggins recalled. “That was the first time it came into my mind. I was kind of getting tired of baseball and wanted to try something new.”
Luzzi-Liggins thought he was a good enough pitcher, second baseman and shortstop to play baseball at Prep, but just about had enough of the sport.
“I didn’t even tell any of the baseball coaches,” Luzzi-Liggins said. “But I didn’t know I was going to try out [for track and field] until my sophomore year.”
When Luzzi-Liggins first arrived for track practice, head coach Chris Caulfield knew that he had a new speedster for the Marauders. Caulfield just didn’t know how fast Luzzi-Liggins was.
“I knew he had a lot of his ability and potential,” Caulfield said. “I knew he was strong. I knew he was quick. I knew we had another high level competitor.”
The first track meet Luzzi-Liggins ran in as a sophomore, he was clocked at 11.3 in the 100-meter dash and 22.24 in the 200-meter dash. That’s with no real formal training.
“I jogged the first 100 because I didn’t know how to run the 200,” Luzzi-Liggins laughed. “Coach [Russell] Jenkins [Prep’s sprint coach] asked me what I was doing. I had no clue I was supposed to run hard the whole way.”
As it turned out, Luzzi-Liggins was more than just a competitor. He was destined to be a star.
Luzzi-Liggins became a standout in the 100 and 200-meter dashes. As a junior, he finished seventh overall in the 200-meter dash at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
But as a senior, already signed, sealed and delivered to Clemson University, where his grandfather, the late Rich Luzzi, was a standout football player, Luzzi-Liggins was determined to leave his mark permanently in Hudson County track and field history.
Last week, at the NJSIAA Non-Public A state championships at Central Regional High School in Bayville, Luzzi-Liggins put on a show.
Luzzi-Liggins won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash in 10.90 seconds, defeating nemesis Rahmir Johnson of Bergen Catholic in the process. Luzzi-Liggins gained a little revenge on Johnson, who defeated Luzzi-Liggins in the Non-Public A North sectional championships a week prior.
Luzzi-Liggins also captured the gold medal in the 200-meter dash with a school-record time of 21.31 seconds. The time broke the school record set by Najee Glass, a world class sprinter who competed for the University of Florida and who captured the gold medal at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in the 400-meter dash in 2012.
For good measure, Luzzi-Liggins competed in the 400-meter dash, an event that Luzzi-Liggins had competed in only three times prior to the state Group championships. Luzzi-Liggins took home third in the 400 in 49.12 seconds, showing his incredible prowess in three events, getting two gold medals and a bronze.
For his efforts, Luzzi-Liggins has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Luzzi-Liggins delivered a strong effort in the 200 at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions when he attempted to become the first Prep product to earn gold at the state’s top meet since Glass achieved the feat seven years ago.
At the Meet of Champions that was held at Northern Burlington County Regional High School in Columbus on Saturday, June 8, Luzzi-Liggins placed third in the 200 with a time of 21.17.
He placed behind the record-setting sprint by the champion, Franklin High School’s Mario Heslop, who was clocked in 20.74.
Luzzi-Liggins also shined at the M of C with his teammates in the 4X100 relay, where Prep finished second in 41.73. The Prep team was just edged by Nottingham High School, which crossed first in 41.71.
Luzzi-Liggins, the anchor, was joined in the 4X100 relay by Ayir Asante, Gus Nations IV and Mason Holland. They entered the M of C race this past Saturday with the state’s best time of 41.65, which they posted when they won the Non-Public A championship a week earlier.
Incredibly, St. Peter’s Prep had two athletes with chances of earning gold at the M of C. Fellow senior Adonis McGee, who won the Non-Public A state title in the high jump, clearing the bar at six feet, two inches, was a contender at the M of C.
He finished 10th in the M of C when he cleared the bar in six feet, four inches. Mark Anselmi of Middletown South High School won the high jump at the M of C when he cleared at six feet, eight inches.
Last week’s performance by Luzzi-Liggins caught Caulfield off guard.
“I knew Richie was fast, but I didn’t think he’d run that fast,” Caulfield said. “I never figured he’d go to 21.3 [in the 200] in the blink of an eye. He never ran that fast before. That’s really impressive. It caught me by surprise. It wasn’t surprising that he won. It’s just the time that shocked me. That’s the competitor in him. His competitive drive is intense. This field was stacked and he rose to the occasion. He never worries about who is running against. He just puts his best effort out there every time.”
Caulfield was asked about using Luzzi-Liggins in the 400-meter dash.
“Coach Mike Burgess always called the 400 a ‘man’s race,’” Caulfield said. “Richie’s been good about jumping into the 400 when needed. I think we all knew he could run a fast 400. He ran the 400 for points purposes to help the team. We knew that we would roll him out at some point of the season. We thought he would be good in the 400.”
Luzzi-Liggins said that he was glad to be able to help the team out by running the 400-meter dash.
“I honestly didn’t know when it would happen, but I wanted to run the 400,” Luzzi-Liggins said.
And then came the mind-blowing event, breaking the school record in the 200.
“When Coach Jenkins told me the time, I was blown away,” Luzzi-Liggins said. “I knew it was fast, but not that fast. I still watch the video of the race and I can’t believe it. It was very special for me. Coach Caulfield’s training really helped me.”
Luzzi-Liggins said that his next goal is to break the county record in the 200-meter dash, held by Zamir Thomas of Snyder in 2011, whose time of 21.03 has stood the test of time for eight years. Thomas was the Meet of Champions winner in 2012.
“I spoke with Zamir and he told me I could do it,” Luzzi-Liggins said.
All of this is still amazing to Luzzi-Liggins, who will go to Clemson on a track scholarship in the fall, going to the school where his grandfather played football.
“I have his name and number tattooed on my left arm,” Luzzi-Liggins said. “I always have him right here with me. He was very close to my heart. I never thought it was possible. I thought I might go to a [NCAA] Division II school for football. I guess that umpire was a blessing in disguise. It was a life-changing moment.”
“I always thought he was a football-first guy,” Caulfield said. “But he flipped the script in a hurry. It proves what extra work can do.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com