When Ed Somick took over his beloved North Bergen High School football team three years ago, he knew that there would eventually be a season like the one he is experiencing this year with the Bruins.
Somick, a product of both storied programs of Pop Warner and North Bergen High, has only five seniors on the 2019 season.
“It is a little upsetting,” said Somick, the 2017 Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year who has guided the Bruins to 7-3 records in each of his first two seasons. “I wish we had more. But we have a good junior and sophomore class, so we’re hoping that these two seasons pan out for us. We’re hoping that this team is going to be okay.”
Somick believes that this version of the Bruins has the key ingredient most other high school teams don’t have – namely the “Heart of a Bruin,” the team’s rally cry going back to the days of the late legend Vince Ascolese.
Somick once played for Ascolese and is instilling a lot of the characteristics that North Bergen has enjoyed for decades.
“We have tough kids,” Somick said. “They’re doing things the North Bergen way. As long as they stay tough and continue to show up for practice, they’re going to be okay.”
The quarterback is junior Alexander Almonte (5-9, 175). The Bruins have gone away from the Delaware Wing-T offense to more of a spread to capitalize on Almonte’s talents.
“He’s multi-faceted,” Somick said of Almonte. “He worked with the Pop Warner coach Nick Martinez and has done a good job with the offense. He has a good arm and leads the team well. The other kids listen to what he says. We think that the run offense is the key. If you can’t run the ball, you’re in trouble.”
The top running back is junior Xavier Figueroa (5-11, 220), a big, burly back with power in his lower body.
“He’s a good, hard runner,” Somick said of Figueroa. “He’s hard to bring down.”
Another running back is junior Angel Diaz (6-2, 185).
“He’s more of a slasher and cutter,” Somick said of Diaz. “He runs hard.”
The third running back is senior Elijah Aviles (5-8, 170), who played last season on the team that went to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group V playoffs.
“Elijah played a little at wide receiver last year,” Somick said of Aviles. “He’s like our wild card. He’s a ‘do-it-all’ kind of guy.”
The wide receivers are both sophomores in Joseph Ephrem (5-11, 165) and Deven Arthur (6-2, 185), who has a ton of promise. Arthur runs great routes and can jump fairly high to catch passes.
The tight end is junior Justin Fermin (5-11, 205).
The offensive line is filled with newcomers to varsity football. Most of them played on the junior varsity level last season. Only junior guard D’Angelo Urena (5-8, 210) started with the varsity last fall.
The tackles are sophomore Eric Hernandez (6-1, 225) and senior Islam Hassan (5-10, 245). The other guard is junior Ives Galarcep (6-0, 230). The center is junior Ricky Perez (5-11, 275).
Somick was asked if he was worried about the youth of his offensive line.
“It’s always a concern,” Somick said. “But I’m not worried. These kids adapted to the system well. They are all good students of the game.”
The Bruins utilize a 3-4 defensive alignment.
The defensive ends are Urena, who is definitely a player to watch, and junior Samir Munoz (6-2, 200). The nose guard is Hernandez.
The outside linebackers are Fermin and senior Yousif Osman (5-9, 180). The inside linebackers are Figueroa and junior Julian Gutierrez (5-9, 175).
The cornerbacks are Aviles and junior Damien Duran (5-8, 160). The safeties come from Diaz, junior Max Gonzalez (5-10, 170) and Juan Rivera (5-8, 155).
The Bruins are slated to open the 2019 season this weekend (Saturday, Sept. 13) at Bloomfield High School. They face Kearny at Kearny on Thursday, Sept. 19.
The Bruins’ first home game is on Saturday, Sept. 28 against Barringer. The Bruins do have a favorable schedule early on, but it gets much harder in upcoming weeks against Passaic, Irvington and neighboring rival Union City.
“What’s good about these kids is that they’re all good friends,” Somick said. “They’re a very tight group. The chemistry is excellent. They know how to deal with each other.”
And it remains to be seen how this young team comes of age during the course of the 2019 season. If they come together, the Bruins could be a state playoff participant for a state record 38th time since the inception of the playoff system in 1974.