For those who may not realize it, here’s a high school football note that might have gotten lost in the coronavirus shuffle.
OK, here goes: Hoboken is the New Jersey Super Football Conference National Red Divisional champion.
The Redwings clinched the SFC divisional title last week with their clean sweep of the Newark public schools, capped with a 50-12 victory over Newark Central. That win comes on the heels of huge wins over Weequahic (31-28) and Shabazz (24-6).
The three wins over the Newark schools enabled the Redwings to take home the first divisional title since they won the old Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League-American Division crown in 2012.
Incredibly, the Redwings have won NJSIAA state titles in the past decade but have not won a divisional title.
“It’s great,” Hoboken head coach Keeon Walker said. “It’s awesome, because a lot of other kids don’t get the opportunity to win a championship. It’s great for the program, because we’re still doing great things that we don’t get the attention for. I honestly think we don’t get the attention we deserve.”
Walker felt that the Redwings had a chance to attain glory last year, but it didn’t happen.
“This year, we had everyone coming back,” Walker said. “They all played together since they were freshmen. It’s a special team.”
It’s also an experienced team, with an astounding 16 seniors. That number is just unfathomable for an NJSIAA Group I program.
“It’s a very mature football team,” Walker said. “I think they all had the revenge thing going on because they didn’t win last year. They felt that they had to prove to the county and the state that they were a good football team.”
There was another motivating factor. Former long-time head coach and recent assistant coach Lou Taglieri died suddenly in August. It was an emotional blow for everyone involved in the Hoboken football program.
“Losing Coach Tags maybe motivated them a little more,” Walker said. “They felt they had a chance to do something special. They put it in their minds to dedicate the season to Coach Tags and did want to do it for Tags. They did pretty well.”
The Redwings also had to endure a little bit of a quarterback problem. Jason Blanks, Jr., the starting quarterback for the last two years, suffered a bit of a shoulder problem earlier in the season, forcing Walker to go with the unproven sophomore Ray Casey.
Here’s an ironic bit: Both Blanks and Casey are sons of former Hudson Reporter Male Athletes of the Year. Jason Blanks, Sr. won the award in 2003 and Rashard Casey, the father of Ray who was once the quarterback at Penn State, earned Reporter Male Athlete of the Year in 1996.
“We knew that Ray was going to be a good football player, but not a lot of sophomores are ready to step into that role and start varsity,” Walker said. “We’re better off having Blanks in there. We’re going to run the ball more with Blanks.”
It helped that the Redwings are enjoying a magnificent all-around campaign from senior fullback/linebacker Anthony Henriquez, Jr., another son of a former Hoboken great. The younger Henriquez is approaching 700 yards rushing on the season and has scored eight touchdowns. Henriquez also leads the Redwings in tackles with 91.
After Henriquez was named Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week three weeks ago, he has enjoyed games of 18 tackles and two sacks against Shabazz and 21 tackles in the win over Weequahic.
“He’s one of the best all-around players I’ve ever coached,” Walker said of Henriquez. “He recognizes the play and gets to the ball. He’s a finisher. He’s been amazing this year. It’s so great to see the transformation the kid has made.”
The Redwings also have solid running backs in Kyrin Rhone and Jason Jeannot, both of whom have rushed for nearly 400 yards. Jeannot has seven touchdowns and Rhone has six. As a team, the Redwings have almost 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. No wonder why they went back to being a Delaware Wing-T offense this season.
“It’s been everything we hoped it would be,” Walker said. “These kids came up playing with the Wing-T offense, so it made sense. Without a full preseason, we didn’t know how well they would do with the new offense [the Redwings were more of a Spread formation last year], but they figured it out.”
So it’s a championship season for the Redwings once again.
“It’s a great thing to hang up on the wall,” Walker said. “The kids had it in their minds. I’m happy for them. I know this is what we all wanted.”
And it’s another football season to remember in Hoboken, despite all the stops and starts. It’s a championship all the same.
“We have a winning tradition in Hoboken,” said Walker, who earned the first championship of his head coaching career. “The kids wanted this. They said that they should take their rightful place, where we used to be. The kids had to represent Hoboken winning football and recognize that this is the way we’re supposed to play. We can carry on with the tradition.”
The Redwings are scheduled to close out their season next weekend against Hudson Catholic with a rare 4 p.m. game next Saturday at the soon-to-be-named Louis Taglieri, Jr. Stadium…
Hudson County lost a true legend last Tuesday, when the immortal Tommy Heinsohn passed away at the age of 86. Heinsohn, a native of Union City, played his high school basketball at the now-defunct St. Michael’s of Union City, then went on to become a superstar at The College of the Holy Cross and later the Boston Celtics.
Heinsohn is one of only a handful of people to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Heinsohn coached the Celtics to two championships during his tenure and then later became a television broadcaster predominately for the Celtics, but also did the national game of the week for CBS.
Everyone who knew Heinsohn said that he was true to his Hudson County roots. A few months ago, he agreed to be a guest on the Hudson County Sports Podcast, but then he fell ill and couldn’t do the podcast.
He was a legend through and through and a person who never forgot his roots…
Congrats to Lincoln head football coach Robert Hampton, who won the 100th game of his coaching career last week with a 22-14 win over Weequahic. Hampton is ranked among the top 50 high school coaches in the state. It’s an impressive milestone…
Hudson Reporter H.S. Football Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (4-0). 2. Hoboken (5-2). 3. Union City (3-3). 4. Lincoln (4-2). 5. Bayonne (2-2).
Hudson Reporter H.S. Soccer Top Five: 1. Union City (10-1). 2. Dickinson (7-3). 3. North Bergen (7-3). 4. St. Peter’s Prep (8-4). 5. Weehawken (6-1). – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com