Vinnie Russo was right: The NJSIAA female wrestling tournament had Energy, Excitement and plenty of Decibels

Vinnie Russo is one of the best high school wrestling officials in New Jersey. He’s also a fun-loving guy, who elicits smiles from all those who get the chance to speak with him.

Russo was on hand for the inaugural NJSIAA regional wrestling championships for females, on Feb. 17, at Red Bank Regional High School.

Mr. Russo is not only an administrator for high school officials, but works many a match himself, and he couldn’t have been more impressed with the tournament.

Belleville High’s Alisa Safforld is joined by her coaches after finishing second in her weight class at the inaugural regional tourney for females. (Click on photo for larger image)

With his eyes ablaze when I asked Vinnie what he thought of the day, Russo was quick to reply.

“Three words,” he said to me. “Energy, exciting and decibels.”

Decibels?

“Yeah,” said Vinnie. “Between the crowd noise and the kids’ excitement after winning a match, it was pretty loud. I’ll tell you what. My guys (the officials assigned to the tournament, all of whom are top-notch) all said ‘this is one of the best tournaments I’ve ever been a part of.’

“And I couldn’t agree more. This is a first-class environment. I’m talking the coaches, the officials, the venue, and most importantly, these young ladies. I’m so glad I’m here, not only as an official, but as a fan of this sport.”

Vinnie Russo, here officiating a championship match, couldn’t have been happier with the way the NJSIAA regional tourney for girls was contested on Feb. 17. (Click on photo for larger image)

Having never been to Red Bank Regional High School for an event myself, I couldn’t believe how spacious the gym was. There was plenty of room for eight mats, and with a big crowd on hand, easy maneuverability from mat to mat for the fans.

The matches were fun to watch. Win, or lose, the girls hugged each other after each bout. There were bumps and bruises, laughter and tears, but most of all, a lot of appreciation for the efforts of the wrestlers.

A number of coaches said how much they enjoyed working with the girls in this first year of state-sanctioned wrestling for high school females in New Jersey. The maturity of the wrestlers, not to mention the tenacity and determination was obvious, as the top three wrestlers in each of the 10 weight classes, from the Northern and Southern parts of the state, 60 in all, punched their ticket to the NJSIAA championships, which the girls will share with the boys at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from Feb. 28-March 2.

Regardless of how a wrestler does in Atlantic City, all of the girls will stand on the ultimate podium at Boardwalk Hall, when their weight class is called, and be presented a medal, from an NJSIAA official, from sixth place to first.

The public address announcer at Red Bank said, before the final round of bouts, that history had been made. There was a new face of wrestling in New Jersey.

Those new faces include the 60 young ladies headed to Boardwalk Hall. They made history. Here they are:

Sydney Petzinger, Alisa Safforld, Randi Miley, Isabel Saire, Daniela Tacuri Andrade, Katy Ayala, Christine Gavasheli, Sheridan Torres, Stephanie Andrade, Melanie Sancho, Veronica Whitacre, Hailey Budney, Amanda Pace, Gabby Miller, Jewel Gonzalez, Donna Walker, Erin Emery, Sandra Guerrero, Kiera Hubmaster, Elise Harrison, Jazmine Aizley, Anmarie Lebron, Chlo Ayres, Johnae Drumright, Bella Serrano, Mia Bruno, Olivia Mena, Angelina Romero, Kayla Gregory, Angelina Vitola, America Garay, Emma Matera, Paige Colucci, Olivia Heyer, Diane Johnson, Madison Pesavage, Mia Lazaurs, Jordyn Katz, Joelle Klein, Sarah Mireles, Quanizja Legagneur, Julia Manolas, Rebecca Brown, Devon Kueny, Makenna Cooper, Jess Johnson, Brandi Rado, Katherine Bott, Kerly Borbor, Kaila Mungo, Breanna Cervantes, Shannon Gulick, Najee Cuevas and Casandra Auletta.

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By mike051893

His life renewed by organ donation, West Essex wrestling coach Mike Markey celebrates his good health, and a state championship, while reflecting on the health of his uncle, dear friend and former Nutley coach, Carmen LoRe

Mike Markey had just been lifted onto the shoulders of the West Essex High wrestling team, after guiding the Knights to a state sectional title on Feb. 8. Two days later, Markey’s team won the school’s first-ever Group 3 state championship.

For Markey, the moment had to be surreal, for so many reasons, as he had battled back from some serious health afflictions for over a decade.

And while the 36-year-old couldn’t be happier, he also had his uncle, Carmen LoRe, the man who turned him on to wrestling as a youngster, and later as a coach, on his mind.

LoRe is the former Nutley High wrestling coach and successful businessman, who is currently battling health issues of his own, and requires a new lung. He’s currently on a transplant list. Carmen’s sister, the former Angie LoRe, is Mike’s mom.

“Carmen and I go back a long way, when it comes to wrestling,” said Markey. “I think about him every day. I remember when I first got into coaching, in 2009, Carmen said to me, ‘Michael, get them to buy in and get them in shape.’ It has been my mantra ever since, thanks to him.”

Mike Markey (right) and his uncle, Carmen LoRe. (Click on photo for larger image)

If anyone understands the miracle of a transplant, it’s Mike Markey. In 2002, while a student at the College of New Jersey, where he played football and wrestled, Mike received devastating news that he had Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), a rare liver disease. It was the same illness which eventually claimed the life of NFL great, Walter Payton, ironically a childhood idol of Markey’s.

PSC is caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the liver’s bile ducts, whose cause can be from a bacterial infection, virus, genetic predisposition or a problem with the immune system. Treatment for a cure is a transplant.

For three years, from 2002-2005, Markey would make regular trips to an infectious disease center, in Bloomfield, for doses of antibiotics. He also had a permanent I.V. In Sept. 2005, Mike received a liver transplant, a 10-hour procedure. But shortly after, he was back on the operating table after he began bleeding internally.

For the next three years, Markey’s health struggled. He needed tubes in his upper abdomen for drainage of the liver. He had kidney and renal failure, as well as sepsis, and lost a lot of weight. In December, 2006, he underwent bile duct surgery, which was unsuccessful.

Mike Markey during his days wrestling at Caldwell High School. (Click on photo for larger image)

While recovering, with tubes in his stomach, Mike worked hard to complete his college degree, at TCNJ and was trying to establish a career in education, and coaching. He got a break when he was hired at West Essex, as a Physical Education and Health teacher.

A graduate of nearby Caldwell High School, where he had a standout wrestling career, with over 100 wins and a state medal in 2000, Markey found solace as a volunteer assistant coach with the West Essex wrestling team. Eventually, he would be an assistant to Greg Ruggiero.

However, Mike’s health was still a problem. There was more internal bleeding and transfusions. Mike also had his gallbladder removed.

Michael DiPiano, Sr., here with his son, Frank, helped Markey see a new doctor, who helped him to improved health, in 2009. (Click on photo for larger image)

Enter LoRe, who introduced Markey to the legendary St. Benedict’s wrestling coach and administrator, Michael DiPiano Sr., in 2009. Eleven years earlier, DiPiano had a life-saving transplant, when he received a new kidney and pancreas. Last fall, DiPiano celebrated 20 years of good health. For the past nine years, DiPiano has hosted the Gift of Life Wrestling Tournament, a high school event, with the theme ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision.’

DiPiano intervened, noting that Markey didn’t look well. A few phone calls helped Markey visit Dr. Jean Emmond, at Columbia Presbyterian, in New York City. There, Markey underwent a cutting edge procedure, in the summer of 2009, in which 50% of his liver was removed. (Remember, the liver can regenerate). The procedure helped rid Mike of the invasive tubes, which had protruded from his abdomen for the better of four years following the original transplant, and his health began to improve noticeably.

“That was all Carmen,” said Markey last week. “I don’t know where I’d be if Carmen hadn’t introduced me to Mike DiPiano and get me to Dr. Emmond at Columbia Pres.”

Markey was able to begin working out with the West Essex wrestlers after the surgery, in his role as an assistant coach. He was on the West Essex coaching staff in 2011, when the Knights won a state sectional title and advanced to the Group 2 championship, where it lost a close match to Brearley High.

Eight years later, Markey’s health is good, although he admits he doesn’t wrestle as much with the team anymore. Since 2009, he’s undergone additional surgeries, including two abdominal reconstructions, the first in 2013 and a second two years ago.

“After my second abdominal reconstruction in 2017, I’m taking it a little easier now, when it comes to actually wrestling on the mat. I can work out for a few minutes, but then I leave it up to my coaching staff, to roll around more with the guys. I feel like I have plenty to contribute as the head coach.”

After nine years as an assistant coach, Markey would succeed Ruggiero as head coach, prior to the 2017-2018 season. In essence, the two switched positions, as Ruggiero is now a valued assistant.

What wrestling has meant to Markey for three decades has clearly helped him win the many health battles he’s faced for 17 years.

“No question about it,” he said. “The mental and physical preparation of being a wrestler really helped me. In wrestling, you never give up, and that goes for life, too. I started wrestling in the third grade, along with my best friend, Matt Dancy. I remember my first-ever match was at Nutley, in the third grade, and I got pinned in 36 seconds. And who was there to encourage me afterward? Carmen.

“I always tell my wrestlers what the sport did for me. You have to have faith. There is no end game in wrestling. It stays with you for a life time.”

Mike Markey’s life was saved by some marvelous medical professionals, as well as a loving uncle, who wanted the best for his nephew and a never-quit attitude.

Eleven years later, Mike is now hopeful he can be of help to Carmen.

“Organ donation awareness has saved so many lives, including mine,” said Mike. “And we’re hopeful that Carmen can get his transplant, soon. Whenever it got complicated in my life, he was always there. And now here I am, coaching a state championship team, with some great kids and a wonderful coaching staff. I spoke to Carmen when I got home from the state championship match (on Feb. 10). He was so happy.

“I love my uncle. I know he’s having some tough days, but we’re hopeful he’ll get the medical attention he needs soon.”

 

 

 

By mike051893

A week to remember for Wayne Valley wrestling; A state championship, ‘Hammer Time’, Lugo bumping up 2 weight classes, Botero’s escape with 2.8 left, key pins by Tsay and Jimenez; Colella’s 100th career victory and Trani remains unbeaten

It was a week to remember for the Wayne Valley wrestling team. Coach Todd Schroeder saw his team rally from big deficits in the North 1, Group 4 semifinals and championship round to capture the program’s second state crown in the last five years.

Wayne Valley finished the regular season with an 18-5 record after losing to Phillipsburg in the Group 4 semifinal, on Feb. 10, in Toms River. The Indians will compete in what will be a rugged District 7, at Bergen Catholic, in Oradell, on Feb. 16. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at District 7 will move onto the Region 2 championships, at Mount Olive, in Flanders, which begins on Feb. 20, continues to Feb. 22 and concludes a day later. The top four wrestlers in each weight at all eight regions throughout the state move on to the state championships, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from Feb. 28-March 2.

Ryan and Sean Hammer had a huge impact on a state championship run. (Click on photo for larger image)

Wayne Valley’s run to the sectional championship gained a lot of steam on Feb. 6, when the Indians came back from 21-4 down to defeat Mount Olive, 37-31, at home, in the sectional semifinals. The Indians were led by Ryan Hammer and Sean Hammer, who won back-to-back matches at 126 and 132 pounds to cut into the deficit. Valley then got wins from Adam Tsay, who won a huge match at 145 pounds, by fall, after trailing for most of the bout, Elijah Lugo, who bumped up two weight classes to win by decision at 152, Nick Duncan (160), Reid Colella (170), Dan Murphy (182) and Nick Trani, who opened the match with a win at 220 pounds.

Left to right, Jordan Botero, Nick Duncan, Nick Trani, Dan Murphy, Reid Colella and Elijah Lugo after the state sectional championship was secured. (Click on photo for larger image)

In the title bout, at top-seeded Roxbury on Feb. 8, Wayne Valley, the second seed, fell behind 16-0 before the Hammer brothers came through again, with consecutive wins to narrow the Gaels’ lead to 16-6. Lugo was back at 138 pounds and won his match, by decision, before a big pin by Matt Jimenez made it 16-15, Roxbury. Later, with the Indians down, 25-15, Colella got a pin for his 100th career victory, at 170 pounds and then, with the score 31-21, Wayne Valley won the final three bouts to prevail, 33-31. Murphy won by decision at 195 pounds, Trani remained unbeaten with a pin at 220 and Jordan Botero wrapped it up with a dramatic victory, in four overtimes, when he escaped with 2.8 seconds left for the winning point.

Jordan Botero, taking in the moment, after winning the final bout in four overtimes. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Crazy,” said Schroeder afterward. “These kids are incredible. They’ve worked so hard this season and came back from a lot of adversity, against a really tough schedule. And to win it they way we did, with Jordan escaping at the buzzer, was something else. I’m so proud of them.”

The win moved the Indians into the Group 4 semifinals, in Toms River, on Feb. 10. There, the team fell short to Phillipsburg, 44-16. Trani, Colella, Murphy and Botero had wins for Valley, with Colella gaining the Indians’ only fall.

“I told our kids to be proud,” said Schroeder afterward. “We won a sectional five years ago, and those kids were tremendous. But this group? They really did something special this year. They won a state championship in incredible fashion. It’s something they should always look back at with pride.”

Getting ready for the districts means facing the state’s best team, in Bergen Catholic, among others.

“It’s a tough district,” said Schroeder. “But this is what we’ve been preparing for all season. We faced a strong schedule, which put us in good position to win a sectional title. Now, we’ve got two weeks left and hopefully, we’ll be ready to peak.”

Wayne Valley coaches enjoying the moment. (Click on photo for larger image).

Thanks to Christine Colella for the photos. 

By mike051893

‘Hammer Time’, the Sequel, was just as big a hit as the original and resulted in a state title for Wayne Valley; Reid Colella’s 100th career win came at the perfect time and Nick Trani remained undefeated

When Wayne Valley fell behind in its state sectional semifinal against Mount Olive, 21-4, it needed a quick boost. The Indians got that when Ryan Hammer won by decision at 126 pounds and his brother, Sean Hammer followed with a pin, at 132. The victories moved Valley to within 21-13, and the team went on to win, 37-31.

Two days later, with Wayne Valley trailing in its state sectional final match at Roxbury, 16-0, Ryan and Sean came through with wins that cut the deficit to 16-6. Elijah Lugo would follow with a win and Matt Jimenez recorded a big time pin that made it 16-15.

Ryan and Sean Hammer were certainly a big part of Wayne Valley’s post-season success. (Click on photo for larger image. Photo courtesy of Christine Colella)

After Valley fell behind 25-15, it never faltered, as the heavier weights came through, starting with Reid Colella’s pin at 170 for his 100th career win, and continuing at 195 pounds, where Dan Murphy won by decision to make it 31-24, Nick Trani remained unbeaten with a pin at 220 to cut Roxbury’s lead to 31-30 and the rally was climaxed by Jordan Botero winning in 4 overtimes, on a last second escape, to give the Indians a 33-31 win for the program’s second state sectional title and first since 2014.

The entire team celebrated Reid Colella’s 100th career win, as well as a state championship, on Feb. 8. (Click on photo for larger image)

But clearly, it was the Hammers who put their team in position to win, both in the semifinals and championship rounds, with determined efforts.

It was, for sure, Hammer Time, I and II.

 

By mike051893

The team and individual aspect of wrestling was never more obvious than with Jordan Botero’s win to clinch a state title for Wayne Valley

For Jordan Botero, the pressure of wrestling in the final bout, with a state sectional final on the line, in a 4-overtime match, in front of a hostile crowd, was never a problem.

It was all about his teammates.

“I’m out there for them,” Botero said, after he escaped with 2.8 seconds left in the final overtime to win his heavyweight bout and provide second-seeded Wayne Valley the North 1, Group 4 championship, with a scintillating 33-31 win at top-seeded Roxbury.

Jordan Botero celebrates the match of his life, winning the North 1, Group 4 final to clinch the state championship for Wayne Valley, on Feb. 8. (Photo courtesy of Christine Colella. Click on photo for larger image)

And for Botero, the moment was never too much. It was business as usual, as he witnessed teammates Nick Trani, Dan Murphy, Reid Colella, Elijah Lugo, Matt Jimenez, Ryan Hammer and Sean Hammer pick up big wins to set the stage for that final match.

“Jordan never let the moment get too big,” said Wayne Valley head coach Todd Schroeder. “He knew what was on the line, but kept his composure. He escaped with less than 3 seconds left in the match. How crazy was that?”

 

 

By mike051893

A seventh straight Passaic County Tournament championship for DePaul is keyed by Ricky Cabanillas, Nicky Cabanillas, Connor O’Neil, Luke McFadden and Eddie Bierals; Spartans now looking to another state championship and eventual trip to Boardwalk Hall

Bonus points were key for DePaul, as the Spartans captured a seventh straight Passaic County Tournament championship, winning by 34 points over second place Wayne Valley, in a field of 13, on Jan. 26, at West Milford High.

Coach Keith Karsen’s team was scheduled to close out the regular season with a match against Watchung Hills, on Feb. 2. DePaul was then scheduled to face Bishop Ahr in the semifinals of the North Non-Public B sectional tournament, on Feb. 6, at home. A win there would move the team into the finals, most likely at defending champion Pope John, on Feb. 8.

DePaul was dominant once again at the Passaic County Tournament. (Click on photo for larger image) 

If DePaul wins the North B crown, it would travel to Toms River, on Feb. 10, for the Non-Public B state championship, against the South B winner. Camden Catholic is the top seed in the south. DePaul had won eight straight North B titles and four consecutive Non-Public B state crowns before losing to Pope John last season.

Karsen was pleased with his team’s effort at the counties.

“We went in feeling we had a good chance, but we also knew there were some good teams competing,” said Karsen. “Wayne Valley is always strong and Passaic Tech has a very good team, especially in the lower weights. We had to work hard, but we got the job done.”

The Spartans took control with a dominant effort in the quarterfinals.

“We had 10 wins, by pin, in the quarterfinals, with another of our guys winning by major decision,” said Karsen. “That really put us in control.”

With 11 Spartans heading to the semifinals, DePaul ended the tournament with five champions, along with two finalists and one third place finisher.

State champion Ricky Cabanillas won the 145-pound title while twin brother Nicky Cabanillas captured gold at 126. Connor O’Neil continued his dominant season with a 160-pound crown, Luke McFadden repeated as a champion at 152 pounds and heavyweight Eddie Bierals also won his weight class.

Finishing second for DePaul was Nick Bottazzi at 113 pounds and Stephen Barone at 170.

“I felt our kids would do well, with the kind of competition they’ve faced all season long,” said Karsen. ‘I wasn’t worried so much about individual records. Derek Russell ended up defeating the top seed at 120 pounds and our 220 pounder, David Drouet, defeated the second seed, in the quarterfinals. We were without our 138 pounder, David Ferrandiz, and Michael Esposito, at 132, had an injury default in the counties. We’re hoping to be healthy heading into the sectional tournament.

“And then, it’s time to focus on getting to Atlantic City and winning a state championship.”

 

By mike051893

Wayne Valley and Passaic Tech wrestling have a good county tournament, will now look to win state sectional championships

With the second season approaching, both the Wayne Valley and Passaic Tech wrestling teams turned in solid efforts at the Passaic County Tournament, on Jan. 26, at West Milford High.

Wayne Valley took second place in the counties while Passaic Tech was right behind, finishing third, in a field of 13 schools. The Indians and Bulldogs also garnered high seeds for the upcoming state sectional championships, as well.

PCT is the top seed in North 1, Group 5 and was scheduled to host eighth seeded Morristown, on Feb. 2. A win there would move the team into the semifinals, on Feb. 4, against either West Orange, or North Bergen. The championship round is set for Feb. 6, and if PCT wins out, it would host the final, as well.

Wayne Valley wrestling team had a good day at the Passaic County Tournament. (Click on photo for larger image)

Wayne Valley was seeded second in North 1, Group 4, and was slated to host Morris Hills, on Feb. 2, in the first round. If the Indians won, it would stay home to host the semifinals, on Feb. 4, versus either Kearny, or Fair Lawn. The sectional finals are on Feb. 6. Roxbury is the top seed in the section and would host the final, assuming it won out.

The group championships will be held on Feb. 8, in Toms River, where all the sectional champs from throughout the state, will convene.

Valley and PCT had three champions at the Passaic County Tournament. Winning gold for the Bulldogs were Alex Vertedor (106 pounds), Laith Hamdeh (113) and Ryan Khumthanom-Perez (120).

Wayne Valley’s county champions were Elijah Lugo (138), Reid Colella (170) and Nick Trani, who remained undefeated by winning the 220 pound championship.

DePaul won the team championship for the seventh straight year.

“I thought it was a good tournament,” said Wayne Valley head coach Todd Schroeder. “We got some good work in, as a team, and I think we’re ready for the state sectionals.”

After the sections, PCT and Wayne Valley will prepare for the district championships, which are set for Feb. 16. Wayne Valley will wrestle at District 7, which will be hosted by powerful Bergen Catholic. PCT will head to Kittatinny High, in Newton, as part of District 3. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at the districts will advance to the regional championships, on Feb. 20. The regions continue on Feb. 22 and conclude a day later.

Passaic Tech will compete in Region 1, at West Milford High, and Wayne Valley, at Region 2, at Mount Olive, in Flanders. The top four wrestlers in each weight class at the regions will earn a trip to Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, for the state championships, from Feb. 28-March 2.

By mike051893

Reid Colella will wrestle at The College of New Jersey beginning this fall, as Wayne Valley senior’s work ethic on, and off the mat, speaks volumes

For Wayne Valley’s Reid Colella, the decision to continue wrestling on the collegiate level came down to a love of the sport as well as some lofty academic goals.

Colella, a captain on this year’s wrestling team, made it official on Feb. 5 that he will attend the College of New Jersey, beginning in the fall of 2019.

“I’m really happy with my decision,” said Colella, the eldest of two sons born to Christine and Tom Colella. “TCNJ is a tremendous school, academically, and has an excellent wrestling program.”

Colella’s high school teammate, Connor Murphy, a 2017 Valley graduate, is currently attending TCNJ.

With his family, coach and Wayne Valley administrators on hand, Reid Colella made official on Feb. 6, his decision to attend The College of New Jersey and wrestle for the Pride this coming fall. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Connor was a big help to me,” said Colella. “He’s really doing well there and that helped in my decision.”

Murphy was a standout wrestler for the Indians. He was having a good collegiate career before a series of injuries curtailed his wrestling. Murphy is thriving academically at TCNJ and earned Dean’s List this past fall

Colella is having an excellent season at Valley this winter, with a 30-1 record, at 170 and 182 pounds, as the Indians were 16-4 heading into the sectional semifinals on Feb. 6. His work ethic heading into this season impressed head coach Todd Schroeder.

“Reid put a lot of time into wrestling during the off season,” said Schroeder. “And it’s paying off in a big way. He’s a leader on and off the mat for us.”

Colella, an excellent student at Wayne Valley, hopes to major in Health and Exercise Science at TCNJ, with the ultimate goal of being a Physical Therapist.

In college, Colella figures to wrestle at 165 or 174 pounds. The Pride are having a tremendous season this winter, with a 14-1 record through matches of Feb. 1. Among the standout wrestlers on the team this season is Dan Kilroy, a 2-time state medal winner at Wayne Hills, who is currently a junior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By mike051893

Tom Sharkey headed to Kutztown University after a memorable season quarterbacking Wayne Hills to a state title and Bowl Game win

Tom Sharkey had just won his first game as a Wayne Hills quarterback, on Sept. 7, 2018, as the Patriots rallied past Wayne Valley, 14-3, in a hard-fought game.

Twelve hours later, Sharkey and offensive coordinator John Jacob were sitting in a classroom, going over good points, and mistakes, of the senior’s first varsity home game at Wayne Hills.

Tom Sharkey and Wayne Hills offensive coordinator John Jacob doing classroom work on Sept. 8, 2018, a day after a win over Wayne Valley. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I’ve been around a lot of good players, but Tom Sharkey is really special,” recalled Jacob of that meeting in the early morning hours of Sept. 8. “He wanted to know what he needed to do to get better. It was a burning desire. You could see it in his eyes. The grit, toughness, determination and intensity. He has it all.”

Sharkey, the son of Debbie and Tom Sharkey, Sr., had transferred to Wayne Hills late in his junior year and would go on to a marvelous senior campaign. He threw for 2,413 yards and 33 touchdown passes, as well as a 125.6 quarterback rating, as the Patriots went on to a tenth state sectional championship and eventual Bowl game victory, at MetLife Stadium, and an 11-2 record. In his final high school game at MetLife, Sharkey completed 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns.

Sharkey’s 2,413 yards passing last fall eclipsed Brendan DeVera’s team-record 2,221 yards, which was set in 2016.

The 6’1″, 185-pound Sharkey, also a top student, announced his college choice on Feb. 1 and signed his letter of intent at Wayne Hills on the morning of Feb. 6.

“I’ve committed to Kutztown University,” said Sharkey. “I was honored to receive eight offers over a 10-day period, and in the end, Kutztown was perfect. I fell in love with the program when I took my official visit. The coaches, the players, the campus, everything was right.”

Located in Kutztown, Pa., Kutztown University is an NCAA Division 2 school. In 2018, the Golden Bears finished 9-2 and qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Jacob, Hills’ offensive coordinator, feels Kutztown is an excellent choice for Sharkey.

“That will be an equitable partnership,” said Jacob. “Tom will thrive there. Kutztown has an outstanding program and plays a tremendous schedule. Tom’s work ethic and diligence will go a long way. This is a kid that took every drill in practice and made it his passion to get better, each day. Believe me, that says a lot.”

Sharkey appreciated his work with the Wayne Hills coaching staff.

Tom, with his parents Debbie and Tom Sr. He’s keeping the same colors in college. (Click on photos for larger image)

“A quarterback and coordinator have to work well together, and I can’t thank Coach Jakes enough,” said Sharkey. “He taught me so much, in one year. And that goes for the entire staff at Hills. I transferred here as a junior and had (head coach Wayne) Dem (Demikoff) as a teacher when I got here. And then I had the chance to play for him and I am so grateful. I wish I had more than one year with them, but I’m so glad it turned out the way it did. Being a part of a state championship team and then winning that bowl game at MetLife was unbelievable.

“It’s amazing how this team came together as the season continued. We really became a close-knit unit, and by the time playoffs began, we really felt no one could beat us. That’s because everyone bought in to the team concept. What a great group of guys to be around.”

Sharkey noted how quickly he was taken in by the players at Hills.

Sharkey was always a ‘heads up’ player at Hills. (Click on photo for larger image) 

“From the first day I got to Wayne Hills, the players embraced me and made me feel at home,” he said. “I got the chance to play for a top program and this is why I’m moving on to play at Kutztown. Being a part of this program will make me a better player in college, too.”

Tom’s close family bond is also special.

Sharkey and Wayne Hills head coach Wayne Demikoff at the signing ceremonies, on Feb. 6. (Click on photo for larger image) 

“My mom and dad are incredible,” said Sharkey, who plans to major in business management, or finance. “They’ve always been there for me. I know they’re excited about my choice, too. I’d like to get up to about 195 to 200 pounds when I play in college, so I’m sure my mother will enjoy helping me with that.”

With the college decision completed, Sharkey can enjoy the remainder of high school.

“No doubt, I’m glad it’s wrapped up,” he said. “This has been the best year of my life, and I couldn’t be happier.”

 

 

By mike051893

Belleville High’s Matt LaTorre headed to Caldwell University to play sprint football

Matt LaTorre hadn’t thought about playing football on the collegiate level a few months ago. But the Belleville High senior learned a great deal about the game under new head coach Jermain Johnson last fall, and now, he’s ready to continue playing sprint football, at Caldwell University, beginning this autumn.

LaTorre helped the Bucs to respectability in 2018, guiding the team to a 4-5 record as the starting quarterback.

“I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life,” said LaTorre, the son of Judith Valdez and the late Alfredo LaTorre. “This past season was very special for me. I got a chance to play for coach Johnson, as well as coach (Eric) Magrini (Belleville’s offensive coordinator). They both taught me a lot, and now I feel like I can play at the next level.”

Matt LaTorre is joined by his mother, Judith Valdez and head coach Jermain Johnson. (Click on photo for larger image)

Caldwell University introduced sprint football two years ago to its list of athletic programs. The Cougars are coached by former Nutley High head coach Jim Kelly. Sprint football requires a player weigh 178 pounds, or less. The game is fast-paced and has a number of prestigious schools which participate, including the United States Military Academy, at West Point, the Naval Academy, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell.

Johnson feels the opportunity is perfect for LaTorre.

“Matt came a long way in making reads and working with Eric Magrini on technique” said Johnson. “I wish I had the chance to coach him more than a year. Matt is a hard-working kid and I think he’ll really thrive in playing sprint football. He’s going to play against some really good teams, that’s for sure.”

LaTorre plans to major in Health Science and Physical Therapy, with the hope of being a physical therapist after a six-year program, which would result in a PhD.

“Caldwell has a very good program in my major,” said LaTorre. “It all worked out well. I had the chance to meet coach Kelly. He seems like a good guy. I’m looking forward to learning from him over the next four years.”

LaTorre could also see time on defense, perhaps at corner back, since he played some defense in high school.

“I’ll be working in the gym, doing cardio and getting stronger,” said LaTorre. “Getting ready for the fall means putting the work in now. I’m excited about the opportunity.”

 

 

By mike051893