Although he was the starting quarterback who helped to guide Hoboken to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state championship last year, Donte Bass wasn’t the typical inspirational leader that a quarterback should be.
His head coach, Lou Taglieri, should know. After all, Taglieri was a standout quarterback during his playing days at Hoboken and was the take-charge leader of his team.
“Donte is a very laid back kind of kid,” Taglieri said of Bass. “He never showed any emotion. He never got in anyone’s face or anything.”
But everything seemed to change when Bass’ teammate and long-time friend Kain Dunham went down for the season with a serious knee injury. Dunham was the Red Wings’ top receiver.
“Once Kain went down, there was a big difference,” Bass said. “It really hurt us. I had no one to go and get the ball.”
In the ensuing weeks, Bass found himself in a new role, but it was one he wasn’t handling well.
“He felt like he had to take the entire team and put it on his shoulders,” Taglieri said. “He was trying to do too much.”
“I just wished I had more people around me,” Bass said. “I wasn’t really focused on what I should be doing.”
Taglieri had a little talk with Bass, telling him to just calm down, let the game come to him.
“I knew that if Donte wasn’t right, then no one else would be right,” Taglieri said. “Something had to be done. We knew that he had to be the leader of this team.”
After all, Bass had been the starter at quarterback for the last two seasons.
“There’s no substitute for game experience,” Taglieri said. “He knows the system. He understands things a lot better, like defensive coverage. He’s become much more of a student of the game.”
Incredibly, Bass was not a quarterback when he started playing with the Red Wings as a sophomore.
“We had him at halfback,” Taglieri explained. “But we knew from the waist down, he was well put together. He wanted to learn different things, so he said he wanted to try being a quarterback. He wanted to get on the field somehow. He knew we didn’t have a quarterback coming back, so he went after it.”
“I knew that I was going to be a quarterback,” Bass said. “I saw the chance to be a quarterback. I played quarterback when I was younger [with the Jersey City PAL] and I knew no one was there. I wanted that chance.”
Taglieri said that Bass was diligent in his efforts to be the starting signal caller.
“He went out and threw after we were in the weight room in January,” Taglieri said. “He went out and threw the ball with Dunham every night.”
So Bass was the starter a year ago, when the Red Wings won the state title, but that team had a stud running back in Donte Carter.
This time, with a backfield comprised of mostly underclassmen, Bass had to take the bull by the horns on his own.
In the NJSIAA North 2, Group I semifinals against New Providence two weeks ago, Bass scored four touchdowns – three via runs and one on a 33-yard interception return – leading the Red Wings to a 40-23 victory, insuring the Red Wings’ return to the state championship game.
Hoboken was slated to face Shabazz of Newark for the sectional title at Kean University Saturday at 10 a.m.
For his efforts, Bass has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Both coach and player had no idea that the quarterback reached the end zone a quartet of times in the win over New Providence.
“I didn’t realize the game he had until the next day, when I read about it in the paper,” Taglieri said. “I read it and said, `Four touchdowns? Really?’ I was a little surprised.”
“I didn’t realize I had four touchdowns until I was on my way home and a friend started telling me,” Bass said. “That felt pretty good.”
Taglieri is impressed with the way Bass has emerged as his team’s leader.
“He’s settled in,” Taglieri said. “He’s let the game come to him. I said to him, `See what happens when you let things happen?’ ”
Taglieri said that there was one play that signified Bass’ turnaround.
“He went back in the pocket and I could see that he waited on purpose,” Taglieri said. “He broke off everyone and almost walked into the end zone. I’ve told him that if something’s not there, then you make something happen. He’s just more comfortable now. He doesn’t feel like he has to do everything.
Added Taglieri, “Once again, he’s been doing this for so long that he’s not reluctant to try certain things. He feels very confident and he should. He’s just changed so much. His personality has changed. His whole demeanor has changed. It’s great to see his development. He’s already won a championship and I expect nothing less from him on Saturday.”
Bass is glad that he’s getting a chance to play for back-to-back state championships.
“It feels good that my last game is a championship game,” Bass said. “I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. I’m glad I made the decision to come to Hoboken, because I never would have gotten this chance otherwise. I can’t complain about anything. Everything has been great.”
Except for one thing. Bass does not have a college that is interested in his services just yet, despite his stellar 3.3 grade point average. Maybe his size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) has deterred some schools.
“A couple of colleges came to see me earlier in the year,” Bass said. “But I haven’t heard anything lately. My size might hurt me as a quarterback, but not as a defensive back.”
If Bass can finish the job and give the Red Wings two straight state titles, then perhaps the colleges will finally take notice.
“I have to hope so,” Bass said.
Count on it. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.