Although they will only be juniors at Union City High School this fall, Daiquan Kelly and Steven Gonzalez are already causing quite a stir among major college football recruiting circles.
Kelly, a sure-handed, high-leaping wide receiver, and Gonzalez, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound offensive lineman, are gaining a lot of attention from the major colleges.
Gonzalez, a Union City native who admired fellow Union City lineman Josue Matias (now at Florida State) has already received seven scholarship offers from prestigious schools such as South Carolina, Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, UMass, Boston College, and Rutgers.
Kelly, a native of Irvington who moved to Union City a few years ago, has solid offers from Virginia, UMass and Rutgers.
It’s the first time that Union City has produced two NCAA Division I-level recruits from the same recruiting class – and they’re only juniors.
Needless to say, Union City head football coach Wilber Valdez is ecstatic about the attention his players are receiving.
“I think it does say something about the program,” said Valdez, who was a Division I recruit himself out of Hoboken, going to the University of Miami. “It says a lot about their talent and their development. It’s good to know that college coaches think their games are polished enough to be Division I material. It’s a very big deal for us. To have both of them in the same class is a pretty unique thing in Union City.”
Kelly recently attended the Rutgers football camp and wowed everyone in attendance with his ability to run, catch and jump. Two major recruiting services ranked Kelly as the top receiver working out at Rutgers.
“He is what they’re looking for,” Valdez said of Kelly. “He’s a big kid who can run, jump and catch the ball.”
Kelly said that he was “pretty surprised” by all the attention.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to get a scholarship,” Kelly said. “I always dreamed of being a Division I athlete. When I was getting the offers, I didn’t believe it. I was very excited to think these schools think so highly of me.”
Kelly said that he had to escape from Irvington, so he encouraged the family’s move to Union City.
“I had to get out of that environment if I wanted to become something,” Kelly said. “There’s too much drama there. Mentally, I had to find a place where I can develop as a football player and work on keeping my grades up. I know I will do the right things here and stay away from the bad crowd. I just have to do whatever Coach Valdez tells me to do.”
As for getting the notoriety as one of the best football players in the state?
“It’s a very good feeling, but it’s still too early to rest on this,” Kelly said. “I still have a lot to prove. I have to keep my head up, focus on my school work and keep my head in the game.”
For Gonzalez, the series of scholarship offers fulfills a childhood dream.
“Josue Matias is someone I look up to and I always talk to him whenever I need advice,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to be like him. When I was in eighth grade, I remember watching Josue lift weights and watching him play. I wanted to be like him. In fact, I wanted to be better than him. I hope to leave a better legacy than he did.”
Gonzalez, who will play tackle for the Soaring Eagles this fall, but more than likely will be a guard on the collegiate level, started to get an idea that he could be a top-flight college recruit last year.
“I really thought I could be Division I, but then Coach Valdez put it in my mind for sure,” Gonzalez said.
Rutgers was the first to offer Gonzalez a scholarship.
“That was a sign that I had to keep working harder,” Gonzalez said. “I’m really blessed that I’m getting this attention. It was very flattering to know that all these college coaches came to Union City to inquire about me.”
Gonzalez said that it was nice to share the recruiting process with teammate Kelly.
“Who knows?” Gonzalez said. “We may end up at the same school. It’s great for him that he’s getting noticed as well. He’s a great player. For both of us, it’s a great achievement and it’s great that we’re bringing attention to the program.”
But now that Kelly and Gonzalez have been labeled as Division I recruits, all eyes will be upon them when the games count come September.
“I do feel some pressure,” Gonzalez said. “But I’m not going to let that effect me. I know what I have to do.”
Valdez knows that the expectations will be higher for the Soaring Eagles in the fall, considering that they have two Division I prospects. There isn’t another Hudson County school – outside of St. Peter’s Prep – that can lay claim to having more than one top player.
“We want to have our kids shoot for two things, becoming a Division I player and winning a state championship,” Valdez said. “This is why we do this as coaches. We want our players to have the same opportunity we had as players. We have other kids who will move on to college as well. It’s a new reputation for Union City High School. Now we have two, then the sky’s the limit.”
Or, in Union City’s case, they can at least go to the roof.
Now, it’s up to Kelly, Gonzalez and the rest of the Soaring Eagles to apply their attention and reputation on the gridiron. It may be July, but the pieces are already in place. If you need proof, then check out what others are saying across the state about the talented two Soaring Eagle juniors.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.