The road to an NJSIAA football state championship has its many twists and turns, peaks and valleys, highs and lows.
There’s no better example of that than the Hoboken High School football team that captured the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I crown last Friday night at MetLife Stadium.
The Red Wings have won their share of state titles over the years, eight in all after the one they scooped up by dismantling Roselle Park, 39-9, in the Meadowlands. With the win, Hoboken has now won more state championships than any other Hudson County grid program.
Just like many others, like from 1994 through 1996, then 1998 and 1999 and finally 2005, the crowning of the Hoboken state champion came in the Mecca of New Jersey sports, first Giants Stadium for most of them, now MetLife Stadium, which has since replaced Giants Stadium. The Red Wings just seem to feel at home playing in the Meadowlands, almost making it a second home just six miles west of the Mile Square City.
But this title is so different than the others for many reasons. There are a hundred little subplots behind this trophy, many not even about the game of football. It’s more about the game of life.
No one has been involved with the winning football tradition at Hoboken than the Red Wings’ current head coach Lou Taglieri.
Taglieri was a dutiful assistant coach to the legendary Ed Stinson during the Red Wings’ incredible string of dominance in the 1990s, when they won five state titles and won an astounding 78 of 79 games during that stretch. It’s a dynasty that was only matched by the great Memorial teams in the 1940s and it’s a period of supremacy that will never be duplicated ever again.
When Stinson stepped aside in 2004, Taglieri was quickly elevated to the top spot and promptly won his own state title as a head coach in his first season. Taglieri is now the face of Hoboken football, a spot once encapsulated by Stinson.
It was the spring of 2011 when the sport of football had to take a serious backseat for Taglieri. He and his wife, Gaby, had a bigger cross to bear.
Lou and Gaby Taglieri’s 3-year-old son, Trey, was a happy, healthy little boy until May of 2011, when a simple bath turned into horror.
“Gaby was giving Trey a bath when she noticed a bump near his testicle,” Taglieri said.
The bump turned out to be a malignant tumor, a strain of the disease called paratesticular cancer.
“We went to Hackensack University Medical Center [the Don Imus Pediatric Center for Tomorrow’s Children] and the doctors removed it,” Taglieri said. “They had to remove one testicle. The doctors did three surgeries in a span of three weeks and he had to undergo 20 weeks of chemotherapy.”
Through it all, Trey Taglieri, named after the former Penn State All-American grid standout Trey Bauer, remained oblivious to his serious health crisis.
“It was something that we had to deal with,” Taglieri said. “I had to worry about my son more than football.”
Incredibly, Trey Taglieri has since recovered and just recently received another clean bill of health from the pediatric wizards at the Imus Center.
Trey is always a fixture with the Red Wing football program.
“He wants to be there all the time,” Taglieri said. “He can’t get enough of it. It gives him something to look forward to.”
Another twist to the Red Wings’ title was the route some of the players took.
Because of a law that was instituted in 2000 through the New Jersey State Legislature, Hoboken is part of a program called the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which enables students from other municipalities to apply to the school because of Hoboken’s ever-decreasing enrollment.
This year, perhaps more than any other since School Choice program was brought into Hoboken – one of the first districts in the state to use it – the football program has benefitted from it. For example, without School Choice, ace running back Donte Carter would have gone to Snyder and quarterback Dante Bass would have been a Lincoln student. Rahmein Herron, Kain Dunham and Terrance Perry, all key skilled players, are also School Choice products.
“Without School Choice, this team doesn’t win,” Taglieri said. “The majority of the kids who have made the sacrifice, who have to get up at like 6 a.m. to get to Hoboken for school, are School Choice kids. That’s what’s very impressive about this team. These kids are dedicated enough to make that sacrifice.”
“I always hoped I could get to Hoboken to play,” said Carter, who had 214 yards rushing and two touchdowns as well as an 81-yard punt return for a school in the state title game. “If I had to stay in Jersey City, none of this would have happened. It’s a great feeling.”
“It was a blessing for me to get the chance to come to Hoboken,” Bass said. “This was a dream come true, winning a state championship.”
Then, there was the final piece of adversity, namely the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Many of the Red Wing players were directly affected. Some were driven from their flood-ravaged homes. Recovering from the storm was tougher that two-a-day practices.
“It was really tough,” said senior Daquan Peterson, who has a rich family lineage with Hoboken football. “We all rallied together.”
Fellow senior Herron came up with a rally cry, a motivational slogan to inspire the team.
Right outside of the Red Wings’ locker room, there stands a huge rock on a pedestal. For years, the players have touched the rock as a sign of their team unity.
But Herron, who goes by the nickname of “Rock” at times, devised “Rock Nation,” complete with a hand symbol, putting the two hands together.
“The rock is our tradition and we’re a part of the rock,” Herron said. “We touch the rock as a reminder that we’re all part of Rock Nation.”
So the players were seen at their victory parade Monday, putting their hands together to form the “Rock Nation” sign. The kids had been through a lot. This was their reward, their party, the first for Hoboken in seven years, when a parade used to be an annual event.
“This year was great,” said Peterson, whose uncle, Dwayne, is one of the best running backs to come out of Hoboken, perhaps the first of the recent lineage of sensational backs.
“I heard a lot about him and how he had 10 carries and nine touchdowns in a game [against St. Joseph of the Palisades in 1989],” Peterson said. “I’ve often been looked at to carry the legacy. We were all about go out with a bang.”
And there was no bigger explosion than the one that came from Carter, who elevated his game to the point where he could be named with the likes of great Red Wing running backs like Peterson, Ravon Anderson, Keeon Walker, Jason Cassesa, Ira Guilford, Desmond and Damien Bates and the best of the bunch Tyrell Dortch.
“They were all great running backs and I tried to be like them,” Carter said. “It’s an honor to be considered with them.”
“Without a doubt, he belongs there, especially after what he did in the state playoffs,” Taglieri said of Carter, who had more than 700 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns in the three state playoff wins alone. “He proved himself in the big games. Those numbers are major league stuff.”
So the Red Wings won another state title, but this one stands alone because of the adversity that everyone had to endure, from coach on down to the players.
“It’s really a special thing,” Taglieri said. “With everything going on and what they all went through, yes, this is one to remember.”
It truly was one for the ages, for the history books, proof that you need more than just football skills to become a football champion.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.