At Union City, it was a collection of three players from different backgrounds and cultures.
Lawrence Santana first dreamed of being a basketball player. He never even played the game of football until he was a sophomore at Union City.
“I realized that basketball wasn’t for me, so I was convinced to give football a shot,” said Santana, who signed on to play defensive line at Marist College. “At first, I got manhandled in football like I was a ragdoll. My football IQ was low. But I developed a passion for it.”
Santana will study exercise science at Marist with the hope of becoming a physical therapist.
“It’s the best place for me and my future for both my academic and athletic goals,” Santana said. “I really never dreamed this could happen. I kind of just went along for the ride. But Coach [Wilber] Valdez showed patience with me. I had the perseverance and made all the sacrifices and it’s all paid off.”
Mohamet Thiam’s story is even more amazing. His family was from Senegal, an African nation that is known for producing basketball and soccer players, but not football.
Thiam was born in the United States, moved back to Senegal with his family when he was an infant, then came back to America and settled in Maryland when he was in the sixth grade, before coming to Union City as a freshman. He never played football until he was a freshman at Union City.
“I was walking in the hallway of the school and I saw the helmets,” Thiam said. “That’s what made me want to play. I didn’t know anything about football. My mother [Fatou] said that she didn’t want me to play, but my father [Birane] said that it was a man’s sport and told me to go for it.”
Thiam didn’t know anything about football, but knew he wanted to be a running back.
“I only knew one position, running back,” Thiam said.
But Thiam signed a letter to play football at Delaware State, joining other Union City products like Ulises de los Santos, who is currently playing there. Thiam will be a safety at Delaware State, where he will major in finance.
“It really is remarkable,” Thiam said. “For me to be able to accomplish this in such a short period of time is amazing. Something I really wanted came true. Not many people get a chance to do this.”
Jose Tavares may have the best story of all. He’s headed to the United States Military Academy in West Point, after receiving an appointment to attend there and signing his letter of intent.
“It was a great moment for me,” Tavares said. “My parents were there, my family, everyone was there. It all came true in that one moment. It’s finally here. When I was younger, I was always so happy for everyone else from Union City who signed. I remember seeing Steven Gonzalez sign with Penn State and he plays the same position as I do. I saw the happiness he had and I wanted the same thing.”
Tavares said that West Point came “as a surprise to me.”
“I didn’t think I could get in there,” Tavares said. “But the coaches showed up at practice one day. I really didn’t have my mind set on there, but when Coach Valdez told me that they were interested, I was blown away. I went on a visit and everything was awesome.”
Tavares’ military commitment will include five years at West Point, then an additional five years of service. He will major in technology and medical services.
Hudson Catholic had four players sign letters last week, namely defensive end Nasir Adams and linebacker Yasin Peppers with St. Anselm College in New Hampshire and defensive back Jy’ell Higgins and defensive end Joshua Marcano to American International College in Springfield, Mass.
Adams was particularly proud, because he lost his father last year.
“Today’s been a day I dreamed about since I was five years old,” Adams said. “I always wanted to be something special in football and I made sure I worked every day to achieve that. I know I’m making my Dad proud.”
Higgins said he was the first person from his family to attend college. Peppers transferred to Hudson Catholic after Queen of Peace in North Arlington closed its doors last year. He’s the cousin of Jabrill Peppers of the Cleveland Browns. Marcano was happy to be there with his teammates.
“Signing day is an incredible experience,” Marcano said. “I got to share it with people I care about.”
“We’re very happy for the kids,” Hudson Catholic head coach Lou Zampella said. “They’ve worked very hard. It’s always good when we get the chance to send kids to college. I know the kids felt very special. This is the last time they’ll share something as teammates. Now, they’ll play with each other and against each other.”…
After weeks of speculation, Hudson Catholic basketball sensation Jahvon Quinerly has given a verbal commitment to attend Villanova.
Quinerly, the defending New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, first gave a verbal word to Arizona, but reneged on the commitment after it was learned that an assistant coach there was taking illegal funds to try to steer recruits to the school. Quinerly was implicated in the scandal, but was never proven to accept any funds…
The Hudson County Baseball Coaches Association will honor former Hoboken coaches Buddy Matthews and Bruce Radigan in its first-ever fundraiser Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Hoboken Elks at 7 p.m. Tickets for the event are $25.00 and include food and beer. The organization is raising funds for the underclass All-Star game. For tickets, contact Union City head coach Chipper Benway at (201) 852-3431 or Ferris head coach Mike Hogan at (201) 745-2880…
The seeds for the Hudson County tournament went as follows: The girls’ bracket was Lincoln, followed by Secaucus, Hudson Catholic and Marist. The boys’ bracket was Hudson Catholic, followed by St. Peter’s Prep, North Bergen and Lincoln…
Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (17-4). 2. St. Peter’s Prep (17-4). 3. Lincoln (16-6). 4. North Bergen (17-6). 5. Union City (17-5)…
Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Secaucus (19-1). 2. Lincoln (16-2). 3. Hudson Catholic (19-2). 4. Hoboken (13-7). 5. Marist (12-7)…-- Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.