Steven Gonzalez has definitely been living the dream the last few months.
The Union City High School offensive lineman, one of the top recruits in the country, has been receiving attention from all the top college football programs. Every day, Gonzalez would receive another letter from a college, packed with a scholarship offer, and the highly touted guard would soak in all the attention.
After all, Gonzalez was recently ranked among the top 100 prospects in the nation and the No. 6 recruit in all of New Jersey, so he deserved the buzz.
Last week, Gonzalez went on an unofficial recruiting trip to Penn State and after visiting Happy Valley, there was no need to continue the recruiting process. Gonzalez was going to become a Nittany Lion.
“I wanted to meet Coach [James] Franklin,” Gonzalez said of the new Penn State head coach, called by many as “a recruiting genius.”
“After visiting the campus and it’s a great campus, I just felt like it was the right place for me,” Gonzalez said in giving a verbal commitment to Penn State. “I like the fact that they have a new head coach, who wants to keep the Penn State tradition. It just felt great for me.”
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Gonzalez said that he wanted his mother to visit the campus and see what she thought. She was all aboard, much like Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was asked what it was like for a kid from Union City to actually get a chance to play football at Penn State.
“I never really thought it was going to happen, until I got that first offer,” Gonzalez said. “That’s when it became real. But never to this point.”
Gonzalez said that he was always driven and motivated by former Union City player Josue Matias, who won the national championship at Florida State last January.
“Once I saw Josue make it, I knew I could make it in Union City,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that he felt relieved that he made his decision early.
“It feels like a weight has been lifted off my back,” said Gonzalez, who might pursue a degree in sports management at Penn State. “Now, I want to get a state championship ring with my teammates. I still may get some calls from schools, but I’m committed to Penn State.”
Gonzalez lost his father, Jorge, to a heart attack last fall. He knows that his father would have been proud of his decision.
“I know he wanted me to go to Rutgers,” Gonzalez said. “But I think if he would have come with me to see Penn State, he would have looked at it the same way I did and realized I made the right decision. I just feel super blessed right now.”…
In February, when the Denver Broncos played the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, Robert Ayers, the Broncos’ fine defensive end, received a lot of attention because he was coming home to play.
Ayers is a native of Jersey City who spent his freshman year at Hoboken High School before moving to South Carolina.
Now, Ayers will get a lot more attention, because he’s coming home – permanently.
Ayers signed a contract Tuesday to play in the fall with the New York Giants.
“It’s going to be good to be able to play closer to family,” Ayers said Tuesday in a conference call. “The last five years were in Denver, they didn’t really get to see me play much other than on television. The next few years, it’ll be good for them to be able to see me play and a good experience for me to have to share this time of my career with them. My grandma, most of my aunts, my uncles, most of my cousins are here, and then the ones that aren’t in Jersey City, they’re kind of scattered around the state.”
Ayers returned to his roots, visiting Sacred Heart School in Jersey City, when the Broncos stayed in Jersey City for the Super Bowl.
“I was looking for an opportunity to come in and maximize my ability,” Ayers said. “I feel like the Giants gave me a better opportunity to do that than in Denver. I’m very happy to be here. I’m ready to put Denver in the past and move forward with the Giants. I’m looking forward to it and I’m very excited.”…
Kyle Anderson was named to the Associated Press All-America team last week, earning Third Team honors, placing him among the top 15 players in the nation.
On the same day, it was revealed that Anderson, the North Bergen native and former St. Anthony All-American, would leave UCLA early and enter the NBA Draft this summer.
So Anderson was a college All-American and future first round NBA Draft pick all in the same day. Not bad…
The St. Michael’s CYO basketball program in Union City completed another successful campaign with a recent family day, where the parents played against the kids. There are so many talented high school products that came from that program. In fact, four of the recent Hudson Reporter All-Area honorees (J.R. Lynch and Sammy Friday of Hudson Catholic, Jhonny Sanchez of Union City and Logan Santiago of Marist) were once participants in the program.
One volunteer at St. Michael’s, Secaucus resident George Shabazian, has been involved at St. Michael’s for an astounding 61 years.
Shabazian was a long-time volunteer coach and now helps to coordinate the activities at the gym. He’s a young, vibrant 86 years old.
“People ask me how I do it,” Shabazian said. “The kids keep me young. They are great.”
Shabazian got involved at St. Michael’s in 1953, when his friend, the late Frank McGovern, convinced him to come along.
“He got everyone involved,” Shabazian said. “He was such a good guy. My wife [Loretta] and I were involved, but she passed away in 1996. I never thought I would still be doing this. I can’t plan on next year, but if I’m fine, I’ll take another shot if they take me back. I really wish I could get back to coaching. But I’m glad I’m still a part of this.”
Shabazian also had his children, Lisa, Marty and Paul, become involved with St. Michael’s.
“It’s a family thing here,” Shabazian said. “We just do the best we can with the time we have here. If we could get more time in the gym, we could do much better. We need to get the kids to realize that sports and education should coincide with each other, but school has to come first.”
We should all be as fortunate as George Shabazian, still going strong at 86. He’s an absolute gift to the community…--Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.