When you think of sports in Jersey City, a host of ideas probably come to mind, like basketball, baseball and football.
Rugby has to be the furthest sport from everyone’s thought process locally, but three young men from Jersey City recently participated for a 16-and-under All-Star squad called the Empire City All-Stars.
They recently competed in the Challenge Cup in Pittsburgh with some of the best rugby players in the country.
Eamonn Matthews, the son of former Hudson Catholic athletic director Terry Matthews, picked up the sport after watching his father and uncle play rugby.
“It was interesting to me,” Matthews said. “I played baseball when I was younger, but I found out it wasn’t my sport. I had no desire to do track and field. The opportunity arose for me to play rugby and I’m glad I did.”
Matthews will be a junior at Xavier High School in Manhattan in the fall.
“I found out that I had fewer injuries in rugby than in football,” Matthews said. “You have to be mentally tough to play and there’s fitness required. You have to be willing to put your body out there, but I find it’s safer than football.”
Matthews was asked what it was like to play the sport at such a high national level.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” Matthews said. “Just the opportunity to be there with the best was amazing. I try to watch as much rugby as I can to get better. It’s a big sport at Xavier.”
However, for Royaal Jones, who attends Hudson Catholic, there’s no chance to play competitive rugby on the high school level.
Jones had no idea what rugby was all about when he first started playing a few years ago.
“I like rugby more than football,” Jones said. “I still play football and I wrestle as well. I think wrestling and football help me to be a better rugby player.”
Jones said that he will continue to play football for Hudson Catholic and is excited about the plans that Hudson Catholic has made to bring rugby as a varsity sport. Currently, St. Peter’s Prep is the lone Hudson County school to offer rugby.
“I’m really happy about that,” Jones said. “We’ll get other kids to play rugby as well.”
Xavier Boone is going to be a junior at Ferris High School, which also doesn’t offer rugby as a sport.
“To be honest, I was a lazy kid who didn’t want to do anything, before I started to play rugby,” Boone said. “I used to play football, but I stopped. I didn’t know what rugby was. I looked it up and I thought I was crazy for signing up to play. You see pictures of so many people bleeding on the field. But once you play it, you love it.”
Boone has only been playing rugby for six months, yet earned a spot on the elite All-Star team.
“I just love the whole dynamic of it, the physical part of the game. You need the proper mentality to be on the field. I’m concentrating now on rugby. It’s all I want to do.”
It’s safe to say that these three young men from Jersey City have a bright future in the sport, which is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States…
Another former St. Anthony football player has signed a national letter of intent long after the signing period was over. Standout two-way lineman Darius Roper, a four-year starter at St. Anthony, signed with Duquesne University last week.
Roper truly thought that his chances of going to a four-year college were gone.
“I thought that was taken away from me,” Roper said. “It was very disappointing. I used to get so low emotionally when I thought about it. My father [Omar Charlton] told me to keep my chin up, that I’d get a chance.”
Roper said that he was all set to enroll at Nassau Junior College and play football there.
“The coach there told me I had Division I potential,” Roper said.
Roper said that Duquesne showed some interest in him during the season.
“But I didn’t have a good enough SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test] score to go,” Roper said. “I took it again in May and finally became a qualifier. A coach from Duquesne called me and asked me if I was still interested.”
New St. Anthony coach Ed Stinson sent Roper’s transcripts to Duquesne and the scholarship was offered.
“At first, I didn’t believe it,” Roper said. “I thought it was a dream, like I was going to wake up and it wasn’t going to be there. But it started to get real the next day. I’m excited and pumped.”
Roper will be a defensive end at Duquesne. He leaves for Pittsburgh next week.
“It’s really nice there and it’s close to where the Steelers play [Heinz Field],” Roper said. “I think I’m going to get a chance to play right away. It’s pretty amazing how it all happened.”
Roper joins former teammate Jamar McGloster as late signees from St. Anthony. McGloster is headed to Syracuse in a few weeks…
Former Holy Family Academy standout basketball and softball player Grace Keller, a recent graduate of Felician College, has entered the coaching ranks.
Keller, a Hoboken resident, was hired to run the 12-and-under Akadema Elite Girls Fast Pitch Organization team based in northern New Jersey. Keller had a fine career at Felician, playing seven different positions there. She ranks as the school’s all-time leader in games played and fourth in career hits with 127…
The 10th Annual Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad Benefit Golf Outing will be held Thursday, Aug. 8 at the Wild Turkey Golf Club in Hardyston. There is a 1 p.m. shotgun start, with a dinner and awards program to follow. For more information, contact Numargo Vasquez at (201) 773-7614 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org...--Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.