When Alex Luna was a standout soccer goalkeeper at Hudson Catholic High School, earning the Hudson Reporter Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1997, he said that he always took one thing with him from those days - playing with class.
"It's something that was instilled in me from my days with Coach (John) Cruitt," Luna said. "Wherever I went, I wanted to play with class and dignity. I was taught to act like a professional. It's something I've never forgotten."
Luna had a brilliant high school career at Hudson Catholic, earning All-County and All-Area three times and twice being selected to the All-Parochial team by the Newark Star-Ledger.
After high school, Luna went on to become one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play for Montclair State University, setting new school records for shutouts and least goals allowed.
"I had great memories from my days at Hudson Catholic and that just carried over to Montclair State," Luna said. "I really had a great time."
Upon graduation from Montclair State, Luna pursued a career in professional soccer. He had a run with the Carolina Dynamos of the D-3 League, which Luna described as being "like Class AA in baseball." He also played for a respected semi-pro team in Bergen County, called Capa Real, based out of Wyckoff, which competes in the New Jersey Champions League.
But throughout his playing days, Luna always felt like he wanted to explore the possibility of coaching.
"Coaching was something I always had a love for and always wanted to do," Luna said. "I knew that I was already a good player. I just wanted to see if I could coach as well."
So Luna first jumped into coaching, working with the goalkeepers at his college alma mater. He then became an assistant coach at Montclair High School, working there for two years with Jack Weber, one of the most respected high school soccer coaches in New Jersey.
"I worked with the keepers at Montclair High and it was great," Luna said. "I learned a lot there. It was a great experience."
But Luna always kept his eye on his high school alma mater, especially after his mentor, Cruitt, resigned from the position of head soccer coach two years ago to take a job at a private school on Staten Island.
"I watched Hudson Catholic last year and they weren't playing with pride," Luna said. "They were just playing and that bothered me. I knew that I wanted to come back and coach them. When I was in high school, we were able to pave the road so others could have success. I wanted to be able to turn things around and make the program proud again."
So when Tom Burns was not rehired as the head soccer coach, Luna was able to step forward and take over the position as head coach at his alma mater. He may be only 25 years old and not far removed from his high school playing days, but Luna is ready for the challenge of being a high school soccer coach - building his alma mater's program the way that his former mentor Cruitt sculpted it for ages.
"I want to be able to teach the game more," Luna said. "I enjoy being with these kids. There's already chemistry. They know what I've been through and they know I have what it takes, so if they do as I say, then maybe they have a chance and perhaps even get to the next level."
Luna was asked if he plans to be a defensive-minded coach, considering his roots as a goal stopper.
"I think we're going to be a possession type of team, meaning if you possess the ball and keep it longer and look to score as often as possible, then you have a better chance of winning," Luna said. "I'm going to encourage our kids to shoot. I will never yell at a kid for shooting the ball. I live by that."
Luna said that the Hawks seem invigorated by his arrival.
"I think we're all very excited," Luna said. "We have a great bunch of kids. I look forward to getting it going. We have a coaching staff that is working around the clock to get things ready."
Needless to say, you can come home again. Alex Luna is proof.
"It's a very proud homecoming," Luna said. "The second they told me I had the job, I reached out to call my man Cruitt. It's an honor for me to follow in the footsteps of a man that I love and respect. I went to him and wanted his blessing. He told me he was proud of me and was willing to help me with anything I needed. He knows one of his own is there now. And it's my goal to bring back the pride and the championships that he won."