The Union City High School football team had a brilliant campaign in 2013, posting a 9-2 record and advancing to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group V semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Montclair.
With most of the key players from last year’s team returning, the Soaring Eagles have set their sights high in 2014. They want the ring. They want to do something that has never been done in the school’s short history. The Soaring Eagles want the state championship.
“We have so many things to achieve,” said veteran head coach Wilber Valdez, entering his 11th season as a head coach and his fifth with the Soaring Eagles. “We’ve been to the state semifinals four years in a row. We’re mature and experienced. We’ve been right there and we’re hungry.”
Valdez also knows that he has a squad packed with talent, with at least four major college players on the roster – and maybe more.
“Absolutely, this is the most talented team I’ve ever coached,” Valdez said. “Even our backups could be starters anywhere else. So the backups have to wait their turn. We don’t have any question marks. We’re big, we’re strong and we’re fast. We just have to put it all together against any and all opponents. We’re pretty self motivated.”
Valdez likes the fact that he has such a talented roster.
“We have so much talent and so much athleticism,” Valdez said. “In some cases, that gets to the kids’ heads. But that’s not the case with us. We don’t have that. We don’t have kids worrying about themselves and what they’re getting for them. It’s all about us. So our expectations are very high.”
Leading the way is senior quarterback Renaldy Tavarez (6-2, 170), who started for most of last season.
Tavarez is getting some looks from smaller colleges.
“He has a bunch of schools looking,” Valdez said. “He’s a late bloomer. He has such a strong arm. He should have been our starter from the beginning last year. He just brings a different kind of leadership and talent to the field. He’s in command and runs our offense well.”
The Soaring Eagles have a stud workhorse in the backfield in senior Tamaine Boyd (5-11, 240), who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last season, rushing for 1,500-plus yards and scoring 24 touchdowns.
Boyd is getting looks from Wake Forest, the University of Buffalo and James Madison.
“He carried the load for us last year,” Valdez said. “He’s our main guy.”
Senior Nawell Rojas (5-11, 200) is the team’s halfback in the Delaware Wing-T offense. Rojas has a solid combination of speed and strength. The wingback is senior Jonathan Castellano (5-9, 180), who already has given a verbal commitment to Old Dominion.
Another solid running back is junior Raven Josiah (5-10, 180), who will get a chance to carry the ball.
“He has to get the ball, because he can fly,” Valdez said.
Senior Daiquan Kelly (6-3, 215) is another returnee from the Hudson Reporter All-Area squad at wide receiver. Kelly has already given a commitment to Syracuse, but will play defensive back on the college level. However, Kelly is a sure-handed receiver and a great big play threat on the offensive side.
Junior Steven Sanchez (6-2, 175) is another solid wide receiver.
“He has a lot of potential who does a lot of nice things,” Valdez said of Sanchez, who is also a solid basketball player.
Senior Dayber Licea (5-9, 160) is another big offensive threat.
The Soaring Eagles are using three players at tight end, namely senior Wilfredo Reyes (5-9, 200), senior Ricardo Corrado (6-2, 220) and junior Raul Fernandez (6-2, 235).
The offensive line is big, strong and extremely talented, led by senior Steven Gonzalez (6-5, 320), who is a two-time defending Hudson Reporter All-Area performer. Gonzalez will play tackle for the Soaring Eagles, but more than likely will be a guard when he goes to Penn State next fall.
Senior Ariel Veras (6-1, 300) returns at the other tackle slot. Junior Ulises De Los Santos (6-4, 270) is a guard who is drawing attention from colleges already. The other guard is senior Kevin Mejia (6-2, 260).
The center position will come down to a battle between two players, namely senior Bryan DeLeon (5-10, 240) and junior Jonathan “Bubba” Beltre (5-11, 260).
Defensively, the Soaring Eagles will feature Mejia, Boyd and junior Jeremy Torres (6-1, 230) at defensive end, with Gonzalez and Veras sharing time at nose guard and De Los Santos, Beltre and junior John Aries (5-9, 250) at defensive tackle.
Reyes is at linebacker, with senior Danny Nunez (5-10, 200), a starter last season, and junior Juan Cruz (5-10, 180).
Rojas, Josiah and Licea will all split time at cornerback, with Kelly and Castellano a deadly combination at safety.
The Soaring Eagles open their season with two major challenges, facing Seton Hall Prep on the roof of the high school called Roosevelt Stadium on Friday, Sept. 5, then taking on Montclair once again.
“We wanted that,” Valdez said. “We wanted to play good teams right away. The only way to get better is to play the better teams. We want to play the competitive teams. We have been ready for this season since last December. Not a lot has been said. The motivation is there.”
The Soaring Eagles begin the 2014 season as one of the top teams in the state and have a chance if everything breaks right to be the very best public school team in New Jersey. That should be motivation enough.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.