The best all-around track and field athlete to come out of Dickinson High School in more than 30 years almost never had a chance to display his immense talents.
When Jose Veras entered Dickinson three years ago, he had no idea what track and field was. He thought about running when he was a student at Jersey City’s P.S. 5 once, but that feeling was fleeting.
“I pulled a muscle and that was it,” Veras said. “I figured that I couldn’t do it.”
So when Veras first attended classes at Dickinson, he was a basketball player.
“I always played basketball and played all the time,” Veras said. “That was my strength. I didn’t think much about running.”
But Veras had a cousin who was part of the track program at Dickinson.
“My cousin told me that I should run track,” Veras said.
So Veras joined. His cousin soon quit. Veras remained. The rest is history.
When Veras joined the track team, head coach Leo Laboy didn’t know what events to place Veras in.
“I put him in the two-mile run, figuring it would be a good place for him to start,” Laboy said. “Well, he goes and wins the event, running it in like 10 minutes, maybe a little over. It was the first time ever that Jose ran the two-mile and he won. From that point, my assistant coach [John Kennedy] and I both said, ‘Wow, we have something special here.’ ”
Laboy took his time finding Veras’ niche on the track. As it turned out, he excelled in practically everything.
“He’s an athlete of all talents,” Laboy said. “He can do it all. He’s just a natural. It’s the first time he’s been involved in an organized sport and he just wants to do a little bit of everything. He’s really a pure athlete and it’s nice to have a pure talent like this. We’ve had a bunch of other kids who were hard workers and achieved through hard work. This kid just does it. There isn’t a single thing that he cannot do.”
Sure looks that way.
Take, for instance, the week that Veras has enjoyed, competing in both the Jersey City championships and the Bergen County Seat Invitational at Mahwah High School.
At the Jersey City championships, Veras won gold medals in the 100-meter hurdles, the 400-meter hurdles and the high jump, helping the Rams to the overall team title, easily outdistancing runner-up St. Peter’s Prep by more than 60 points. Veras also took second in the long jump in the Jersey City meet.
A few days later at Mahwah, Veras won the high jump with a leap of 6-4, won the 400-meter hurdles in 55.7 seconds, one of the top three fastest recorded times in the state this year in the event, won the 100-meter hurdles and entered the 800-meter run on a whim – and won that as well. Veras’ 40-point performance enabled the Rams to capture the team title at the County Seat meet as well.
If you’re keeping score, it means that Veras captured seven gold medals and a silver medal at two track meets in a span of five days.
That’s a pretty hefty collection of hardware by one young man in one week’s time.
For his efforts, Veras has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Laboy is not surprised by Veras’ incredible performances at all.
“We actually kind of expected it,” Laboy said. “We’re not surprised at all. We kind of knew that we had something truly special with him. And he’s only a junior. He’s going to get better. He’s very passionate about the sport and doesn’t even think about losing.”
Veras said that it didn’t take him long to become obsessed with track and field.
“When I started running, I liked it right away,” Veras said. “I wanted to try everything. I started jumping right away, so the hurdles were first. I then worked on the high jump and did pretty well there. It just went from there. I didn’t think I was doing that much.”
Veras pays no attention of competing in so many events.
“I like doing every event, because I really don’t like sitting around doing nothing,” Veras said. “I don’t like watching everyone else run. I’d rather be running in every race. If Coach [Laboy] puts me in a race, I’ll go out there.”
Veras’ time of 55.7 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles puts him within two seconds of the county record, set by Jose Lopez of Memorial in 1991, when Lopez was timed at 53.96 for the event. The mark is within reach – and this is by a kid who has only competed in the event for two years.
“I never thought I would be this good,” Veras said. “I felt like I was just a beginner, being that it’s only my second year. I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just thought I was going to run for fun. But now, so many people recognize me. Now that I know I can do this, I’m going to get better. I want to get that record. I want to have the best time. Now, I take this seriously. It’s just amazing.”
“He’s a very nice kid who has a good relationship with everyone,” Laboy said. “Win or lose, he’s still smiling, still happy. He always wants to do well for the team. He wants the team to win more than he wants to win. He has natural God-given talent and he’s making the most of it. It’s been very impressive.”
And the scary thought is: It’s just the beginning. Jose Veras could very well be on the brink of excellence of historic proportions. Not bad for someone who didn’t even know what track and field was two years ago. – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.