It’s hard to grab the spotlight when you play football for a team that is No. 1 in the state, that is ranked among the top 20 in the country in several different polls, and has more NCAA Division I prospects on the roster than any other high school program in New Jersey.
“To be honest, I didn’t like all the talk about the rankings and such,” St. Peter’s Prep senior wide receiver Mike Lang said. “The talk was more about the rankings than it was our team. I don’t think we go on to the field thinking we should be playing like the No. 1 team in the state or the No. 14 team in the country. We just have to play like us and get the job done and not worry about all the other things.”
Lang also doesn’t worry about being on a team with talented top-flight prospects like Will Hill, Will Thompson and Ravi Pradanhang, players who are almost sure-fire locks to be All-State honorees at season’s end.
“If we’re in a tough situation, we can call upon those guys and they’re going to come through,” Lang said. “I just play my game and don’t worry about getting caught up in everything. But it’s nice to know that they have me to fall back on if they need a big play.”
Last Friday night, when the state’s premier team faced Bayonne, it was Lang’s turn to make the big play and shine among a team of stars.
Lang started off his day by returning the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. He then caught two passes from the brilliant Hill of 32 and 51 yards respectively for touchdowns, leading the Marauders to a 61-0 victory, keeping their undefeated season in tact at 7-0.
“It really was an awesome feeling,” Lang said. “It was the best varsity game of my career. I got tremendous blocking on the kickoff return. I wasn’t even touched. And the first touchdown, I told Will that it was the most perfect pass I ever had in my life. It was right on the money. He put it where it had to be. It was the most memorable night of my life, other than winning the state championship (last December).”
For his efforts, Lang has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Prep head coach Rich Hansen appreciates the diversity of talent that Lang provides for his team of highly touted players.
“I think it would be very easy for some to forget about Mike and think he flies under the radar, like he’s just another star in the constellation,” Hansen said. “But he contributes a lot for us. He’s as every bit as important as the others. His receiving numbers are very good and might even be gaudy if we weren’t winning by so much. He catches the ball and runs the routes well. He does all the intricate things and that’s difficult to teach. He makes the audibles at the line of scrimmage, depending upon the coverage.”
Added Hansen, “The one thing that he does that may get overlooked is his downfield blocking. He’s an unbelievable downfield blocker. I love to watch our films and watch him block. And he loves doing it. He likes knocking people down. To want to do that, you have to be one unselfish kid. A lot of other receivers wouldn’t buy into that. They would say just give me the ball.”
Lang is a diversified athlete who said he “played everything” as a kid growing up in Dumont in Bergen County.
“I played football and soccer in the fall, played hockey and basketball in the winter and played baseball and ran track in the spring,” Lang said. “I always just stuck with football and baseball.”
That couldn’t have been an easy decision for Lang when he arrived at Grand and Warren, considering his two older brothers, David and Brian, and his cousin, Anthony Nappi, were all Prep graduates and all were track and field athletes at the school.
In fact, Brian Lang was a standout cross-country performer at the Prep three years ago and was also named as an Athlete of the Week honoree, enabling the Lang brothers to become the only pair of brothers to ever earn Athlete of the Week honors, joining Heatcliff (1998) and Johnny Leonor (2001) of Union Hill.
“I wanted to go to the football games at St. Peter’s and once I did, I loved it,” Mike Lang said. “I was determined to join my brother at St. Peter’s. I knew I would be comfortable there. It’s where I wanted to be. Sure, my brothers were an influence on me, so that made my decision easier. I loved everything about it. My brother always tries to get me to run.”
The elder Lang is still a track standout, now competing for the University of Pennsylvania, where he is a junior majoring in economics.
Commuting from upper Bergen County to downtown Jersey City is not an easy chore for Lang.
“I get up every day about 5:45 and it takes me over an hour to get there,” Lang said. “Sometimes, it gets tough when I’m coming home at 8 p.m. I still take the train every day.”
But he’s able to juggle both football and baseball – and quite possibly, indoor track this winter. It seems like Brian Lang is finally having a major influence on his little brother.
“No, it has nothing to do with him,” Mike Lang said. “It’s my own thing. It’s just me.”
“Football is in his blood,” Hansen said. “I remember seeing tape of Mike playing football in seventh grade and he was catching balls left and right. His mother said, ‘Do you think he can play football for you? We want him to play football.’ He’s just been as dedicated as they come.”
Hansen said that he felt good that another of his standout players gets to share in the spotlight.
“I feel great for him,” Hansen said. “He works hard at what he does. He deserves to be a factor with this team and he is. Sometimes personal glory gets put aside in the pursuit of bigger things, but he’s always been a big part to us. He’s going to be a big factor down the road like he’s been while he’s been here.”
“I hope I can get more chances like this, because it means that it opens up things more for the other guys,” Lang said. “I’m already excited about this team’s chances. In fact, I honestly think we’re going back there (to the NJSIAA Parochial Group 4 title game, where the Marauders defeated Don Bosco Prep last year). We all want to do it again and we want no one else other than Bosco. I think it’s pretty cool for me to perform like this for a team like ours.”
Just another star on the horizon.
“He’s a bit of a free spirit and a little bit of a goof ball,” Hansen said. “He also marches to the beat of his own drummer. He keeps things like and keeps practices light, but he knows when he has to be serious.”
He certainly was serious last Friday night against Bayonne – and has the three touchdowns to show for it. – Jim Hague