North Bergen High School sophomore Peter Ramanand has heard it all about his unique last name.
“People ask me all the time if I’m Indian,” Ramanand said. “I’m actually Dominican and Jamaican.”
His football coach, Vince Ascolese, constantly kids with Ramanand about his name.
“I ask him if he’s some religious holiday,” Ascolese said.
Well, that would be Ramadan, coach. It’s close, but no cigar.
“He always says that to me and I just laugh,” Ramanand said.
What Ramanand truly is right now is the starting quarterback for the Bruins, being thrust into that prestigious position at such an early age.
It’s very rare for Ascolese to put a sophomore in as his starting quarterback. How rare?
“I don’t remember ever having one here at North Bergen,” said Ascolese, the granddaddy of all Hudson County coaches who has been at North Bergen since 1973. “I think the last sophomore I started was back in the Hoboken days.”
Ascolese, who has been a head coach for 42 years, began his career at Hoboken in the 1960s before moving to North Bergen in 1973.
Needless to say, it’s been almost forever since Ascolese gave that kind of responsibility to such a young quarterback.
Ascolese noticed that Ramanand had the makings to be a solid quarterback when the Bruins were working on 7-on-7 clinics during the summer months.
“He showed some success right away that he could throw the football,” Ascolese said. “He had poise and he could move. I might have been worried a little about his mechanics, but that could be worked with. He just kept showing improvement in the scrimmages.”
But Ramanand was not the starting quarterback to begin the season. That role went to a senior. Ramanand was put at wide receiver.
“I knew he was the senior and I couldn’t expect anything,” Ramanand said. “I expected him to start. I just wanted to play, be on the field. It didn’t matter where. I just wanted to get in the game and get on the field.”
But by the end of the Bruins’ first game against Montclair, Ramanand got his chance to play some at quarterback and he threw a touchdown pass in his first chance.
At that time, the senior who was starting left the team. It was up to Ramanand to carry the torch and instantly become the team’s leader.
“We had a young team and we were going with the younger quarterback,” Ascolese said. “It’s as simple as that. Peter is a good athlete and we knew he could run with the football. He can do a lot of things. He’s quick and that’s probably one of his best qualities.”
There’s only one problem with playing a young quarterback. You don’t always get success.
The Bruins started off the season in completely uncharacteristic fashion, losing their first four games. It was the first time since Ascolese’s early days that he lost four straight to start a campaign.
“It was very tough,” Ascolese said. “We had kids who were coming every day, kids who wanted to win and wanted to work hard. It was very important to keep everyone together.”
Ramanand knew that the pressure was mounting on him.
“I knew we had a very young team, but we weren’t expected to lose,” Ramanand said. “I think here in North Bergen, we’re always expecting to win. The losses were very tough. I just wanted to win.”
The fourth straight loss was to Memorial, a setback that could have really broken the spirits of the Bruins.
“We knew that we could get it done,” Ascolese said. “We have good senior leadership that can pick everyone up.”
And they now had an energetic quarterback, one who is full of life and energy, who could make plays.
“He is always laughing and has a great personality,” Ascolese said. “Plus, I think he has a lot of ability and can only get better. I keep telling him that he could be a very good football player. He just laughs.”
When the Bruins faced Dickinson last Saturday, Ramanand was determined not to allow his team to suffer yet another setback.
“There was no way that we were going to lose another game,” Ramanand said. “No way. It wasn’t going to happen. I wanted to get my first win as a varsity quarterback.”
So Ramanand made sure that there was not going to be any losing this time around. He completed five passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns, two to favorite target John Stark and one to Maurice Dudley, and for good measure, Ramanand returned two punts for touchdowns, one for 61 yards and the other for 53 yards, leading the Bruins to an easy 47-6 victory, the team’s first win of the season.
For his efforts, Ramanand has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“I think there was a lot of pressure on me to come through, considering that I’m so young and that we needed the win badly,” Ramanand said. “I needed to put the team on my shoulders and carry us to the win.”
Not only is it rare for a North Bergen sophomore to be the starting quarterback, but it’s also unique to have the signal caller returning punts.
“But he has great vision when he’s running the ball,” Ascolese said. “He’s just a natural back there. And as he gets better throwing the ball, he’s going to make our passing game get better.”
There haven’t been many North Bergen quarterbacks who had the equal ability to run and pass. Eddie Duran, who went from North Bergen to Boston College in the mid-1980s, immediately comes to mind. So does former Reporter Male Athlete of the Year Evan Rodriguez, who is now with the football program at Temple University.
Although Ramanand doesn’t have the physical makeup of Duran or Rodriguez, he definitely has the uncanny knack of being a diversified player.
“I never thought I could be in the same class with Evan,” Ramanand said. “It’s a good feeling and a great compliment. I’m just happy to be compared with him. Coach A always tells me that I can be a really good player and that makes me very happy when he tells me that. I like the challenge. It’s exciting.”
Ascolese is hopeful that Ramanand, who also plays basketball at the school, will become a diligent worker in the weight room, so he can build on his 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame.
“He’s never lifted weights before,” Ascolese said. “I’m trying to convince him that he needs to work a little. If he does what he has to do, he can be very good. It’s really refreshing to see.”
Ramanand knows that the best still lies ahead.
“Now that I know I can do it, I’m going to go into the next game more confident,” Ramanand said. “I know I need to lift and get bigger. I think I can have both skills, playing both sports. I like both sports a lot. I just need to work harder.”
And there’s one other thing about being a winning quarterback after having a huge game. People now know who Peter Ramanand is, more than just a kid with a funny last name.
“They’ll know my name and know I’m not like a holiday,” Ramanand said. – Jim Hague