ATHLETE OF THE WEEK 10-03-2010 Union City super sub handles go-to roleSoaring Eagles’ Le fills in admirably for injured teammate

Steve Le didn’t want to ruffle feathers at his new school. He just wanted to fit in at Union City High School, after moving to Union City to live with a relative. He was familiar with the football coaching staff at Union City, considering that head coach Wilbur Valdez and his assistants, who coached Le at Ferris, had also moved to Union City.
That was Le’s lone level of comfort in his new surroundings.
“I really thought it was better for me,” Le said. “Leaving Ferris was hard and leaving my teammates was tough, but it was the right thing for me, even though I knew it was going to be tough to fit in.”
Le, a junior running back, walked into a tough situation, a team featuring a veteran, returning backfield, including Dominic Montanez, the Soaring Eagles’ senior standout running back, who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last season.
“I knew that I had to work hard every day to get a chance to play,” said Le, whose parents are of Vietnamese and African-American descent. “I knew Dominic was fast and quick. I knew he was a hard runner. I figured that I would back him up and maybe play a little with him.”
“Steve had played a little bit of defense, but he’s a football junkie,” Valdez said of Le. “He wanted to play and worked hard every day to get a chance to play. He wanted to get better. He’s the type of kid I love to coach, because he’s there every day and he’s very eager to work.”
Two weeks ago, the Soaring Eagles were facing West Orange when disaster struck. Ace running back Montanez suffered a groin pull that knocked him out of action for an extended period of time.
Valdez then had to turn to his old reliable Le.
“We were losing our go-to guy,” Valdez said. “I knew Steve didn’t play much and that it wasn’t his role, but he was eager to get out there. Dom’s injury happened all of a sudden. We didn’t know when he was coming back. We had to turn to Steve. I knew he could do it. We had to change our game plans and formations a little, but I figured Steve could handle it.”
Le was ready for the challenge.
“It was a big chance for me,” Le said. “I knew that I was taking Dominic’s spot because of his injury. But I was going to make the most of it. I knew that I could do it.”
Valdez said that Union City running backs coach Ravon Anderson, who was a standout back during his days at Hoboken High and later Rutgers, recommended that Le get the first crack to replace Montanez.
“Coach Ravon has always had faith in me,” Le said. “He’s the one who came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to get the ball.’ I had to be ready to run the ball and get the yards.”
Montanez’ injury also came at an unfortunate time for the Soaring Eagles, who lost their first two games to Montclair and West Orange and needed a win last week against Kearny to keep their season going.
“We were desperate for a win,” Valdez said. “We had to be aggressive and take care of things from the beginning. So we needed a big effort from everyone, including Steve.”
Le was not about to disappoint anyone. The 5-11, 170-pound junior made the most of his chance to play, carrying the ball seven times for 156 yards and a touchdown, leading Union City to a 54-0 victory over Kearny, keeping the Soaring Eagles’ season alive in the process.
For his efforts, Le has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Valdez was pleased with Le’s breakthrough performance.
“I tell all the kids that you always have to be ready to play, that you never know when you’re going to get your chance,” Valdez said. “I tell them that they all have great ability, but sometimes, you just may get the chance to be the go-to guy. It was Steve’s turn to be a special player and he did it. He’s definitely paid his dues. He gives you everything he has every single day. He’s a tough, physical kid who is willing to sacrifice his body to make a play. We wanted to get him more chances to carry the ball. We always like to develop as many running backs as possible. I think a performance like this will be a tremendous confidence booster.”
Le knows that he’s only keeping the seat warm for Montanez until he returns.
“I know that it’s Dom’s position, but when he gets back, I’ll play with him,” Le said. “If we have both of us in the backfield, no one can stop us. I’m actually going to try to keep the position. I’m a junior. I’m still going out there with a lot to prove. This is only one game.”
Valdez made sure he pointed that fact out to Le.
“I brought him into the office Monday and told him that success brings two things,” Valdez said. “It brings you a reputation and it brings you confidence that you can do it again. I told him that people were going to be looking out for him now. I also told him that he can’t rest on this; that he has to keep working hard. If he can build off this and become great, then that’s fine. But Steve does buy into what we preach and it’s great to see that manifest.”
Le is certain that his outing was not a one-shot deal.
“I can go out there and continue to do some big things,” Le said. “This was really important for me. I’ve proven I can do it.” – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached at

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