Anthony Calabrese knew that he had a place on the North Bergen football team as a middle linebacker. After all, Calabrese played linebacker for the Bruins last year as a sophomore, so he knew that he had a better than average chance of starting there this season.
But the 6-foot, 180-pound junior wanted more. He wanted to get a fair share of chances carrying the ball out of the Bruins’ backfield.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to start at running back, but I definitely wanted a chance,” said Calabrese, a student at High Tech High School who plays football for the Bruins. “I figured I could get a few touches here and there and when I did get my chance, I was going to do my best to make sure I’d get more chances.”
The Bruins’ backfield was crowded, with returning starter Chris Adorno returning as well as Vinny Ascolese, the grandson of the legendary Bruins head coach Vince Ascolese. Calabrese was going to have to earn his chances to carry the leather.
“I used to run the ball when I was a little kid, so I knew what it took to be a running back,” Calabrese said.
The elder Ascolese knew that Calabrese had the makings of being a quality back.
“When he played in the Pop Warner league, he was always a good running back,” Vince Ascolese said. “Anthony has very good vision, and that’s the key to what he does. He has good speed, but it’s his vision that gets the job done. He’s also a strong runner. He has good size. I thought he had the potential to be a good back. He did some nice things for us last year.”
Calabrese got a few chances here and there over the course of the Bruins’ first three games, but last week, as the Bruins faced Memorial, it was his chance to finally shine.
“I thought I would have a good game,” Calabrese said. “I didn’t know I would have a great game.”
Calabrese had the best game of his high school career. He rushed for 104 yards on just eight carries and scored touchdowns of 39 and four yards respectively, while collecting nine tackles and a sack on defense, leading the Bruins to a big 39-7 victory, evening the Bruins’ record at 2-2 in the process.
For his efforts, Calabrese has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
In true running back form, Calabrese credited his offensive line for making his job easier last Saturday.
“The line blocked well,” Calabrese said. “The holes were huge. I really didn’t have to work hard to get the yards.”
Calabrese said that he never paid attention to the yardage.
“Usually, when I’m out there playing, I don’t think of anything else other than the game,” Calabrese said. “I just run the ball and play the game.”
Ascolese said that he had no qualms using Calabrese as the featured running back.
“It’s all about the guys who produce,” Ascolese said. “I never have to worry about him. He’s a throwback kid. He does everything we ask him to do. You have to like a kid like him. I really expected him to have a good season for us. Anytime you have someone like that who is able to carry the ball, it makes your team better. We have a lot of depth in the backfield, and we haven’t had that kind of depth in what seems like forever. It’s going to help us down the road.”
Ascolese also likes Calabrese’s mental approach.
“He’s a very bright kid and a good student,” Ascolese said. “He’s a good academic kid, and that helps him as a football player. I think his confidence level is high now. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a good high school football player.”
Calabrese said that he loves watching Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans run with the football.
“He’s just exciting to watch,” Calabrese said.
So is the new North Bergen phenomenon.
“I hope that I just keep getting the ball and I don’t stop,” Calabrese said. “I think the best thing I have is heart. I just won’t stop. I keep going and going. I think a game like this has to boost my confidence. It’s a great feeling to have people who know who you are. I walk down the street and people say, ‘Hey, that’s Anthony Calabrese of North Bergen.’ I like getting recognized. It really motivates me to want to do more. I get up every morning, lift, go to school, go to practice and work hard. It motivates me to want to do better and maybe go play college football one day.”
If Calabrese keeps doing as well as he has been on both sides of the ball, then college football is definitely a tangible goal – in another year or so. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.