If there has been one consistent trait about the Secaucus High School football program over the years, it’s been the Patriots’ ability to produce solid go-to running backs.
There has been a litany of talented backs, all standout Hudson Reporter All-Area honorees, going back to the days of Eric Otlowski, Vinnie Sasso, and Sean Cannon, straight through John Tapia and Tommy Warth. The best of the bunch was David Tejada, who set all kinds of school, county and state records for rushing and scoring. The trend continued in recent years with Joey Impreveduto and Eddie Delgado.
That’s not just one or two great runners. That’s a history and tradition, a standard of excellence.
When Nick Schaffer was growing up in Secaucus, he watched a lot of those players carry the load for the Patriots. His older brother, Niel, was also a fine running back and even better linebacker on the same Patriot teams that featured Tejada, who had an astounding 2,800 total yards rushing and receiving and collected a Hudson County record 40 touchdowns in his final season of 2004 – a record that still stands.
“I looked up to my brother a lot,” Nick Schaffer said. “When I used to watch him play, I couldn’t wait until I got my chance to play high school football. I would go to the games and get a feel of what it was going to be like for me.”
“He was always around when his brother was here,” veteran Secaucus head coach Charlie Voorhees said. “He was on the sidelines with us many times when he was a kid. For us, the greatest compliment to hear is when a kid is called a product of the program. Well, there’s no doubt that’s exactly what Nick Schaffer is.”
So as he entered his senior year at Secaucus, Nick Schaffer had to make sure that he carried on in the legacy and tradition of the standout Patriot running backs who played before him.
“I didn’t look at it as pressure, but I knew it was going to be my role this year,” Schaffer said. “I wasn’t worried about anything. I expected myself to play well. I knew eventually I would get my chance. It would be my time. I just had to wait it out and I knew it would come.”
So when Impreveduto graduated in 2010 and Delgado last June, it was Schaffer’s turn to become the Patriots’ main man. Obviously, he was ready.
“Throughout the summer, I was lifting and running, getting ready,” Schaffer said. “I was physically prepared and I was mentally prepared. I didn’t come into the season worry about getting the ball. I knew I was going to run the ball.”
“Whoever we call upon to run the ball for us has an obligation,” Voorhees said. “Nick understood that. He’s a determined young man. It’s a good word for him. He’s determined. He puts his heart out there ahead of him and just does what is expected of him.”
The Patriots won their first three games of the season with Schaffer leading the way. In the third week of the season against Becton Regional, Schaffer had 223 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-7 win.
But last week, the Patriots were facing Lyndhurst, a team with high expectations and a similar 3-0 record.
“I definitely knew it was a big game and I knew Lyndhurst was going to be a tough team,” Schaffer said. “I wasn’t sure how well it was going to turn out. It was a game that was going to determine our league [the New Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Meadowlands A Division], so I had to be ready.”
Schaffer did even better last week against the tougher opponent, rushing for 245 yards on 25 carries and scoring four more touchdowns, leading the Patriots to a huge 38-14 win. Schaffer also contributed defensively from his linebacker slot, where he has been a starter for the last three seasons, collecting eight tackles and an interception.
For his efforts, Schaffer has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Schaffer liked the idea of being considered with the other great Patriot backs.
“It’s definitely an honor to be listed with them,” Schaffer said. “To be considered at that level is amazing. I really don’t pay attention to my statistics, but when I hear them, it’s definitely exciting. It is a little bit of a surprise to do that well. I’ve been playing with these guys since Pee-Wee football and we all keep doing the same thing.”
Voorhees gives credit to Schaffer’s patience.
“All you’re seeing is Nick maturing to a different level,” Voorhees said. “I hate to say that we take things for granted, but we really expected him to perform well this season. I try not to compare Nick with anyone else, but he’s as good as any of the others we’ve had. I don’t even think Nick realizes what he’s done. He just goes about doing it and worries about the next game.”
Voorhees feels Schaffer is a positive role model.
“Other kids on the team watch Nick do his job and they feed off what he’s doing,” Voorhees said. “Nick just finds a way to get things done. He fits right into the Secaucus way of doing things.”
Added Voorhees, “Last year, he was a good player on a good team. This year, he had to become more of a leader. He’s saying, ‘Watch me do this,’ and the others follow along. His leadership and maturity have put him into a different level. We’ve had a lot of good players over the years. He belongs right there. He’s in the paragraph and now he’s moving into the sentence.”
Schaffer doesn’t know what the future holds, but he does have two immediate goals.
“I want to play college football,” Schaffer said. “I’ve been looking around, but nothing is set yet. I think the way I’ve played the last few weeks can definitely help.”
The second goal is also tangible.
“I was on the field at the old Giants Stadium [in 2009] when we played for the state championship [against Cedar Grove],” Schaffer said. “I hope we can get there again. I got a little feel for it and I definitely want to be there again.”
As long as Nick Schaffer keeps leading the way, anything is possible. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.