ATHLETE OF THE WEEK 11-13-2011 Finally, a shining moment for Union City’s EspanaSoaring Eagle running back finds some solace in big performance against Ferris

Everything was all set in place. Nick Espana was going to have a sensational year in the deep and talented Union City High School football backfield. The speedy junior was destined to be a perfect complement to fellow backs Steve Le and Roy Santiago.
“You should have seen him in the preseason,” Union City head coach Wilber Valdez said of Espana. “He was so explosive. He broke off about 10 runs of 50 yards or more. He was lights out.”
“I was expected to have a big year,” Espana said. “It’s my junior year, the most important year to get noticed. I thought I could do big things every time I touched the ball.”
However, it wasn’t meant to be. In a preseason scrimmage against Hoboken, Espana severely pulled his hamstring, an injury that certainly hobbled him and limited his speed and total effectiveness.
“I didn’t want to come out,” Espana said. “I wanted to keep playing. It was honestly the most frustrating thing of my life. I knew I couldn’t run to my full potential.”
Then, while playing on the bad hamstring, Espana injured his ankle, further curtailing his mobility.
“It was the hamstring, then the ankle,” Valdez said. “He couldn’t play at full strength, then he couldn’t play at all. He just wasn’t the same. It was really frustrating, because we had such high expectations for him and he had high expectations for himself. The injuries were something that a running back just can’t fight through, but he tried. To see it all fall apart was disheartening.”
Valdez tried to console his player. It wasn’t easy.
“It was pretty sad to see,” Valdez said. “To see a kid go through that kind of emotional roller coaster just wasn’t fair. He was upset, but it was something that was out of his control.”
Espana pushed himself through the pain. He received medical treatment on the injuries regularly.
“I went every single day to get treatment, trying to get better,” Espana said. “It helped that my teammates pushed me. They told me to focus on the positive things and that they needed me to win. That made me feel better that they needed me. But I went to get treatment every day before practice. It was like my daily schedule.”
Valdez applauded Espana’s attitude.
“You have to give the kid credit,” Valdez said. “He pushed himself so hard, gets treatment and if he feels good, he gives it a try, but gives it his best. It’s a tribute to him that he stuck with it.”
Valdez knew that he didn’t have the same kind of player that he saw in August.
“We’ve had to limit him to get him in the games,” Valdez said. “I’d say he’s around 80 percent healthy.”
Espana thinks otherwise.
“I would like to think I’m 100 percent,” Espana said. “I feel good and ready to go.”
Last Friday night, Espana felt fine and Valdez figured he could give Espana a few chances to shine.
“We saw some glimpses of what he can do,” Valdez said.
Espana rushed for 122 yards on 11 carries and scored three touchdowns, leading the Soaring Eagles to a 45-0 win over Ferris, a win that sealed the No. 2 seed in the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV playoffs and a home game this weekend against Roxbury.
For his efforts, Espana has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“It gave me positive thoughts that I was back,” Espana said. “Honestly, we haven’t played with the full backfield all year. It’s great to be able to go into the playoffs with everyone back. We’re looking to make a little history. We have a home playoff game and that’s big for us. We’re ready.”
Espana said that it was good to feel upbeat about his play once again.
“There were definitely times when it got to the point where I would never get over it,” Espana said. “I thought I wasn’t going to make it. My teammates kept telling me to keep going, not let the injuries get in my way.”
“He has a will to want to be good,” Valdez said. “He has so much invested in football. I knew he wasn’t going to give up. He never asked for any time off, but he is realistic that if he misses time in practice, he’s not going to play. He’s managed to play in a lot of games, but realistically, he’s only played half the season.”
Valdez can’t sing the young man’s praises enough.
“I’m definitely happy for him,” Valdez said. “We finally got a chance to see him get into it and run the way we saw before. He had a big 50-yard touchdown run. We got glimpses of the old Nick. I know the coaching staff is happy for him and his teammates are happy for him as he carries us into the playoffs.” – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached at

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group