It’s become part of the fabric, a slice of the tradition that is Hoboken High School football.
Plain and simple, if you aspire to be a Redwing (one word), then you better be ready to play football from August to December.
There are no shortcuts, no easy ways. The season begins with preseason practices in the swelter of August, much like last week, and is expected to end during the first week of December, namely the NJSIAA state championship weekend.
Some 10 times overall and three times in the last four years, Hoboken has captured a state football championship, the last ones coming in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I bracket.
“The precedent was set before me,” said veteran head coach Lou Taglieri, the mastermind of the last four state titles earned in the Mile Square City. “It was always Eddie’s thing and I coached 12 years under him.”
The “Eddie” that Taglieri is referring to is the now-retired Ed Stinson, who won six state crowns during his reign of terror in Hoboken, including two gaudy win streaks of 38 and 29 straight. Success like that will never be seen in Hudson County football ever again, especially not now with the new alignment called the Super Football Conference, a conglomerate that spreads to 113 teams.
“When Eddie was the coach, it was just expected to be,” said Taglieri, who has been the head coach at his alma mater now since 2005. “You expected to play in December. It’s the program. It’s the same thing every year. It’s in you. It’s expected of you.”
Taglieri said that the level of talent may not be the same since the days of Terrell Dortch, Keeon Walker and Rashard Casey, all three of whom went on to play major college football – Dortch at Michigan State, Walker at Syracuse (before returning home and now serving as the defensive coordinator with the Redwings) and Casey at Penn State – but it’s pretty darn good and good enough to contend yet again for a state sectional championship parade and banner.
“The quality of talent may have dropped off a little since then,” Taglieri said of the early-to-mid 1990s, “But all we need to do is stay close, get on a little roll when it matters and we’ll be alright. If we can somehow manage to find that magic.”
Leading the way for the Redwings is senior Wilden Germain (5-10, 185), who had an absolutely brilliant end to the 2015 season, leading the Redwings to a 9-3 record and to the state crown. The speedy Germain rushed for 880 yards and scored 16 touchdowns while threw for 700 yards and six touchdowns more, earning the Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player honor.
“You couldn’t dream of a better way to finish the season,” Taglieri said of Germain. “As he goes this year, so will the team.”
Germain is being actively recruited to play quarterback at the United States Military Academy at West Point and has the grades to back that up. Germain has also been recruited by Monmouth, Maine and Buffalo, but that is only as a defensive back.
“He’s going to be on the field as much as possible for us,” Taglieri said. “He’s not coming off the field, defensively, punt returns, kickoff returns. We can’t keep him off the field.”
The Redwings put in a spread offense just to capitalize on Germain’s abilities.
The lone running back this year will be senior Tariq Felton (5-10, 190), who saw limited action last year behind All-World running back Marquis Roberts. With Roberts having graduated, the responsibilities in the Redwing backfield fall all on Felton’s shoulders, although junior Derrance Moore (5-10, 180) will see time.
“Felton can run,” Taglieri said. “This kid can get the yards.”
The wide receivers are seniors Rajuan Herron (5-11, 175) and Noah Mercado (6-0, 180), the younger brother of former Redwing quarterback Elijah Mercado. The slot backs are seniors Kareem Torres (5-8, 170) and Lonnie Woodard (5-11, 175), but watch out for fabulous freshman Nyshon Freeman (5-11, 180), who has a ton of promise and will see his share of playing time later in the season.
“He can absolutely fly,” Taglieri said of Freeman.
The H-back is senior Ricky Colon (6-2, 220), who will definitely play college football somewhere next fall. Colon has also shown the propensity to come up with a clutch reception, so don’t be surprised if Germain looks his way.
The offensive line is absolutely gargantuan, easily the biggest in Hoboken history. It is also experienced, with all five seniors having seen considerable playing time a year ago.
Micah Smith (6-2, 270) and Robert Booker (6-1, 305) are the tackles, with Keith Boyd (6-2, 315) and Eddie Wilson (6-2, 310) at guard and Jesus Medina (6-0, 285) at center.
“All five played in the state championship game last year,” Taglieri said.
Defensively, the Redwings feature Colon and Smith at defensive end and Boyd and Wilson at defensive tackle. Colon and Wilson are two of the very best defenders in the county.
Moore and junior Kevin Winston (6-0, 205) are the inside linebackers. Felton and Torres are the outside linebackers. Felton started at inside linebacker last year.
The cornerbacks are Herron, Woodard and Freeman, with Germain the lone safety.
The Redwings open the season against Verona on Friday, Sept. 9. Verona, who owns the incredible nickname of Hillbillies, also owns a 26-game winning streak and won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group I state title, so it’s a matchup between the two state sectional winners.
The Redwings also face a schedule that includes Cedar Grove, Shabazz, Weequahic, and Lincoln, another state sectional finalist.
“It’s a change, but I like it,” Taglieri said.
And as for his team?
“I like them,” Taglieri said. “They like each other. They like being here. They come early and leave late. They keep me coming and keep me young.”