Multi-talented multi-sport athletes abound in North Hunterdon football
When the North Hunterdon football team take to the pitch at Morris Knolls for Saturday’s opener, many other Lions teams will be alongside them.
Baseball, Lacrosse, Wrestling, Basketball, Track & Field and more.
“I would say over 80 per cent of our team, at least 50 of the 65 kids, play another sport,” said North Hunterdon head coach Kevin Kley. “Especially in today’s world, every coach in every sport wants his kids all the time. We believe in being reasonable in off-season training. If a wrestler is in a big tournament and can’t make it to soccer practice, we take care of it as best we can for everyone. We believe that if kids play multiple sports they have more fun and it’s better for the community as a whole.
Senior Lion Ryan Drwal is a good example because he is a multi-sport athlete in his sport. In football, he plays wide receiver, defensive back, kicker and kicker. In athletics, he is a sprinter and javelin thrower, making the Meet of Champions as a junior in the 400m relay and javelin.
“I think because a lot of us grew up in very rural areas, like I did in Pittstown, it was natural to be outdoors and play all the sports,” Drwal said. “You had a friend who played baseball, so you played baseball to see how it was. Then I followed the baseball trail. We’re all encouraged to be good at more than one sport, and (classmate Hunter) Paulter plays three, basketball, soccer, and track and field.
Drwal also nodded to the future as a reason to do more sports.
“Colleges really want to see a long resume and they love multi-sport athletes,” he said.
For North Hunterdon’s coaching staff, a multi-sport approach comes naturally. Kley is the freshman basketball coach and two of his assistants are assistant track coaches, Blair Maginnis (sprints) and Anthony Petraglia (throwing).
“We look at kids who can make a free throw when there are 500 people in a gymnasium, or win a big wrestling match, as showing performance under pressure, inner resilience. We know that when they are with us during the football season, they are dedicated to us. And when they’re not with us, it’s not like they’re sitting still. Paulter, he participates in 20-25 games. Alex Uryniak and Danny DeLusant, they play 25 or 35 games.
Kley also sees an intangible gain.
“When our children play other sports, they help create rivalries,” he said. “And what’s overlooked with multi-talented athletes is that they make friends who aren’t on the football team, and those kids come to our matches. All the wrestlers come to support their friends This is one of the reasons we have such great student support at our games.
There are several avenues for athletes to find sport. Drwal’s brother, John-Erik, threw the javelin, and he had Maginnis, who encouraged his interest in sprinting, for the history lesson.
“I was a thrower, so I figured I could throw the javelin,” said Drwal, who was the third-team javelin pick for the 2021 lehighvalleylive.com Men’s Track and Field Team.
Drwal also said that different sports have different accents which can spill over.
“It’s nice to have a sport for individual athletes, to compete for themselves, like track and field, but to compete for a team,” Drwal said. “Like when you run on a relay and do what you do as a team. (Lions Athletics Head Coach Tom) Higgins said at the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex meet that he had never seen an athletics team come together and compete as a team (North won the tag team title) as we did.
Immediately, what all multi-sport athletes give Kley and football is tremendous athleticism. Drwal said Paulter’s basketball efforts make him a dangerous receiver in the back of the end zone. If you’ve seen Uryniak’s eyes focus on a wrestling foe, it’s not hard to see him as the Lions’ leading tackler and elite linebacker. Or watch Drwal or junior running back Kente Edwads wrestle away from tacklers as they tear up the curves on the track.
Then add a veteran, tested line, and a promising new quarterback in junior Luke Martini, and it’s clear the Lions should be in a position to significantly improve on last year’s 2-5 record.
“We have a ton of talent,” said Drwal, who is one of five captains, along with classmates Winston Hess, Tom Markovich, John Sauchelli and Nick Glucksman. “But what’s important is that we look the most like a brotherhood of any team I’ve ever seen in North Hunterdon. All of us, whatever position we play, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, we have a camaraderie that we didn’t have last year. To win at football, you cannot belittle yourself. We have to rebuild ourselves when we are down.
Why North Hunterdon fans should be excited
Start with a very strong group of offensive linemen in Hess, Markovich, Jack Del Ciello, Jeff Hedden and Chris Schenkel, all seniors, all returning starters. They could be North’s biggest advantage all season and could really help their offense run smoothly and productively.
This line will block an array of ball carriers – leading running back Glucksman (72 carries, 372 yards, 2 TDs); Uryniak (47, 242, 4 TDs); Edwards and others. “We could have a three-headed comeback with Nick, Alex and Kente. You might think Alex being the wrestler would knock people over, but I’ve seen Kente crush people too, and Alex can too. Nick is the best of them in a pure running back sense. They are all multi-sport children. I like the idea of teams coming up against us in the fourth quarter, they get tired and we have fresh legs.
Any good spread needs receivers, and North isn’t shy either, Sauchelli is the best returnee (23 catches, 260 yards, 2 TDs) but Paulter (13, 213) and Drwal (10, 131, 1) are also the best weapons.
The Lions almost always have an excellent defensive back seven (or more) and still do. Uryniak had 76 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble as a sophomore and could be an all-state contender at linebacker. Senior Hunter Diederich is another potential star at linebacker. Behind the backers are Drwal, Glucksman, DeLusant and Edwards. Kley likes the experience, athleticism and speed of the unit.
Drwal has attended kicking camps as far away as Tennessee and West Virginia to improve his skills — and special teams can be so important in close games.
There is a real feeling of rebirth. “It’s almost like we’re building, if not from scratch,” Kley said. “It was so great to have a normal summer with a normal pre-season after the madness of last year. The excitement is so great. It’s like a fresh start.”
Moving into Group 3 could help post-season prospects (not Phillipsburg), although there is a perennial power peak to deal with at some point.
Why North Hunterdon fans should be concerned
There’s no question that Martini has the skills to be a good quarterback, and there’s no better way to make a new quarterback successful than by surrounding him with talent, like the Lions l ‘did. “Luke plays baseball, but he’s been living in our weight room all spring and summer because he wants to be our starting quarterback,” Kley said. “He did well in our scrums. His teammates appreciate and respect him. I’m excited to see what he’s doing as a junior. All of that may be true, but the quarterback’s inexperience can be a problem, and Martini threw all 11 passes last season (despite rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown). Still a lot to prove.
The Lions defensive line isn’t as tried and tested as the offensive line.
The Big Central Conference’s eight-team Division 4 could have its share of minefields, like Woodbridge and Cranford.
Quote: Coach Kevin Kley
(on his goals for the Lions)
“For me, after all is said and done, the main objective is to have an enjoyable season, a full season, for the senior class. I feel bad for them, having lost so much of last season to COVID and the spring of their second season as well. I hope they have a season to remember for a good reason, not like the part of their sophomore year that they didn’t have.
Quoteable: Sr. WR/DB/P/K Ryan Drwal
(on junior QB Luke Martini)
“Luke is one of the hardest working guys on the team. He works with coaches every day when it comes to shots. He earns our respect every day because we know he cares about the team first In a scrum the other day he threw a few interceptions, but it showed he had the confidence to throw big – he’ll let it happen.
Sr OL/DL Jack Del Ciello, Sr WR/DB/P/K Ryan Drwal, Sr RB/DB Nick Glucksman, Sr OL/DL Jeff Hedden, Sr OL/DL Winston Hess, Sr OL/DL Tom Markovich, Sr. WR Hunter Paulter, Sr. WR John Sauchelli, Sr. OL/DL Chris Schenkel, Jr. RB/DB Kente Edwards, Jr. DB Danny DeLusant, Jr. RB/LB Alex Uryniak
Sr. DB Tristan Berry, Sr. WR Ryker Chauhan, Sr. LB Hunter Diederich, Sr. DB Wyatt Lardieri, Sr. WR/DB Mike Obermair, Sr. DL Gio Ricardo, Sr. WR/DB Warren Scott. Sr QB Alex Zeszotarski
Top New Arrivals
Jr. QB Luke Martini, Jr. OL Tyler Guidetti, Jr. OL/DL Greg Rayl, Jr. H/LB Andrew Schenkel, Jr. WR/DB Derek Vaddis, Jr. H/DL Hunter Vos
North Hunterdon Basics
League: Great Central Conference Division 4
Section: North Group 3
Coach: Kevin Kley (3rd season, 8-9)
Record 2020: 2-5
Their house: Single field
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Brad Wilson can be reached at [email protected].