Jersey Journal: Union City High football team is thinking big, aiming for state title

Union City High School football coach Wilber Valdez instructs his team with drills. August 8, 2013. Ashlee Espinal/The Jersey Journal.

By Michael Wright/The Jersey Journal*
on August 10, 2013

Hanging behind Wilber Valdez’s desk at Union City High School are T-shirts representing the schools he has sent former players.

In the coming years, the fourth-year head coach is sure to have plenty more T-shirts to add to his collection, as the Soaring Eagles roster boasts a handful of players who are getting attention from Division I schools.

“We’ve had a few guys in the past, but having two or three D-I prospects on a roster is definitely a first,” said Valdez. “While it’s definitely a great thing for the players and the program, it also adds a little bit of pressure, because when you have this kind of talent, you have to be able to come out and compete with anyone.”

Headlining that batch of Division I hopefuls is offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez. At 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, the rising junior is listed as the nation’s 81st overall junior prospect and fifth-rated offensive guard in his class by ESPN.

With only two seasons of high school football under his belt, Gonzalez already has scholarship offers from Rutgers, Louisville, South Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia and Boston College, among others.

“It’s been like a roller coaster ride so far, but I’m very excited,” said Gonzalez. “It feels great to bring attention to the school, and it shows people that we’re serious about football here.”

Along with Gonzalez, fellow junior Daiquan Kelly is also getting looks from major college programs. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound wide receiver/safety has already received scholarship offers from Rutgers, Virginia and Massachusetts.

Rounding out the list of Soaring Eagles to receive offers is senior offensive lineman David Allen, who is being recruited by Fordham and Monmouth, both of the Football Championship Subdivision (DI-AA).

After 40 different colleges stopped by Union City in May to evaluate talent, junior linebacker Tamaine Boyd, junior defensive end Alvaro Pittar, and junior wide receiver/safety Jonathan Castellano — who Valdez describes as his “pound for pound best player” — have also drawn interest from colleges.

“It makes me happy to see my teammates getting a lot of attention,” said Gonzalez. “I’m excited for us, but we can’t let it get to our heads and we have to keep working hard every day.”

While Valdez takes pride in the recruitment of several of his top players, the former Ferris coach knows an even bigger task is at hand. Each of the past three seasons, Union City has advanced to the state sectional semifinals, only to fall one game short of reaching the state championship game.

The Soaring Eagles fell to Bloomfield in last year’s NJSIAA North 1, Group 5 semifinals, after losing to North Bergen and Montclair in the North 1, Group 4 semifinals in 2011 and 2010, respectively.

Despite the disappointment of coming up just short, with seven sophomores starting on both offense and defense, the Soaring Eagles (7-3) exceeded expectations in 2012.

“Because we had so much youth on the field, we were almost like a J.V. team last season, so it was sort of an unexpected run,” said Valdez.

This time around, the Soaring Eagles’ only goal is to bring home a state championship. With plenty of returning talent — including Rodriguez, Kelly and Allen — Valdez knows the time is now for Union City, which opens the season Sept. 6 at home against Shabazz.

“We’re going in the right direction, but we’re just looking to finally get over that hump,” Valdez said. “We don’t just want to make it to the semifinals again and we don’t just want to make it to the championship.

“We’re all thinking big and we want to win a state title.”

*This article was published at as a courtesy from The Jersey Journal


~ by Rafael Martel on August 10, 2013.

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