While last year was certainly a season to remember for the Linden High School football program, this year has not gotten off to a good start in terms of performance and clean play.
Less than 12 months after the Tigers captured only their second state championship in the playoff era and first in 29 years, Linden made national news and not in a positive way.
In the team’s Sept. 11 season-opener at home vs. Immaculata, a Linden football player ripped the helmet off an opponent and struck him in the head with it during the course of a play.
It was No. 1 for Linden – on defense – doing it to No. 73 for Immaculata – a player on offense at the time. Linden was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but the player was not ejected from the game.
A video of the play – in which you clearly see the numbers of both players – was shared widely on the internet.
The initial punishment for the Linden player was a two-game suspension.
On Sept. 16 it was further reported – through a Linden Board of Education press release – that the player was dismissed from the team.
Attempts were made to reach first-year head coach Albert Chiola to ask – among many things – what steps are being made to prevent this ugly incident from happening again? Messages were left, but not returned yet.
In the first press release that was issued before Sept. 16, Linden Superintendent Danny Robertozzi said, “an investigation by administration is taking place and disciplinary consequences will be issued accordingly. Due to student confidentiality, no further comments will be released.
“The Linden Public School District is taking this very seriously and by no means is this incident a reflection of our school community or athletic teams.”
A second press release was issued Sept. 16, expanding on the fact that Linden officials are, “extremely disheartened by the incident.”
The release quoted the Board of Education by saying that it was, “appalled by the conduct of the student athlete, that his action on the field is contrary to the type of sportsmanship Linden requires from its student-athletes and that the Board is pursuing the severest disciplinary measures permitted under law and has removed this student from the football team.”
On the website pix11.com/2015, the Linden student has been identified as 18-year-old senior Fritz Moncion. A facebook picture of Moncion also appears with the story on the website.
The website nj.com reported that the Immaculata player required 10 stitches after the game when he was taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital from the game.
It also reported that lmmaculata Athletic Director Tom Gambino said the player is doing fine and that he said Linden Athletic Director Steven Yesinko and Chiola have been very cooperative and apologetic and their first concern was how the Immaculata player was doing.
The Linden police department is reviewing the incident and has been quoted saying that, “if criminal charges are filed, more details will be released.”
A Pennsylvania player was charged with assault in a helmet swinging incident that took place two years ago.
Linden, which lost to Immaculata 26-6 in Mid-State 38 Conference-Watchung Division play at Cooper Field, will next play at Plainfield this Saturday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. at Hub Stine Field.
Plainfield is 1-0 for the first time in 10 years. Last Saturday the Cardinals won at Scotch Plains 27-21 in Watchung Division play, winning their first season-opener since a 28-0 home victory over Linden in 2005.
Linden was hit extremely hard by graduation, including its top four players from a year ago – Juwan Dolbrice, Kyle Phipps, Tymir Hinton and Khalil Burns. The Tigers went 10-2 last year, won the Watchung Division at 7-0 and then captured North 2, Group 5 for the first time.
Linden has only two returning starters – the same players on offense and defense – and Moncion was not one of them.
The returning starters are seniors Guirvenson Guillaume and Samad Starling.
The last time Plainfield defeated Linden was Oct. 17, 2008 at Linden, a 34-21 triumph. Linden has won the last six meetings, beginning in 2009.
The last time Plainfield defeated Linden at home was Oct. 20, 2007, a 23-20 Cardinals victory.