Three years ago, when he was a freshman at Weehawken High School, Joan (pronounced JOE-AHN) Andujar watched as Damien Corredor carried the bacon for the Indians’ football team. Corredor was the main offensive threat and ball carrier, and as a rookie, Andujar had to patiently bide his time and wait his turn as Corredor ran away with the Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year award.
Two years ago, Oliver Molano was the main man for the Indians. Again, it was more of the same. Andujar played a secondary role to Molano.
And last year, as a junior, Andujar was used primarily as a blocking back for Molano. All totaled, Andujar had a non-descript 607 yards rushing over three seasons.
As the 2015 season was ready to kick off, Weehawken head coach Zach Naszimento didn’t know who was going to step up and be the go-to guy out of the Indians’ backfield. But he was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be Andujar.
“I have to be honest and tell you that I wasn’t so sure,” Naszimento said. “I didn’t see it happening. My Dad (assistant coach Bruce Naszimento) did. He said, ‘Give Joan the chance. Let him turn the switch on.’ I just said, `We’ll see.’ I wasn’t buying it.”
But Andujar wanted the opportunity. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound bull moose was salivating at the mouth, knowing he paid his dues for three years and longed for that one chance to be a standout.
“I kind of learned a lot playing with those guys,” Andujar said. “They were great athletes and great football players. I knew then that I had to pay my dues. But personally, I didn’t know that I would get a lot of carries. I just thought I had to be a senior, keep everyone together and close. I thought maybe I’d get 10 carries or maybe 15 the most.”
Andujar had to be ready for his chance. During the offseason, he worked hard on his body, running through the streets of Weehawken and heading to the weight room to strengthen his legs.
“I knew I needed to get a little stronger,” Andujar said. “I tried to condition myself. I play basketball and baseball as well, but football is my main sport. It was my senior year. I wanted it to be my best year. So I ran a lot to get my endurance up. I ran long distances to get ready for the season.”
When the preseason scrimmages commenced, the younger Naszimento noticed the difference in Andujar.
“We played Westwood in a scrimmage and the level of competition increased,” Naszimento said. “So did Joan’s attitude. He showed his ability to take his game to another level. I had to see if he was going to be able to do it. I realized he is capable of being the guy.”
In the second game of the season against Queen of Peace, the Naszimento father-and-son coaching combination decided to dial up Andujar’s number a few times. He got 30 carries and responded with 202 yards and two touchdowns in the Indians’ thrilling 28-26 victory.
“That was crazy,” Andujar said. “I never expected that. I knew I had a lot, but I didn’t think 30.”
Last week, in a huge game against Emerson Borough, Andujar got to be the main ball carrier again – and he didn’t disappoint. Andujar rushed for 164 yards on 28 carries and scored three touchdowns, leading the Indians to a 33-28 victory.
For good measure, Andjuar had seven tackles and a sack from his defensive end slot, also forcing a fumble.
And for his efforts, Andujar has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Andujar has 410 yards in three games this season, almost eclipsing his production for the last three years combined. He also has five touchdowns, something that Andujar totally enjoys.
“I’ve never scored five touchdowns in a season like this,” Andujar said. “I think I had five touchdowns in my career and I doubled that the last two games. I knew we needed to get the win to solidify our season. I knew it was going to be a tough game, so I just worked my hardest.”
Naszimento believes that Andujar uses his size to his advantage.
“He is able to lean and run forward,” Naszimento said. “He runs low to the ground and he’s able to deliver the punishment as opposed to receiving it. He has great vision. He’s able to see the hole and go. We talk about hitting the linebacker instead of the line and he does that quite often. He gains ground in tight spaces.”
Naszimento also believes that Andujar is deceptive because of his stocky size and stature.
“I’m telling you, he can run,” Naszimento said. “You would never think it looking at him, but he’s quick. I see him run now and say, `Why didn’t he do this for all four years?’ He’s got that attitude now where he wants the ball. He’s saying, ‘Give me the ball. I want the ball.’”
“I feel like I need to have that attitude,” Andujar said. “I need to stay low to keep moving. I get going and it takes the whole team to take me down sometimes. They see my size and figure I can’t do it. I may not be big or fast enough, but I’m going to get the job done.”
Naszimento knows that Andujar’s confidence is sky high right now – and that’s a good thing.
“It’s not new to him anymore,” Naszimento said. “It’s his team, no doubt about it. He’s always been good, but now he’s a star. He has a little glamour to his game and I attribute that to his maturity. I’m so proud of him, not only as a football player, but as a young man. He’s matured. He worked hard in his offseason strength training. He’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever coached. He had other guys to look up to and understood it was his turn.”
Andujar is also a good student with aspirations about college. He’s maintained a 3.0 grade point average and hopes to go to college to study either engineering, physical training or accounting – quite a diverse mix.
“I think I can play college football somewhere,” Andujar said. “I just hope some colleges take a look at me and maybe one will ask me to play. I think I’ve shown now what I can do.”
You’ll notice him. He’s the little guy with the strong legs who just keeps moving. Now he has to keep moving all the way to help the Indians return to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs.
“That’s the main goal,” Andujar said. “That’s what I’ve wanted since freshman year.”
More performances like the last two and Andujar will definitely get his wish. – Jim Hague