UNION — Peter Lejawa comes from a strict Polish family, so selling his parents on the idea of playing football wasn’t easy.
“I’m the first one in my family to play football,” said the 6-foot-2, 325-pound lineman from Wallington. “My father was born on a farm in Poland. It was a hard struggle to convince my parents about playing.”
So when Lejawa broke his finger during the final game of the season last November against Highland Park, his parents laid down the law.
“When I got hurt, they said, ‘No more,’” Lejawa said. “They were serious. They had no idea that college was next and that football was getting me into college. I had to tell them how important football was for me.”
Lejawa indeed will play college football this fall, at Kean University, where he played Monday night in the 37th annual Phil Simms New Jersey North-South All-Star Football Classic, a game that the South won, 23-21.
Apparently, Lejawa’s parents somehow agreed to allow him to continue playing.
Lejawa will be a defensive tackle when he joins Kean. But for the weekend, Lejawa was an offensive guard.
“I was shocked when the coaches said offense,” Lejawa said. “I just wanted to play in the game. I guess I’m doing OK there. I’m not an offensive player. I never played guard in my life, just tackle. But I’ll do whatever the coaches say. I’m just happy to play.
“I think I can go one-on-one with the talent here. I just wished I could have gotten a chance to play on the defensive side.”
Lejawa looked at the All-Star Classic as a chance to get a head start on college life, living in the Kean dormitory for the weekend.
“It’s almost like a homecoming game for me,” he said. “It’s going to give me a better edge for college, playing on the field where I’m going to play, living in the dorms. I know how to feel before I get here. It’s really been important for me. I’m building chemistry already here with some guys who are also coming here.”
It’s almost ironic that one of the relationships Lejawa has developed over the weekend has been with Parsippany Hills running back Angelo Gallego. Lejawa is the biggest guy on the North roster, and Gallego — at 5-6, 160 – was the smallest guy on the field.
“I already have a good friendship with Angelo,” Lejawa said. “I’m excited about getting here. We’re all going to work hard in the off-season to get ready to play here. I’m ready to go now.”
So Lejawa, with a future at defensive tackle, proved his versatility by becoming a solid guard. In some of the practice sessions, Lejawa was spotted blowing opponents off the ball and leading solid blocking schemes downfield in the North’s spread offense.
“Who said that a good Polish kid can’t handle the big guys?” Lejawa laughed. “This was a great experience for me.”