Tag: A.J. Pena

Somerville’s dynamic duo – Cookie and AJ – taking divergent paths after H.S., with big hopes for the future

One is taking a prep year more than 200 miles from the field where he wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Not to be outdone, the other will travel about a thousand miles from the Gus Vanderbeek Athletic Complex to train with some of the best future college stars in the nation.

But both are looking toward big college futures beyond that.

The coronavirus pandemic left a lot of uncertainty in college football recruiting circles, unless you were being recruited by a big FCS school that played in the fall. Sure, schools like Rutgers had their share of question marks with the transfer portal, but an extra year of NCAA eligibility left a lot of FBS schools that played this spring with more questions than answers, and that trickled down all the way to high school, affecting guys like Somerville’s star running back Cookie Desiderio, and disruptive defensive end A.J. Pena.

Desiderio was named Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2020, averaging a touchdown every 5.8 carries, the best such ratio in the state. He’s going to the IMG Academy in Florida.

LOOK BACK: Cookie Monster! Somerville’s Desiderio named Big Central Offensive Player of the Year

Pena was named CJSR’s Defensive Player of the Year, with 44 tackles and 12 sacks in just seven games. He’ll be prepping at the Milford Academy in upstate New York.

LOOK BACK: A disruptive force, Somerville’s Pena named Defensive Player of the Year

We caught up with the pair recently, as we presented them with commemorative footballs marking their honors, as well as head coach Dallas Whitaker, who accepted the CJSR Team of the Year ball. The Pioneers finished 7-0, the only undefeated team in the Big Central Conference.

STELLAR SEASON: Somerville is Central Jersey Sports Radio’s first “Team of the Year”

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talking with Somerville’s Cookie Desiderio, A.J. Pena, and head coach Dallas Whitaker:

A disruptive force, Somerville’s Pena named Defensive Player of the Year

He was a force to be reckoned with, even though not all of the stats exist to back it up.

Somerville senior A.J. Pena has been named Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Checking in at 6-3, 240 pounds, Pena is a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker. Pioneers’ coach Dallas Whitaker calls him “the most dominant player I have seen in six years of coaching high school.”

WATCH: A.J. Pena’s senior year highlights

Whatever you call him, the big number you need to know is 12. That’s how many sacks Pena had this year.

But you also need to know that he got to opposing quarterbacks and runningbacks much more. It’s just that no one can say how much. Whitaker says they don’t keep track of QB hurries or pass breakups. But you can be sure he got his mitts on more than a few.

Click below to listen to Pena and teammate Cookie Desiderio talk about Somerville’s 7-0 season:

Honorable mentions for Defensive Player of the Year included New Providence’s Charlie Barth and North Plainfield’s Adam Elsais.

Barth – CJSR’s Two-Way Player of the Year – led the Big Central in tackles in its inaugural season, registering 115 of them, 16.5 percent of the entire defense. He also added two sacks for the 8-1 Pioneers.

The Canucks’ Elsais registered 109 tackles to lead the team, 10 TFLs and a sack in a 7-1 campaign, the best in North Plainfield in a decade since they went 9-1 with a playoff loss to Carteret. He also ranks third in his class in GPA, according to head coach Jimmy DiPaolo. Elsias will finish his scholastic career with 323 tackles in 3 seasons as a starting linebacker.

LISTEN: Elsias, Canucks cruising to best start since 2010