GAMERS: Bluj steps up as leader for Par Hills

GAMERS: Bluj steps up as leader for Par Hills

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GAMERS: Bluj steps up as leader for Par Hills

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After losing a boatload of seniors to graduation last June, Parsippany Hills head football coach Dave Albano knew that he needed to have some certain returning players to step up and become leaders.

One of those players was Tommy Bluj.

“We knew he had to be the guy,” Albano said. “We lost a lot of skilled players, so that put a lot of pressure on Tommy to lead a young group of receivers. We had a lot of questions coming in, but we knew we had him. He was going to have to be like a coach on the field, to coach and play with some of the younger kids.”

Bluj understood his responsibility.

“Once last season ended, I had to go into the off-season as a leader, all through the summer,” said Bluj, a standout receiver and defensive back. “I had to bring it out every day. I liked having that responsibility.”

Albano asked Bluj to fill a lot of roles.

“We were relying heavily on him,” Albano said. “We knew Tommy was going to have to be a two-way starter. We knew he was going to have to be our punt returner and kick returner. We knew he had to be our holder. The kid can do all that. He’s also the hardest working kid in practice.”

“I like being on the field all the time,” Bluj said. “It’s a very big responsibility for me, but I like it. I like being on both sides of the ball. They’re two totally different positions, but I love being out there.”

Every Monday, Albano asks his team to run for 12 minutes.

“Tommy is the lead guy out there every time,” Albano said. “If we allowed him to do it, he’d lap the entire team. That’s just Tommy.”

Right before the season was set to begin, Albano made a position switch, moving Brandon Katzenberger from receiver to quarterback. Once again, it was Bluj to the rescue.

Bluj took the time to work on his own with the new signal caller.

“Once we knew Brandon was going to be the guy, we met a lot,” Bluj said. “We worked on our timing and chemistry outside of practice. We would stay after practice and just throw the ball. Getting that chemistry was important, so I was willing to go the extra mile.”

Bluj’s versatility played a key role in the Vikings’ success this season.

“He’s always around the ball,” Albano said. “He has a knack to get to the ball and the knack to make plays.”

Like in the NJSIAA North 2, Group III semifinal game against previously undefeated West Essex two weeks ago. The Vikings were driving for a go-ahead score. On fourth down, Albano called for an option pass to old reliable.

“He’s our go-to guy,” Albano said. “We knew he was going to make the catch.”

Bluj made his share of catches this season, leading the Vikings to a showdown with another undefeated foe Summit for the North 2, Group III championship Friday night at Kean University.

Bluj secured 47 receptions this season for 622 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s compiled 1,094 all-purpose yards. Defensively, Bluj made 57 tackles with four interceptions.

“I don’t think I’ve had a harder working kid ever,” Albano said of Bluj. “He reminds me of Anthony Rossi, who played on the 2005 and 2006 teams that went to the state finals. He’s that kind of kid.”

Bluj loves the freedom he has as a free safety.

“I’m free to go and see wherever the ball is,” Bluj said. “Once I see the ball, that’s where I’m going.”

He almost has the same mentality as a receiver.

“That’s my job as a receiver,” Bluj said. “I do what I can to get the ball.”

Albano believes that Bluj can play on the college level, perhaps at a Division III school.

“He’s interested in Western New England,” Albano said. “He’s a great football player, but an even better kid. He’s a special kind of kid.”

Bluj knows that Friday marks his final high school football game.

“I loved the last 12-to-13 weeks of my life,” Bluj said. “I enjoyed every second of it. Being around these guys for all that time, knowing it’s coming to an end, makes this a big motivation for me. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”

Bluj understands that Parsippany Hills has never won a state championship before.

“Words really can’t describe what it would mean to us, the school, the town,” Bluj said. “It would be truly remarkable.”

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