Noonan keys Irish to wins on gridiron, wrestling mat

Ray Noonan

By dan miller

MILLSTONE — When Ray Noonan recently learned he had been invited to represent his high school at an annual dinner sponsored by the Delaware Valley Chapter of the National Football Foun-dation and College Hall of Fame which will take place Sunday at the Hyatt Regency in Princeton, he was obviously very excited.

"This will be my first black tie affair," said Noonan, 18. "It should be a lot of fun. My parents will be there and my grandparents will be flying in from out of town to attend and all my coaches will be there as well. It should be very exciting."

The foundation, which invites students from high schools throughout Burlington, Hunterdon, Mercer and Bucks counties, will be awarding 28 scholarships totaling $35,000. The highest scholarship to be presented will be $5,000.

Students were invited based on a combination of their achievements in football and academics. Noonan, a senior at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, holds a 3.75 grade point average.

Allentown High School senior Scot Walsh-Riddle was also invited to attend the dinner to represent his school.

Noonan is a very busy young man. In addition to maintaining excellent grades, the Millstone Township resident has devoted much of his time to playing sports and was a key member of Notre Dame’s football and wrestling squads this year.

As a co-captain of the football team, Noonan adjusted well to his new position of center in helping to lead Notre Dame to an 8-2 record, a dramatic turnaround over 1998 when the team finished at 2-8. Notre Dame qualified for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association playoffs, but bowed to Holy Cross of Delran in the first round.

Still, the year was still a great success for the squad and Noonan was voted to the first-team All-Colonial Valley Conference squad.

Noonan said his coach switched him from offensive tackle to center last fall to help better prepare him for college football.

"The coach felt that with my size (6-1, 265 pounds), it would help get me noticed more to switch over to center," he said. "It gave me a chance to touch the ball more. I didn’t play defense at all this year and it all worked. We were very well-conditioned."

After the football season concluded, Noonan turned his efforts to his other favorite sport, wrestling.

As a heavyweight he finished the season with a 21-7 record, a second-place finish in the Christian Brothers Academy Tournament and a third-place finish in the Mercer County Tournament.

In the District 17 tournament at Hunterdon Central High School, Flemington, Noonan finished second, losing to the same opponent in the championship match (Dan Ederstein of Hunterdon Central) that he lost to earlier in the season at the Hunterdon Central tournament. His season ended in the first round of the region tournament.

Notre Dame concluded its season with a 5-7 dual meet mark and Noonan was also selected to the first-team All-CVC squad.

Noonan said he almost didn’t wrestle this year after a disappointing junior campaign.

"Last year I went 4-6 and broke my hand in the middle of the year and was out for the rest of the season," he said. "I wasn’t going to come out (for wrestling) at the beginning of the year, but our new assistant coach (Brian West, who is also an assistant football coach) convinced me to come out.

"I was ready to concentrate solely on football, but Brian showed me some new moves and training techniques which really helped me with both sports."

Noonan, who graduated from the Millstone Township Middle School, said he didn’t start wrestling until his freshman year at Notre Dame.

"I tried basketball but it wasn’t for me and our (wrestling) coach asked me if I wanted to give it a try," Noonan said. "I love the one-on-one competition of the sport. You have to find the will to win in yourself. It’s all up to you."

As for his future, Noonan said he is trying to decide between two colleges he would like to attend next year: Fairfield University in Connecticut and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Both have excellent academic programs and are offering Noonan the opportunity to play on their football teams, he said.

"Fairfield is an NCAA Division I-AA football school and I have been in close contact with the head coach there," he said. "RPI is a Division III school which was 9-1 this year."

Noonan said he plans to major in business and finance and is looking at pursuing a career in business or perhaps the stock market. He said his busy schedule — he works part time at a restaurant in Freehold Township — actually helps him maintain his good grades.

"I’ve always found my grades to be better during football and wrestling seasons because I get myself on a schedule," he said.

To go along with the sports honors he has garnered, Noonan received Notre Dame’s top business education award this year.