By Jimmy Allinder
When a student-athlete enrolls at Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen, his goal is to excel athletically and academically.
That is certainly the case with Luke Yakely, a rising senior who has earned the captaincy for both the football and lacrosse teams and is a model student.
Yakely has been a shining star at running back for the football team, which finished 4-5 in 2015. He led the Falcons in rushing and touchdowns with 1,020 yards and nine scores. He also played defense as the Falcons’ middle linebacker, where he was responsible for 80 tackles and ran back an interception for a touchdown.
On the lacrosse pitch, his team finished with a better record (13-6), and Yakely was one of the reasons.
“I joined the program my freshman year,” said Yakely, a North Brunswick resident who arrived at St. Joe’s after playing for the township recreation program as an eighth-grader. “I saw some action and scored a goal with a handful of assists. But the next season, I was asked to transition to defense. [Pretty soon], I became comfortable with playing [on the backline] and realized that was the best fit for me and the team.”
He described his position as “close defense,” which means he handles a long stick used to block or deflect close-in shots. There have been occasions when he brings his stick back to the midfield because of the opposition and situation, but Yakely said he is at his best when he is in front of the goal.
Because of where he plays, Yakely’s value isn’t what he produces on the stat sheet, but instead what he brings with his hard work ethic. In effect, his effort pushes the rest of his teammates to play with same level of intensity.
Playing lacrosse in college is something that might interest Yakely. But if he does, where he does will be based solely on what he has achieved as a student and athlete at St. Joe’s.
Yakely’s academic record puts him near the top of his senior class. His grade-point average is 4.7, and he is vice president of the Campus Ministry and Medical Careers Club. In addition, he is a member of the Student Council, the school’s National Honor Society, and Spanish and Science National Honor Societies. Among the majors he is considering is mathematics and finance, with the objective of landing a career in some medical capacity.
“I decided not to play lacrosse outside school,” he said. “I believe this has helped my development as a player and has minimized any bad habits I might develop playing in a different system.”
Not surprisingly, Yakely has successfully handled the often difficult task of balancing sports with the burden of a demanding academic pursuit.
“I find that balancing athletics and my academic workload is actually quite manageable,” he said. “My recipe is to take advantage of small windows of opportunity to get assignments done.”
Yakely applies the same recipe to taking care of his body, whether he trains for football or lacrosse.
“Maintaining my body’s strength is integral when it comes to playing any sport,” Yakely said. “You have to stay healthy and strong, so I stick to a training schedule that helps keep me in shape.”
He is a member of Newell Strength out of Hillsborough, which puts him through a regimen of weightlifting, speed and agility training, different kinds of conditioning and stretching and provides him with a nutrition plan to maximize his workouts.
Yakely has been surrounded by a number of family members who have supported him, but he says what he’ll carry with him as he pursues future endeavors is what his grandfather, Anthony Pedulla, told him.
“He called me the ‘whole package,’ ” Yakely said. “That has always been what motivates me to be the best I can be wherever life takes me.”