In the fall of 2014, John Viotto was a football coach at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick.
On that Linwood football team, Ramy Berberena was a defensive back, wide receiver and “at all times the fastest kid on the field,” Viotto said.
Berberena had not yet tried track and field. Football was his sport.
Berberena started playing football because he looked up to his older brother, Esberth Berberena, a four-year player at North Brunswick Township High School.
“All my life I played football,” Berberena said. “Then when I got introduced to track, I was like ‘Wo.'”
Berberena arrived at North Brunswick for his freshman year in 2016. That same year, Viotto became the high school’s track coach. Viotto told his former football standout that he needed to run, too.
“I told him, ‘You’ll be a stud,'” Viotto said.
“He literally made me run track. It’s a good thing he did,” Berberena said, laughing. “At first I was like, ‘Track? What’s track?’ He said, ‘Just try it.'”
Berberena joined the track team in the spring of 2017. Then, he became the best runner in North Brunswick history.
On Feb. 2, at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River, Berberena won the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional championship in the 55-meter hurdles and in the 400-meter dash.
He completed the hurdles in 7.68 and the dash in 50.81. For the junior, they were just the latest accomplishments in a track career full of them.
Last year, as a sophomore, he won the Greater Middlesex Conference title in the 400-meter hurdles and reached the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in the same event. Earlier this season, in the GMC championship on Jan. 12 in Toms River, Berberena won the 55-meter dash, the 55-meter hurdles and the 400-meter dash.
“He pulled off the rare triple crown,” said Schwann Grimes, a track coach at North Brunswick. “No other boy has ever pulled off that triple in the GMC. Ever.”
The junior has also broken seven school records this winter. He already owned North Brunswick’s outdoor record in the 400-meter hurdles. Berberena may not be finished setting new standards, either.
“He’s not far from the outdoor 200-meter dash, the 400-meter dash and the 110-meter hurdles records,” Viotto said. “If he breaks those three, he’ll have seven indoor records and four outdoor records.”
Berberena’s speed makes him an elite sprinter. His leaping ability makes him a top hurdler. As Viotto foresaw, the junior’s football skills apply to track.
The junior still plays football, too. Last fall, he was a wide receiver on a North Brunswick team that reached the Central Jersey, Group 5 state sectional playoff championship game where the Raiders fell to Sayreville War Memorial High School, 6-0.
Berberena is not sure which sport he likes better.
“I love them equally,” he said.
He also has high aspirations in both.
In football, Berberena hopes to win North Brunswick’s quarterback job next fall.
In track, he wants to medal in the Meet of Champions this winter, in the two events he won at the sectional championship, the 400-meter dash and the 55-meter hurdles. The winter Meet of Champions will take place on Feb. 23 in Toms River.
This coming spring, Berberena is striving to win gold at the Meet of Champions, in the 400-meter hurdles, his best event.
“If I work hard enough, I could definitely do that,” Berberena said.
The junior was referring to all of that.
“He hasn’t even reached his potential yet. I think this spring he’ll really show some stuff,” Grimes said. “Ramy is growing into his body still, and we’re really starting to see the things he can do.”