By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Staff Writer This fall, Yamdry “Taco” Hernandez terrorized opposing quarterbacks as a 6-foot-4, 220-pound defensive end playing for the Atlantic City High Vikings. Tall, muscular, fast — he’s everything you want in a pass-rushing defensive end. He has the kind of physical attributes and athleticism that draws college coaches like the beach draws tourists in August. It’s scary for a high school quarterback to look across the line of scrimmage and see a kid nearly the size of a Power 5 defensive end. What’s even scarier is Hernandez barely even knows how to play football yet. The Atlantic City native and Atlantic Tech High basketball standout just learned how to put football pads on last year as a sophomore. He’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be as a football player. Like, a paper cut scratch. That’s how raw of a prospect he is — but make no mistake, he is a prospect. ACIT just recently launched its football program and has been playing a couple of seasons of a junior varsity schedule to try to build up the roster with freshmen and sophomores before going to a varsity schedule in 2024. RedHawks coach Chris Mancuso knew Hernandez was too good for JV, and he wanted to get him some varsity film to start the recruiting process, so he talked with Vikings coach Keenan Wright to see if the Vikings would welcome Hernandez in for a season until he could play varsity at ACIT as a senior next fall. “He had pretty good size last year but he grew about three or four inches. He’s more of a basketball guy. I got a call from the ACIT coach — and it’s a credit to him because they were still a JV program this year — and he said, ‘look, Yamdry grew three inches and I want to get him some film.’ I said, ‘absolutely!’ Wright said. “We were trying him as an outside linebacker, like an edge rusher like (Dallas Cowboys star) Micah Parsons. But you’ve got to have a little bit of football knowledge to play that position. We literally had to teach him the whole game. (At defensive line) all of a sudden he’s low and his technique is strong. He’s relentless. You’re not going sideline-to-sideline on him. On kickoffs he’s running down guys from 20 yards away. He’s a specimen, for sure.” “I had a lot of sacks on JV and everybody was small, so I wanted to challenge myself more. I still feel like I have to gain weight and build muscle, though, to be bigger and move people how I want to move them,” Hernandez said. “I learned a lot from the coaches and I’ve learned a lot from the players, too. I learned a lot more about zones and gaps, stuff I didn’t know before I came into Atlantic City High. So I learned all of that, some of the basics. “(The first day) I had to learn how to adjust my helmet and all that. But the coaches worked with me. They knew I didn’t know what I was doing. I started playing basketball in seventh grade. I would watch Tik Tok and YouTube and see football highlights. Right now I’m a role player. I just do what I have to do and I just play hard. I was nervous (when I first started) and I’m still nervous sometimes now,” he added. “The difference between basketball and football is, in basketball it’s only five people, the same on offense and defense. But in football there are two different groups.” Playing football for A.C. High while attending ACIT, in Mays Landing, is no easy task with all the travel involved and missing part of practice while waiting for the bus to shuttle him from one town to the next. “He played the last six games or so for us last year and that’s the first time he ever played any kind of football, and he did well. He had some beginner mistakes, but he hadn’t played football for all these years before, so he didn’t really understand the game or even positions and how the game worked,” Mancuso explained. “It’s hard. When I was at Pleasantville, we had (ACIT) kids who were coming all summer, but then once the school year started they weren’t getting there until 4 p.m. or 4:30, and practice would only go until about 5:30, so there’s only so much you can do. It’s a lot of traveling just to get to practice on top of a whole day at school. It’s time consuming.” Facing challenges is nothing new to Hernandez, however. He faced the biggest one of his life this past summer when his brother, Andres Hernandez-Creamadel, a 19-year-old former Mainland Regional football player, was killed in a car accident on the Atlantic City Expressway on Aug. 9. Hernandez said he still thinks about Andres every day, so much so that he has his picture as the wallpaper on his phone. “He was really tight with his brother. They were close,” Mancuso said. “His brother was almost like a guardian to him as much as his parents because he was a little older. They were tight, so that was extremely hard. After the accident we sat down and had a talk with him. It’s very commendable and admirable for him to go on throughout the season, especially considering it happened right before the season. He’s committed. He’s very motivated and focused.” “He’s a basketball kid and I have a lot of basketball guys on the team. The funeral was the same day as our quad scrimmage in Pleasantville and we had several kids missing that day, they all went to support him,” Wright said. “We all put our arms around them and during the Clearview game we got a little emotional, but we just had that type of team where we’ll put our arms around them and just remind them that we’re here for them and just be another support base.” Said Hernandez, “It was hard, but I have to keep my head straight and I have to keep pushing forward for my family. I have to be there for them for mental support. I think about him every time I step on the field, and every time I think about him I want to make myself better. I want to do better for him and for my family. It’s motivation. He would always come to my games and be the first one supporting me.” There are many layers to Yamdry Hernandez, and being a freakish athlete is just one of them. He’s thoughtful, introspective, and talented beyond the football field or basketball court. He’s in the dental program at ACIT, a very difficult “major” if you will, and one day he hopes to be able to create dental prosthetics to help people. “He’s a very intelligent student. He takes school very seriously and his parents do, too. He doesn’t really talk that much, but he’s just such a great kid, very disciplined, always showing up to practice, always working hard, never any kind of social problems or stuff like that. He’s a sponge soaking everything up,” Mancuso said. “He’s a hustler and someone who works really hard. He’s going from football practice to basketball to track to the weight room. He’s a worker and the sky is the limit for someone like him. Atlantic City didn’t know too much about him, but we knew he could play at the varsity level. I wanted him (to go to Atlantic City this year) so he could face bigger kids. There’s only so much you can replicate in practices and I wanted him to get that experience of facing a different type of athlete — and tackling a different type of athlete. Varsity running backs are a lot different than JV running backs.” “He’s a quiet kid, but he’s interesting. He’s a good kid, studying all the time. He lives off of Texas Avenue, so he’s a product of Atlantic City schools. He was a kid wearing glasses and kind of quirky. I’d be lying if I told you he would turn into 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. There’s no way,” Wright said. “He’s studying the game and we’re teaching him how to tackle. At his age he’s a little late in the game, but it’s been done a thousand times before with guys who come over from other countries and only start playing their junior or senior year of high school. It’s not completely unusual. He takes the bus from ACIT every day and gets here for practice, so he’s committed. He’s a very responsible, respectful kid.” Mancuso said Hernandez is the kind of kid he never has to worry is doing the right thing. He’s always doing something to get better, whether it’s with athletics or academics. “He’s a great kid, he does really well in school. He’s in the dental program at ACIT and that academy takes a lot of studying, a lot of memorization, and he takes it very seriously,” Mancuso said. “He’s definitely a school-first kind of kid, and he’s a great leader. He’s excelling in both school and football, and he’s just a really focused kid. He’s great with the other kids and leads by example. You never have to worry about him slacking off or not working hard.” “Everybody tells me I’m good, but I still don’t think I’m that good yet compared to other people,” Hernandez said. “I think I can be good, I just have to work harder. I have to push myself more.” And Hernandez himself never has to worry about slacking off. If he ever feels like he is, all he has to do is turn on his phone and look at the face of his brother, his biggest fan. There’s no way Yamdry is going to let him down. Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
Sully, as he’s known throughout South Jersey, began his newspaper career in 1995 and has worked for some of New Jersey’s top papers, including The Asbury Park Press and Press of Atlantic City, as a writer and editor. He’s earned several New Jersey Press Association awards and continues to produce high quality reporting, writing and photography.
A native of Ocean County, Sully played high school baseball at Lacey Township High and college baseball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. After a successful 15-year career in the newspaper business, Sully launched Glory Days Magazine in 2013 and for nearly a decade has been bringing fans outstanding and insightful coverage of high school sports throughout South Jersey.