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Hewlett star Sultan's career took a detour to Israel

Lawrence High School quarterback #12 Samsom Bialostock, right,

Lawrence High School quarterback #12 Samsom Bialostock, right, braces for impact as he gets tackled by Hewlett linebacker #55 Niv Sultan in the second quarter. (Sept. 25, 2010) Photo Credit: James Escher

Hewlett coach Jay Iaquinta pleaded for only one thing when his star lineman, Niv Sultan, told him he was moving.

"Just please tell me it's not to Lynbrook or Lawrence,'' the coach said in July 2009, referring to Hewlett's Conference III rivals.

It was just a tad bit farther than that. But he'd be back.

With Sultan heading into his junior year - arguably the most important from a recruiting standpoint - his parents, Sammy and Dana, uprooted the family and relocated nearly 5,700 miles away to Hod Hasharon, Israel, about 20 minutes outside Tel Aviv.

"It was definitely culture shock,'' said Niv, who was born in the United States and hadn't been to Israel for 12 years.

Sultan's parents, restaurateurs in Cedarhurst and Lawrence, are Israeli. Most of their family still resides in Israel, prompting the decision to move.

"Basically, my family is completely spontaneous,'' Niv said. "People try to figure out why we moved, but that's honestly what happened.''

Sultan adapted to the six-day school week and the special classes taught in English in an otherwise all-Hebrew-speaking school, but there still was a void.

In seventh grade, Sultan had tried out for Hewlett's middle school football team at the urging of his current teammate, Alex Kahn. He made the varsity midway through his freshman year, then had an impact as a sophomore with 72 tackles and two sacks on his way to being selected to the All-County team. But after his family moved, it appeared his playing days had come to an end as abrupt as his previous ascent.

But one day he stumbled upon the Israel Football League, an 8-on-8, full-contact American-style league that had its first full season in 2007-08 and is sponsored by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Though only 16 (he got special clearance to play because the minimum age is 17), Sultan became a hit for the Tel Aviv Sabres, playing against men in their 20s, 30s and even 40s.

"We immediately knew this 161/2-year-old was going to dominate in our league,'' e-mailed Said Abulafia, the team's president. "There are some big, strong men who are talented athletes, former U.S. high school and college football players and soldiers. What separated Niv from his peers was a solid background in football plus a ton of natural talent.''

The league still is working on gaining popularity in a country where soccer is king. Tel Aviv played in front of sparse crowds on a bumpy field and was sponsored by "Mike's Place,'' a local bar. Said Sultan, "It's like out of a movie; you have to see it to believe it.''

Sultan's team won all four games he played with Tel Aviv, last year's IFL champs, and he totaled two fumble recoveries and two sacks. In his last game, he made 11 tackles.

"The most fundamentally skilled youngster I have ever seen,'' said Tel Aviv coach Jon Sharon, who called Sultan "one of the best players I will ever have the honor of coaching.''

Though the family enjoyed its time in Israel, the transition wasn't as smooth as it had hoped. So after five months away, in late December, the Sultans returned to Hewlett.

"There were no hard feelings,'' Dana Sultan said about their time in Israel. "It was a long adventure, but I'm a football mom now.''

When an e-mail from Niv popped into Iaquinta's inbox, saying he was coming home, the coach said, "My prayers were answered.''

Because Sultan wasn't paid to play in Israel, he maintained his amateur status in the United States, and athletic director Jeff Malis cleared him to resume interscholastic athletics at Hewlett.

With the 6-4, 260-pounder stationed at defensive end and offensive guard, Hewlett is 4-2 after yesterday's 20-14 loss to Sewanhaka. The Bulldogs' defense, anchored by Sultan, allowed only 21 points through the first four games before giving up 45 to undefeated Lynbrook last week. Sultan made 28 solo tackles with six assists and had two sacks and two passes batted down in the first five games. Said Iaquinta: "It was as if he never left.''

Sultan believes that no high school player is strong enough to thwart him. "Coach Iaquinta always says with me working out here, it's like men and boys,'' he said. "But over there, it's men and men. After playing against them, I don't fear anyone here size-wise.''

Despite missing all of his junior season, Sultan, who also is an all-conference wrestler, has garnered interest from Big East schools such as Syracuse and Connecticut and a host of Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Princeton, Penn and Cornell.

"Niv has all the intangibles to be a very good Division I football player,'' Lynbrook coach Steve LoCicero said. "Athleticism, size and he is very intelligent. You have to account for him as a coach wherever he may be.''

In the past two years, that may have been in Israel or in Hewlett. But it'll never be in a Lynbrook jersey - much to Iaquinta's relief.

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