BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The area’s finest high school football players, including nine from Hillsborough High School, have been hand-picked by the Somerset County Football Coaches Association for the honor of playing in the prestigious Basilone Bowl, which honors Raritan Marine, John Basilone.
Gunnery Sgt. Basilone is known for his courage on the battlefield and was awarded the Medal of Honor at the Battle of Guadalcanal and the Navy Cross in World War II.
Marking its fifth year, the game will be held June 15 at BRHS’s Basilone Field at 7 p.m. This year, nine BRHS football players will represent the school in the game with the Devil Dogs competing against the Leather Necks.
In total, there will be 14 Somerset County towns represented.
What started with BRHS head football coach Scott Bray having a simple conversation about Basilone with Montgomery High School Coach Zoran Milich and Marine Major Ogden about a common interest to highlight student athletes became the beginning of the Basilone Bowl tradition that currently brings Somerset County athletes, coaches, families and the community together memorializing the hometown hero.
Bray and the rest of the team hosted a media day May 1 to introduce all the players from each school participating. Only graduating seniors are chosen to play in the game.
Matt Alesandro, of Raritan, said he has been playing football ever since he was able to walk, a total of 13 years.
“I think the best part of playing in the Basilone Bowl is the chance to have one more game with my brothers before we all part ways,” he said. “This will be the last time together on the field and thankfully on our own one too.
“The one thing I admire most about John Basilone is how humble he was,” he added. “He had a job, performed it beyond expectations and never sought out to receive even a simple thank you. That’s what I try to model myself after on and off the field.”
Alesandro said he enjoys the team aspect of the game.
“The one thing I love most about playing football is knowing that I have 10 other brothers on the field and x amount more on the sidelines that will always have my back,” said Alesandro, who received a scholarship to play football next year at Stevenson University in Maryland.
In his opening remarks to the crowd at Media Day, Bray praised the athletes who were chosen to compete.
“Somerset County Football Association highlights our athletes in a grand way,” he said. “I congratulate you on your selection to represent your school and Somerset County.”
Bray said he looks forward to working with the players.
“This will be an incredible time,” he said. “It may be the last time you connect with those you played with. You can connect with others in the county now right in front of you and see how quickly the football brotherhood comes. It’s an honor. I look forward to watching you play and interacting together.”
Marine Capt. Joseph McGinnis said the game means a lot to the Marines because of the chance to honor Basilone.
“For us, this event memorializes John Basilone’s courage and sacrifice and the players share the same courage and sacrifice as they carry on the tradition,” he said. “John Basilone had the courage to face the enemy with tenacity. He sacrificed a lot, just as you do as student athletes.”
“The next John Basilone could be sitting here right now,” he added. “We always need good people to defend our country. We appreciate Coach Bray and the Somerset County Coaches Association. This is definitely a community effort.”
Justin Davidovicz, of Bridgewater, said it is an honor to be part of the event.
"Being in the Basilone Bowl is a huge honor to me to be chosen to represent Somerset County for this game,” he said. “John Basilone is a hometown hero and shows many characteristics that I idolize and try to replicate. Also, having the chance to play with my high school teammates one last time before we all go on to college is going to be a great experience as well.”
“Characteristics that I have in common with John Basilone include my hard work and determination as well as being a leader and a team player,” he added. “I was the captain of the (Bridgewater-Raritan) team. “
Kim Van Note, the niece of John Basilone spoke on behalf of her uncle and the John Basilone Memorial Foundation that she and Raritan resident Don Tozzi co-founded.
The foundation is one of the sponsors of the event.
“I’m like my uncle and don’t like speeches. but my uncle would be very honored knowing how his name is being remembered,” Van Note said.
Don Tozzi said he has been running the foundation for over three years, and his biggest goals is to keep Basilone’s spirit alive.
“It’s an honor to be involved in keeping the spirit alive amongst these young men,” Van Note added. “Their dedication to get them here (to play in the Basilone Bowl) is just like my uncle’s, they must be very committed and give it their all. We must all have respect for our country and for what our armed services are doing for us. They’re still fighting for us and we can’t forget that.”
Chris Nice, of Bridgewater, said that being part of the Baseline Bowl is about representing the legacy of a war hero.
“Coming into this game, I actually knew a good amount about John Basilone, considering that during my junior year, we talked a lot about him during history,” he said. “To be able to play in this game and represent something greater than football, to represent a legacy of a war hero is something special. John Basilone sacrificed his life for his country and he is one of the many people that are giving us a chance to participate in something like this.”
“This game symbolizes so much more than a football game,” he added. “We get to play this game to honor those who have sacrificed everything and I know that I and probably a bunch of the other kids recognize that. With that being said, we will play this game with a lot of pride and a lot of respect.”
Nice will be attending Michigan State University next year.
Practices for the game begin the week of June 11. Bray said the marines begin the evening practices with all the players by giving leadership talks and having the teams practice stretching and then they are released to the team coaches.
The team coaches for the Devil Dogs this year are: Offensive Coach Kevin Carty (Hillsborough High School Head Football Coach), and Defensive Coach Michael Haughey, (Delaware Valley High School Head Football Coach. For the Leather Necks team, the coaches include: Offensive Coach Jeff Vanderbeek, (Somerville High School Head Football Coach) and Defensive Coach Tom Falato, (Immaculata High School Head Football Coach).
It will be a once in a lifetime experience to be coached along by the Marines,” Zachary Miseo, of Bridgewater, said, “ They will provide motivation and insight to push us through the practices.”
Next year, Miseo will be playing football at Rutgers University.
Bray said having the Marines train the players is a positive experience for the kids.
“Our players understand the respect, importance and the magnitude of the uniform,” he said.
Bray is directing the event this year, but not coaching.
“It allows me more time to get more coaches involved for more participation in the game,” he said.
Bray said this game is an opportunity to highlight the student athletes in Somerset County and keep the name of John Basilone alive in the local community.”
A portion of the funds go to the Basilone Memorial Foundation, which donates to the Steeple Chase Cancer Center at RWJ Somerville and the Fisher House Foundation.
On the Devil Dog Team are:
Nick Cherasaro, North Plainfield
Jesse Knight, North Plainfield
Matt Bordfeld, North Plainfield
Miles Cicchetti, Ridge
Luke Ganny, Ridge
Sean Lessig, Delaware Valley
Nick Perno, Delaware Valley
Ken Henderson, Delaware Valley
Matt Donnelly, Delaware Valley
Brad Apgar, Delaware Valley
Josh LaDuca, Delaware Valley
John Wirkus, Delaware Valley
Jack Branowski, Delaware Valley
Nick Attanasio, Bridgewater-Raritan
Matt Alesandro, Bridgewater-Raritan
Zach Miseo, Bridgewater-Raritan
Ricky Tate, Bridgewater-Raritan
Chris Nice, Bridgewater-Raritan
Justin Davidovicz, Bridgewater-Raritan
Nick Mitchell, Bridgewater-Raritan
Ray Bellaran, Bridgewater-Raritan
Anthony Vizzoni, Bridgewater-Raritan
Alex Navarro, Bound Brook
Joseph Solis, Bound Brook
Joseph Warren, Bound Brook
Tyson Amaker, Bound Brook
Eric Dubecky, Bound Brook
Michael Borja, Bound Brook
David Amankwaa, Hillsborough
Luke Jansen, Hillsborough
Kyle Richardson, Hillsborough
Jake Pollak, Hillsborough
Steven Rudd, Hillsborough
Collin Purdy, Hillsborough
Kent Hilden, Hillsborough
Matt Hendrix, Hillsborough
Nick Pezza, Hillsborough
TJ Caswell, Manville
Troy Oset, Manville
Jameer Campbell, Manville
On the Leathernecks Team are:
Mike Patrizio, Montgomery
Dylan D’Amore, Montgomery
Danny Young, Montgomery
Messiah Divine, Montgomery
Eric Lisanti, Montgomery
Nick Couzzi, Somerville
Luke Genise, Somerville
Chris Ciempola, Somerville
AJ Akins, Somerville
Nasyr Petties-Jackson, Somerville
Jason Curau, Somerville
Rob McTernan, Somerville
Keyshawn Newton, Somerville
Jared Tuazon, Somerville
Ahmad Lee, Somerville
Austin Van Ness, Somerville
Marlon Boston, Franklin
Keenan Reid, Franklin
Chris Anderson, Franklin
DeAndre Taylor, Franklin
Marcus Roberts, Franklin
Will Miles, Franklin
Spencer Spellman, Pingry
Jason Resnick, Pingry
Ryan Boylan, Pingry
Stuart Cundiff, Immaculata
Jordan Agudosi, Immaculata
Brandon Haley, Immaculata
Anthony Lobelo, Immaculata
Kieran Roy, Immaculata
Keith Sivetz, Immaculata
David Hoffman, Immaculata
David Robinson, Immaculata
Steve Gribben, Bernards
Jonah Walsh, Bernards
Raymon Delk, Bernards
Brendan Ryan, Bernards
Tim Lallis, Bernards
Dmmitry Stomma, Bernards
Nick Ugarte, Watchung Hills
Michael Montecalvo, Watchung Hills
Nadir Beyatt, Watchung Hills