DALLAS – A 12-year-old football player from Somerville, NJ proved he can play with the best of the best, turning in an impressive performance on both sides of the ball during a national All-Star game for young football players.

Tristan Garcia, a sixth-grader at Somerville Middle School, was one of 60 young players selected from 30,000 nationwide to participate in the Jan. 2 showcase Bret Cooper Junior Academic All-American Bowl Game.

Though his East All-Star team lost to their West Coast counterparts, 43-29, Tristan’s tenacious play helped to keep the score close.

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Playing linebacker on defense, he recorded 24 tackles, one stripped ball and 3 quarterback sacks; on offense he caught one pass for a 44-yard gain, including 15 yards after the catch.

“It was a good game, good competition,” Tristan said afterwards. “They were one of the best teams I’ve ever played against.”

Tristan never left the field, and played every down on offense and defense.

“I definitely feel tired,” he said hours afterwards from his hotel room.

“My legs are exhausted, like you feel after a workout,” he added, still wearing his red, white and blue All-Star uniform.

“He did extremely well,” said Tristan’s mother, Brionna Castillo. “It was really a great game, but he’s tired, he’s been laying around since we got back,” she added.

Tristan, his mother and grandmother, Lorayo Allen-Castillo spent five days in Texas with his teammates and other parents and friends.

Each day prior to the game, the team had practices, team meetings and other activities, including a Hawaiian Luau and a trip to the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Eve, where the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Michigan State Spartans 38-0.

The young players also heard from former college and NFL players, all of whom stressed the importance of academics and the necessity of doing well in the classroom in order to receive college scholarships.

Tristan will return home with a few bumps and bruises, tons of memories, new friendships, a renewed determination to do well in the classroom – and to pursue his dream of playing football at the highest levels.

“I’m going to work hard, do well in school, maybe play in some more showcase games,” he said.

He’ll begin training in a few weeks and plans to compete in the spring with the Gladiators, a youth football team.

For the past three years, Tristan has played with the Somerville Branchburg United Bulldogs. The league, parents of teammates and friends helped to raise almost $2,400 to send Tristan, his mother and grandmother to Dallas.

One of the highlights for Tristan during the five-day trip was watching the Cotton Bowl, played in Arlington at AT&T Stadium, the home field of the Dallas Cowboys.

It was filled with 90,000 cheering fans.

“That was a good experience,” Tristan said, “All of the people cheering; hopefully they’ll be cheering like that for me one day.”