WOODBRIDGE -- South Plainfield High School Class of 2018 graduate Charles Lovett donned an orange No. 15 jersey and navy blue pants and played for the Middlesex County all-stars in the 25th annual Snapple Bowl Thursday night at Woodbridge High School’s Nicholas A. Priscoe Stadium.
The charity game, which pitted recent graduates from Middlesex and Union counties against one another, was hard-hitting, exciting, and chippy at times. Many of the players will go on and play football college, but there are also some who won’t, like Lovett.
While this was Lovett’s last organized football game he’ll likely ever play, he’s lucky to have been able to take the field at all. Injuries are a part of football and sports in general. They happen. But not every injury is life-threatening like Lovett’s was. During a game against Woodbridge this past September, Lovett took a hit to his thigh which ended up resulting in emergency surgery for acute compartment syndrome.
He was supposed to be sidelined for the rest of the season, but the co-captain wouldn’t go down without a fight as he made at least six tackles in the Tigers’ Thanksgiving Day matchup with North Plainfield after getting clearance from both doctors and his parents to play.
A few months later, he then accepted an invite to play in the 2018 Snapple Bowl. Being able to come back and play the game of football one last time was more meaningful to Lovett than anybody would ever know.
“It was amazing. Just to be back on the field again, it was really fun,” the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Lovett said. “It was very special. Playing with all these great players in this all-star game and performing how I thought I would perform, it was amazing.”
Lovett played free safety for Middlesex, which topped Union, 22-6, behind a stout defensive effort. Middlesex snapped a two-game losing streak to Union and now leads the all-time series 15-10. Lovett helped the cause with a second quarter interception.
“They were picking on the cornerback a bit, so I kind of shaded over to that side and the quarterback just threw up a floater and it was right there for the pick,” Lovett said. “It was a great. I can’t describe the feeling.”
Lovett and the Middlesex defense held Union scoreless until 7:02 of left on the clock in the third quarter. Middlesex generated three takeaways (two interceptions and one forced fumble and recovery) and a safety in the first half. Middlesex allowed just 141 total yards of offense.
Lovett almost had two interceptions, but a pass fell to the turf as read the play and dove to the ground in the fourth quarter. Jevon Buckmire Davis of Piscataway recovered the fumble.
Offensively for Middlesex, after a slow start, Edison fullback Donavan Benoit broke a scoreless tie with 9:05 left in the second quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run. On Union’s next drive, Piscataway’s Nahjir Woods intercepted a pass and Middlesex drove toward the endzone but turned the ball over on downs inside the 5-yard line. But on the next play of the ensuring possession for Union, a fumble occured in the endzone and Hillside quarterback Taj Irby of Hillside jumped on the ball and was tackled for a safety to put Middlesex ahead 9-0.
Colonia running back Luke Pero extended Middlesex’s lead to 16-0 with a 12-yard halfback option pass touchdown which fell into the arms of Edison’s Ahmed Aly. Pero extended the drive with 19-yard run on fourth-down a few plays earlier.
After Chuck Ifewekwune caught a little 3-yard touchdown from Antonio Salcfas for Union, Middlesex iced the game and provided the dagger with an explosive 64-yard pitched a catch between quarterback Paul Cocozziello of St. Joseph’s of Metuchen and receiver Tyler Jack of Perth Amboy with 11:10 to go. The extra point was no good, but Middlesex went up 22-6 and that was all she wrote.
All proceeds from the game benefitted the Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside and the Lakeview School in Edison, which is a program of the New Jersey Institute of Disabilities. In the first 24 yards, over $642,000 was raised.
Lovett and the rest of the Middlesex all-stars and cheerleaders visited the Lakeview School on Monday. Lovett enjoyed the experience and learned a lot from his time there. The Lakeview School is home to kids ages 3-21 with various special needs and disabilities.
“It was sensational. The kids there were amazing,” Lovett said. “You saw their struggle, but you can still see that they’re regular kids. You talk to them and try to interact with them and they are still regular kids. It was an awesome experience.”
Next up on Lovett’s agenda is getting ready to attend Howard University in the fall where he will major in computer science.
“I mainly chose to go there because of affordability and I also like the culture there and the community. It was a good fit,” Lovett said.
Lovett enjoyed an all-around high school career. He was awarded a 2018 Marisa Tufaro Foundation Greater Middlesex Conference Student-Athlete Scholarship, served as captain of both the tennis team as well as football teams. He was a three-year varsity letter winner in both sports. Lovett held a 3.95 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. Lovett was also involved with Heroes and Cool Kids, orchestra, and the robotics team.