UNION, NJ – Former NFL quarterback Phil Simms stood on the sideline of Kean University’s Alumni Field in awe on Monday night.
The signal-caller, whose name took ownership of the game last year, was captivated by the approximately 78 recent high school graduates playing in the premiere all-star football game New Jersey has to offer.
“High school all-star games, in many ways, almost everybody in this game is playing in college, so it's a good step towards college,” Simms said. “It's a game where no doubt the talent level is raised. They’re playing against better talent all around.”
New Jersey’s best graduating senior football players, selected by general managers Marion Bell III (North) and Calvin Thompson (South) and head coaches from across the state, played to a frantic finish, with the South outlasting their North counterparts, 23-21, in the 37th Annual Phil Simms North/South High School All-Star Football Classic.
Lucas Faria took the field representing Sparta High School. Faria said, "It was definitely an awesome experience. All of the players deserved to be there. I really think that it was a collection of the best players in New Jersey."
The all-star game places former rivals on the same team. Faria addressed this saying, " It's a little weird when you go from playing against these guys to being on the same team with them, however it was definitely a cool change."
Despite the strong competition on the field, to many of the game’s participants, the game was less about the final outcome and more about the overall experience.
“I think the best part about this is validating that I belong on this level and I can play with the best of the best,” Westfield linebacker Jackson Simcox said. “Playing during high school, some people doubted me, but I showed here that I proved it. It means a lot.”
Many of the other 77 players shared the same mindset, using the game as a way to gauge their talent-level while going up against the best-of-the best. To Simms, this thought is what drives the game to be as good as it is.
“They want to know how they measure up,” Simms said. “There is not one kid out there tonight that has not dreamed about playing college football and playing well. Look, we all know, many of them are thinking ‘Its going to fall and I’m going to play in the pros one day.’ It wouldn’t shock me.”
The other major mindset coming out was the honor of playing in the game to begin to with.
Sparta's Faria agreed. "Overall, it was just a great honor to be considered among such talented players and get to play in such a prestigious game."
Randolph offensive lineman David Vargas said the best part was “making new family and friends.”
“It means a lot,” Vargas said. “Its great. I’m really happy that my coach nominated me to play in this game. I did the best I could and just played the way I’ve always played.”
For Vincent Nisivocchia, who made a touchdown catch reminiscing an end zone fade to Odell Beckham Jr, his road to the Phil Simms North/South Classic was different than many others. Not only was he representing his high school, Seton Hall Prep, but also his hometown of Nutley.
“Its an amazing feeling,” Just being able to represent everyone I know from Nutley, then all the people at Seton Hall Prep who helped me throughout high school, whether its [President] Msgr. [Michael] Kelly, Coach [John]Finnigan, all of them. I’m happy I can rep everyone.”