New York City players seeking bragging rights
There are 50 players from 20 schools throughout all five boroughs on the New York City squad. And they have one unified goal for Tuesday night’s Empire Challenge at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
“I like everybody here, the players are friendly, we get along good and we all have the same goal – to beat Long Island,” Lincoln wide receiver Denzel Duchenne said.
That’s been the team’s mantra since they started practicing right up to Monday night’s final walkthrough for the 17th annual all-star football game.
“We can’t lose,” Lincoln center Arian Balidemic said. “It’s not an option at all.”
That’s what happened last year for NYC, which dropped a 17-14 decision to Long Island in front of a record crowd of 11,992. Long Island has an 8-6 advantage in the game – the first two editions pitted Nassau vs. Suffolk.
The game is for area bragging rights and it will be the last time they ever compete as high school players, something New York City athletes take very seriously.
“This is my last high school game ever so I’m trying to leave with a win and plus it’s for New York City,” Tottenville receiver Alvin Cornelius said. “People don’t really look at the city for football, but we do have some talent and on Tuesday night we’re going to show everybody that New York City has talent.”
That basketball, not football, is considered the city game adds fuel to the fire, according to Lincoln’s Shawn O’Connor, New York City’s coach this year.
“I truly believe we have the best kids in the country as far as football goes because they’re not spoiled with things,” he said. “They have to earn everything in terms of football.”
O’Connor has been impressed with his squad’s intensity from the first practice, when Mount’s Richard Jones clotheslined Duchenne. Things have gotten even more intense in the days leading up to Tuesday’s day. Sunday’s practice ended with Clinton cornerback Jeremiah Obeng-Agyapong laying out Duchenne on the 1-yard line.
“The tempo has been extremely good,” O’Connor said. “We’ve had to tell these guys to tone it down rather than jack it up. Hopefully we can bring that over [Tuesday night].”
“This ain’t no NFL all-star game,” O’Connor added.
Some players, like Lincoln offensive guard Armani Gordon, weren’t aware of the Empire Challenge until being selected, while others, like Erasmus Hall standout Wayne Morgan, have been immersed in the all-star game’s rich tradition for years.
“I’ve been looking forward to this game since I came to high school,” the Syracuse-bound cornerback said. “I used to watch the older guys when I was younger play in this game and it’s been one of my goals to play in this game.”
Indeed, the memories, and the bragging rights, will last a lifetime for this year’s players, including Lincoln running back Kareem Folkes, who said he’s heard from future C.W. Post teammate Michael Richardson, a wide receiver from West Babylon.
“I know a couple of dudes from Long Island who are talking trash, texting me and stuff,” Folkes said. “We’re going to go out here and put on a show for our fans and all of Long Island on MSG Varsity.”
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