Union City's Isaiah Diaz-Mays summed it up perfectly.
“Phil Simms breaks down the top quarterbacks in the world and now he’s out here coaching us up. He’s going to the a Hall of Fame, and Amani Toomer caught passes from Eli Manning in a Super Bowl victory. That’s all you really have to say.”
Diaz-Mays, while enjoying the moment of being awe-struck, was one of 25 participants in the first ever Tri-State Quarterback Challenge hosted by MSG Varsity.
Diaz-Mays was one of 10 gunslingers from the Garden State, which represented itself well as Jon Germano from Bergen Catholic and PJ Walker from Elizabeth were both part of the final five (results will air on MSG Varsity in July).
“I was definitely ready for it, I prepared for it, threw for about three weeks straight,” said Walker of the event. “This was a chance to come out here and compete early on. I love to compete and this is something I was coming out here to win. Nobody likes to lose, especially me."
“The season feels like it's right around the corner and this is sort of a nice way to kick it off. It’s a fun day but every guy out here would tell you he wants to win,” said Germano. “Everybody looks really sharp, even the receivers, you can tell this is the best of the best, the ball is hardly touching the ground.”
The field was critiqued both by former Giants greats, as well as our own Steve Levy. The athletes were put through a series of challenges that tested arm strength, accuracy, throwing on the run and the ability to hit moving targets (some with Mike Quick’s face on them).
Some of the top quarterback prospects in the country were on display, including recent University of Miami commit Kevin Olsen.
“The talent is top notch. The guys are all out here throwing the ball real well. The ball is really jumping off their hands and I’m impressed with guys outside of New Jersey as well,” said Olsen. “This was a great opportunity to showcase my skills amongst some of the top players around.”
For fun-loving guys like Isaiah Diaz-Mays, it was a chance to compete with old friends and have some offseason laughs.
“I was smiling the whole day,” Diaz-Mays said. “I know a lot of the North Jersey guys well and Chris Diaz (Bayonne) is one of my good friends. We’ve been competing since we were small peewee players so it’s fun to get out here with him and see what he’s got. It’s also nice to play against guys like Kevin Olsen, who is obviously going to be a great Division I player and to have Phil and Amani out here, it’s all very cool.”
Others saw the day as a kickoff to the season, the beginning of a long trek through what is the ultimate grind, a long season prefaced by an almost longer offseason.
“I’m already thinking about football, we have 22 returning lettermen but we also play the hardest schedule school history,” said junior Spencer Aukamp of his St. Joseph Regional Green Knights. “I’m out to prove myself out here as the young guy and we are out to prove ourselves as a program.
"Last year nobody really prepared for me and now I will sort of be on the spot. It will definitely be a lot harder, but we are looking forward to the challenge and today was a good chance to get those competitive juices flowing.”
Aukamp was the only junior in the group, but managed to be picked in the top 10 when the field narrowed for the first time. Aukamp showed no fear amongst the group of elite athletes, looking to be in midseason form.
“ I wasn't nervous at all. I was just trying to come out here and have some fun and show what I can do,” said Aukamp. “It’s definitely the best of the best and these are the top competitors, not just the top quarterbacks, in the area.”
Players like Antonio Natale from Immaculata got a chance to get on the map with recruiters and perhaps garner more attention from colleges.
“I haven’t had any Division I offers yet, but I feel like something like this event is definitely going to help me get myself out there a little bit more, to say that you are one of the top 25 in the tri-state area is really a great thing. It’s awesome feeling and I feel like I can compete with these guys.”
Simms even admitted he was impressed with the skill level on display and extended a strong message to those who were not picked to win, and to those like Natale who have not yet gotten big time national attention.
“I didn’t have a lot of people believing in me," he said. "I went to Moorehead State, which meant 500 schools didn’t think I was good enough. Continue to get better every day, compete every day, and don’t let anyone, including me, tell you that you can’t get where you want go and be who you want to be.”
Contact John Quirk at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @QuirkMedia