The young men arrived at New Rochelle High School alone or in groups of two or three, carrying equipment that the majority of their former teammates had already turned in. They laced up cleats and stretched battered practice jerseys over their pads like they’ve done a hundred times before in preparation for a game.
The difference is that, for most of them, this next game will be their last.
The 55 players selected to represent the South in Sunday’s Section 1 Senior Bowl at Mahopac have spent much of the last three months trying to figure out ways to defeat one another. Now they have just five days to become a team. Interestingly, it is the rivals who seem to have the easiest time finding common ground.
“A lot of the socializing done here is with the kids that we’ve played against,” said Byram Hills linebacker Brady Condron. “There are guys here that we’ve played and set out to beat. It’s cool to now be on the same side of the ball as the guys you’ve faced before.”
When Section 1 recently decided to cancel almost two dozen non-playoff bowl games due to continuing issues with Hurricane Sandy, the vast majority of seniors were denied the chance to prepare for their last game as high school football players.
Suddenly their season was over. And there was nothing they could do.
“When you walk off of the field thinking you have another game, and then you find out you don’t — that’s the worst feeling in the world,” Ardsley’s Gabe Kardish said. “My whole team was so upset and I was praying that I would be selected for this game because I need one more chance to suit up again.”
It isn’t easy to calculate where football stands in the bigger picture of the tragedy and ongoing privation of the storm’s aftermath. It’s of no debate that high school athletics pale in comparison to the necessities of clean water, power or even having enough gas to get to work.
At the same time, people coping with hardship often look for symbols rooted in the bedrock of our culture. If that’s the case, what’s more natural and comforting than football games in November?
“All these kids here and a lot of kids sitting at home unfortunately got robbed of their last game so it’s nice for these all-stars to get to play one more time,” South coach Mike Oliva of Irvington said. “Everyone has different opinions about these games being played, but I think it’s a nice opportunity for communities to rally around their kids and give them one last shot to play high school football.”
The players and a dozen or so coaches squeezed into about fifty yards of turf illuminated by four portable light towers. Those original tiny groups slowly melded into units based on position and eventually they turned out in rows for calisthenics.
Jerseys for Blind Brook, Yonkers, Eastchester and Sleepy Hollow among others fell into place and went through stretches that they’ve always done, though maybe in a different order or rhythm.
Finally coach Oliva gathered everyone into a familiar huddle and with hands in the air and a simple “1-2-3 SOUTH!” a scattering of athletes became an All-Star Team.
“We’re all coming out here and trying to have a good time for one more week, “ Scarsdale quarterback Andrew Verboys Jr. said. “Once we put our pads on we’re all going to get along and represent the South. We’re all playing for one team now, we put away our past and are ready to have fun.”
SECTION 1 EXCEPTIONAL SENIOR ALL-STAR GAME
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Mahopac High School
- Follow the game live on Twitter: @MSGVPerez