Cape-Atlantic League players show their talents at annual Taliaferro All-Star Football ClassicBy DAVE O'SULLIVAN
Hammonton's Jon Vega won the Blue team MVP award on Thursday night for leading his team to a 19-7 victory over the White team in the Taliaferro Classic at Rowan University with a pair of sacks and a big fumble recovery, but a strong case could have been made for Cedar Creek place kicker/punter Pat Moran.
Moran kicked a pair of field goals, including a 42-yarder on the final play of the first half, accounted for as many points as the White team, and also placed a punt at the 1-yard line that set up a touchdown by Holy Spirit's Reggie Jean-Charles that gave Blue a 10-0 lead in the first half. Moran and Jean-Charles highlighted a standout night for the Cape-Atlantic League at the annual all-star event.
"The field goals are a lot more fun because you get the points, but it's just about trying to do the best I can for my team. I'm not even worried about (accolades)," said Moran, who finished his career as the best kicker in Cedar Creek history and one of the best ever in South Jersey. "I'm really thankful for the coaches for picking me for this team and for my coach (Tim Watson) for nominating me for it. I remember thinking last year, 'man, I really wish I could be a part of this game.' I just wanted to be a part of a team like this so that I could say to myself that I did a good job. It's really fulfilling, and I'm glad I was a part of it."
The game benefits the Adam Taliaferro Foundation. Taliaferro was paralyzed while playing for Penn State in 2000, making a tackle during a game against Ohio State. Doctors said he likely would never walk again, but three months after having spinal-fusion surgery, Taliaferro was walking again. His foundation provides emotional, financial and education support to student-athletes who suffer catastrophic head in spinal injuries in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and also provides money for medical research.
The players are housed at Rowan University for three days prior to the game and go through as many as 10 practices, giving them a taste of what a college training camp might be like.
"It was a great experience, just developing chemistry with these guys throughout the week. We only had 72 hours to prove ourselves worthy of a victory, and we did that. It was just a great experience. It was awesome," said Zeke Ennis of St. Augustine Prep. "After practices, hanging out with the guys in the room; 617 was definitely the best room during the week. Everybody was in room 617, and we had a great time."
The game also provided an opportunity to shine for players who may have been overlooked during their high school careers, such as defensive back Aaron Jackson of Atlantic City.
"It was amazing. Some of these players I really didn't know (before this week) and now it feels like I've known them my whole life. It's been the best experience of my life and I wouldn't have it any other way," Jackson said. "I was just expecting to come out, play my game, go hard in every practice. There was a lot of competition out here. Some people thought maybe I wasn't a big hitter, but I think I showed it during this game. I was hitting everything that moved."
As typically happens when you get 100 or more teenage boys together for four days, there's going to be some jawing and trash talking, and things got heated on the field briefly with a scuffle after a kickoff, but coaches brushed it off as simply proud, competitive players getting after it on the football field.
"It was really just the East against the West and we wanted to show which side was better. It got a little heated, like with passing each other in the halls and them saying they were going to beat us, but we just let the scoreboard do the talking," Jean-Charles said.
Jean-Charles had a couple of bruising runs, as became his signature during his senior season at Holy Spirit when he led the Spartans to a berth in a state championship game and was one of South Jersey's leading rushers. His 3-yard touchdown run following Moran's punt and a fumble by the White team gave Blue a 10-0 lead, and Moran's late second-quarter field goal put the team up 13-0 heading into halftime. The Blue squad used some trickery in the third quarter to extend its lead to 19-0, as Cinnaminson's Shaun Davilla found a wide open Ricardo Patterson of Willingboro on a 60-yard halfback option pass. Overbrook's Marques DeShields scored on a nifty 18-yard, fourth-down run down the left sideline late in the fourth quarter for the White team's only score.
Not having to tackle Jean-Charles like he's had to for the past couple of years was a welcome relief for Ennis, the defensive back said.
"That's probably the best feeling of all time. Reggie is a big dude, and he's a scary dude when he gets going downhill. You saw him run over a few guys tonight, but better them than me," Ennis said. "Everybody played physically. The white team played well, so kudos to them. Both defenses played well and everybody played physically, and most importantly, nobody got hurt.
"I thought it was a great game. I'm glad we raised a lot of money for this cause. I thought both teams played really well," Moran said. "It was a great experience being up here with all the guys, being coached by different coaches. It kind of gives you an idea of what college is going to be like. It was really cool, met a lot of cool guys and made some new friendships with a bunch of kids. I enjoyed it a lot, and I'm glad I was a part of this."
Added Jean-Charles, "It was a great experience staying with these guys for four days. I made great friends, and they'll be friends I stay in touch with and may see them in the future in college. The hardest part was putting their decals on my helmet. Because, like with St. Joe's, we were enemies on the field, had games go into overtime. It was a little difficult, but at the end of the day they are great people and I loved playing football with them for four days."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays