Tyrik Darby was convinced his high school football career was over. The Lincoln High School senior, who already signed with Southern Connecticut to play football there in the fall, knew of the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association’s North-South All-Star Classic, primarily because former Lincoln star Ronald Butler played in the game a few years ago.
“I always wanted to feel like I could follow in his footsteps,” said Darby, a wide receiver like Butler, who is currently a standout at Utah State.
So when Darby received word that he was indeed selected to play in the 36th annual All-Star Classic at Piscataway High School June 23, he was overjoyed.
“I was very excited,” Darby said. “I had no idea I could play in the game. I couldn’t believe it.”
Darby is one of five Hudson County products to earn a berth on the North All-Stars. The others are Rashad Brandon of St. Anthony, David Allen of Union City, Rob Walsh of St. Peter’s Prep and Donte Bass of Hoboken.
Bass, the starting quarterback on Hoboken’s back-to-back NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state champions, will play defensive back in college.
Bass will go to Contra Costa Junior College in California, the same JUCO that Butler attended before heading to Utah. Several other Hudson County products have attended the prestigious junior college.
Bass also didn’t think he had a chance to get selected to play in the Classic.
“I was surprised,” Bass said. “I didn’t expect it. I walked into the classroom and Coach (Lou Taglieri) handed me the paper, telling me I was on the team. I ran down the hallway of the school, telling everyone. I was really excited. It’s a huge honor to play in this game. I’m just glad I can carry on the tradition of other Hoboken players who have played in the game.”
Bass said that he will be able to christen the new helmets that the Red Wings will don in the fall.
It is also a reunion of sorts for Darby and Bass. While the two faced each other in high school, they were once teammates on the Jersey City Recreation Jets several years ago.
“It’s a good feeling to be connected with Donte again,” Darby said.
Brandon, the fine two-way lineman with the Friars, will head to Monroe Junior College in New York with the hope of securing a berth with a four-year school later on.
Brandon didn’t think he had a chance to make the team, considering he played for a small school like St. Anthony.
“I feel like I have to prove myself a little bit,” Brandon said. “I’m very proud to be selected.”
Brandon will concentrate his efforts as an offensive lineman in the Classic.
“It’s great that we have so many guys from Hudson County on the team,” Brandon said. “I think it says a lot about Hudson County football and how good it is.”
Allen, another fine offensive lineman, has already signed with Delaware State.
“I was hoping to get a chance to play in the game,” Allen said. “It’s a great honor. It’s an exciting feeling. It’s exciting for me to get one more game representing Union City, my city. A lot of the guys in the game are college players, so the competition is great. I’m glad to get the shot. Facing the top competition is a positive thing, so I have to be ready.”
Allen will be joined by his head coach, Wilber Valdez, who will serve as the North squad’s defensive coordinator, and assistant coach Chris Johnsen.
“It’s great that we’ll all be together representing Union City,” Allen said. “Not everyone gets the chance to play one more game of football. It’s all great.”
Walsh, the standout offensive lineman for the Marauders, is headed to Catholic University.
“A couple of other Prep players got picked before me, so it’s a real honor for me to get picked,” Walsh said. “It’s nice to be here with guys I know and played against. I had a great four years of playing football at Prep and I’m looking forward to putting that Prep helmet on one more time.”
The North team will be housed for four days in the dormitory at Kean University, which had been the site of the game for several years.
“It’s definitely going to give me a head start as to what I can expect in college life,” Walsh said. “I think this is going to give me an edge.”
“It’s going to be great, getting a feel of college atmosphere, living in a dorm room with these guys,” Darby said.
Since Kean’s main field is getting an overhaul, the game was moved to Piscataway.
However, the North squad will get a chance to practice at both the New York Giants’ practice facility in East Rutherford and the New York Jets’ home in Florham Park.
The game has a new face this year. Former Giants’ Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Phil Simms has signed on to be a contributor this year.
“I got involved because of the great high school coaches there are in New Jersey,” Simms said. “They are great people and great coaches. That’s why I’m doing this. I appreciate the way the coaches in New Jersey have treated me over the years. I’m just honored to be a part of it. I’m really excited about it.”
It’s a great game with a great history and tradition – one that will include five of the county’s best.
Hudson County has always been a part of the game and will be again this summer.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.