WEST LONG BRANCH — The countdown to the 39th annual U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic has begun.

The all-star football seniors from Monmouth and Ocean County gathered with their coaching staffs and teammates on Monday evening at the MAC at Monmouth University for Gridiron Classic Media Day. The practice week is a month away, culminating with the 2016 Gridiron Classic at 7 p.m. on June 30 at Central Regional High School’s Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field.

The Gridiron Classic is the longest continually running high school football all-star game in New Jersey. Many Shore Conference football players have relatives who have either played or coached in the game, so it’s a point of pride and a noteworthy achievement to be selected to participate.

“I’m just real excited,” said Brick defensive end Jordan Keefe. “I’ve been looking forward to playing in this game since we had it (at Brick’s Keller Memorial Field) when I was a junior.”

“It’s awesome. I’ve watched this game for a number of years and always wanted to play in it,” said Middletown South quarterback and kicker Matt Mosquera. “To get that opportunity is something special and I’m going to make the most of it.”

Both Dave Oizerowitz and Anthony Petruzzi had dreams of playing in the Gridiron Classic during their high school days, and when they became head coaches it carried over to yearning for a spot on the sidelines.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Oizerowitz, who was selected as Ocean County’s head coach after guiding Toms River North to an 11-1 record and the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V state championship. “(Southern head coach Chuck) Donohue reached out to me, and there’s so many things going on after we won the state title, so many accolades and you don’t expect any of it. You never know when you’re going to win (a state championship) so when you do all of it kind of blindsides you. When coach reached out to me it was the cherry on top.”

Oizerowitz played his high school football at Toms River South, graduating in 1992. He was selected to play in the Gridiron Classic but was unable to participate.

“As soon as you get selected you start to really think about the magnitude of it, and all the great coaches that have been selected before you,” Oizerowitz said. “There’s guys that were mentors of mine, and when I was a little kid my dad would bring me to the game. It starts to hit home a bit.”

Monmouth County head coach Anthony Petruzzi addresses his team during Gridiron Classic Media Day at Monmouth University. (Photo by Robert Badders).

Petruzzi is a 1999 graduate of Raritan High School, and this past fall led his alma mater to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title with a stunning upset of undefeated Lincoln. Petruzzi played in the Gridiron Classic in the summer of 1999.

“It’s something you never plan on doing but something you keep in the back of your mind,” Petruzzi said. “When you go to the All-Shore game, as a player it’s ‘hey, maybe one day I’ll be able to play in that’. As a coach it’s ‘maybe one day I’ll be on that sideline’.”

The Monmouth County head coach for the 1999 game was legendary Keyport coach and Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Famer Mike Ciccotelli. Also on that staff was his brother, former Freehold, Neptune and St. John Vianney head coach and current north Plainfield head coach Mark Ciccotelli, former Raritan head coach Bob Generelli, former Rumson-Fair Haven head coach and current Holmdel athletic director Shane Fallon and current Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci. Mark Ciccotelli will coach with Monmouth County this season.

“To have the ability to be with those guys even in that short period of time was something I’ll never forget,” Petruzzi said. “Hopefully we can pass those memories on to our players.”

For the players, there’s nothing like getting one final high school game in front of thousands of fans, friends and family. Some players will move on and play at the collegiate level, while others will strap on the equipment and leave it all on the field for the last time. In both cases there is a sense or pride for their county, but mostly in representing their school.

Keefe was part of a tremendous class for Brick that brought the Green Dragons back to the forefront of the Shore Conference. Brick won the 2013 Central Jersey Group IV title for its first sectional title since 1994 and won consecutive Class A South division titles in 2014 and 2015.

“It was great to be a part of that great (Brick) legacy,” Keefe said. “We put up three (championship) flags in the last three years, and I think we’re one of three Brick groups to do that. I’m proud to be part of that and I think it’s going to continue.”

All Middletown South did this past season was go 12-0, win the program’s 10th sectional title and finish No. 1 in the state. Mosquera was a record-breaking kicker during his time with the Eagles and a two-year starter at quarterback. He helped deliver Middletown South its first sectional title since 2006 and first undefeated season since 2005.

“It means a lot to come from such a great program and to represent it,” Mosquera said. “We’re going to do our best and hopefully make Middletown South proud.”

Ocean County won last year’s game, 27-7, but Monmouth County still leads the all-time series 20-17-1.

The Shore Football Coaches Foundation will induct three new members into its hall of fame as Antonucci, Monmouth University head coach Kevin Callahan and former Asbury Park Press Sports Editor Dick Brinster will be honored at halftime.

 

Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.