Home Sweet Home: Long Branch Trio of Baillie, Willis and Colbert to Play on Home Field in All-Shore Gridiron Classic
Now in its 38th edition as the oldest high school football all-star game in New Jersey, the U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic will make its first stop at one of the oldest and most storied programs in the Shore.
For the first time, the game will be held at Long Branch High School, as the senior all-stars from Monmouth County and Ocean County square off on the artificial turf at Bresett Stadium at 7 p.m. on July 16. For a trio of Monmouth County stars, that means one final game on their home field representing the green and white of the Green Wave. They also will look to get Monmouth County, which leads the all-time series 20-16-1, back on top after a 17-14 win by Ocean County last summer.
All three should figure to play large roles considering they were three of the top players in the Shore Conference this past fall. Record-setting running back Dahmiere Willis, first-team All-Shore defensive back Dave Colbert and Shore Conference sack leader Hunter Baillie are excited to have the opportunity to show out for their home fans one last time. They will be led by a coach from right around the corner, as Shore Regional's Mark Costantino will serve as the head man for Monmouth County.
"I was excited when I heard because it's been at a bunch of other places, but it's never been here, so that's big,'' Willis said.
"It's great to play our last game at home and get a chance to show what we can do,'' Baillie said.
It was a season of what might have been for Long Branch, as the Green Wave reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinals but lost a 21-17 heart-breaker when they were stopped at the goal line in the final seconds by a Carteret team they beat 31-6 in the regular season. However, they did cap their 8-3 season on a high note as Willis ran for 295 yards against Red Bank Regional on Thanksgiving to set the single-season Shore Conference rushing record with 2,589 yards, the second-best rushing season in New Jersey history.
Willis, who will continue his career at American International College in Springfield, Mass., was selected as the Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year. He led the Shore with 314 carries and averaged 8.2 yards per carry while also starting in the secondary for the third straight year and playing on special teams. He is certain to be a prime attraction at the Gridiron Classic after his historic season.
"It just makes me want to go out there and do what I do, and show them why I have the record,'' he said.
Willis also is part of a loaded Monmouth County backfield that includes Rumson's all-time leading rusher, Princeton recruit Charlie Volker, as well as first-team All-Shore back Imamu Mayfield of Manalapan, who led the Shore with 31 touchdowns during an 1,800-yard season. Both of them also helped their teams win NJSIAA titles.
Monmouth County also includes another 1,000-yard rusher in Mater Dei Prep quarterback Christian Palmer, a first-team All-Shore pick who ran for 1,265 yards and 17 touchdowns, as well as Freehold Boro's explosive Josh Dixon, who ran for 1,407 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"That's a ridiculous backfield,'' Willis said. "There's nothing more I can say about it. It's insane.''
Baillie and Colbert will look to make their presence felt on the other side of the ball. Baillie, who will join Willis in the fall at American International, was a second-team All-Shore selection after leading the conference with 15 sacks at linebacker along with 82 tackles and six passes defensed for a defense that allowed 16.3 points per game and recorded two shutouts. A three-year varsity starter, he carries on a proud family tradition, as his older brother, Billy, played in the Gridiron Classic in 2011.
"I loved Long Branch, and I think I had a pretty good career playing in the Shore Conference,'' Baillie said. "It should be a fun way to go out."
Colbert led the Shore Conference with eight interceptions at cornerback and will face an Ocean County offense led by two-time, first-team All-Shore quarterback Carmen Sclafani of Brick, one of the most prolific all-around threats in the state, as well as human highlight film Tymere Berry of Toms River South, another 1,000-yard rusher.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge,'' Colbert said.
"I'm looking forward to sacking them,'' Baillie said.
There also is the fun of becoming teammates with players who were once enemies on the field. Many players over the years since the game's inception in 1978 have built lasting friendships during All-Shore week with guys they knocked heads with for four years.
"It's a little weird after all the Twitter trash talk and stuff like that during the season, but we'll see when we get out there,'' Baillie said. "We're all on the same side now."