Shore Sports Network basketball blogger Tim "Nep84" McCollum gives his take on the latest in Shore Conference boys basketball and other news from around the Shore.

I have to admit that I spent a large part of the other day following National Signing Day. I didn’t follow it nationally but on a local level I followed it very closely. That voice I hear out there in my head is all of y’all asking me, 'Why?' I know, I know. It’s not like (even though I do have a senior trying to get into a music program) these are my kids.

But then again, aren’t they in some way all of my kids? …. Plus I have some other reasons and observations. Give me a minute to explain.

The folks here at Shore Sports Network did a terrific job of posting all of the pictures and tweets, etc., they could get their hands on and compiling them into one nice piece of sheer joy and happiness. That’s why I’m calling this the miles of smiles. Seriously…. Look at these pictures. I challenge you to find anyone who isn’t smiling or beaming or both. Even the Monmouth University mugshots where the kids are putting on their stern All-Pro faces, they are beaming a mile wide.

And it’s not just the kids. Here are some of my favorite pictures and some other observations.

First of all; aren’t there any left-handed kids anymore? Go down the line. EVERYONE is right-handed. It’s a conspiracy against left-handed people (like myself) everywhere.

One of the things you see and read and hear constantly in the high school athletics domain is this classification of how successful an athlete is if he can go “high D-I,” as if to infer that you are less successful if you are not “high D-I” or have the stigma of being “mid-major,” “low D-I,” or even the dreaded (GASP) “D-II” material.

Now look at this picture of the four RBC football players (Quenton Nelson, Tim O’Hara, Shawn McCord, and Larry Redaelli).

The Red Bank Catholic group of (from left) Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame); Shawn McCord (Sacred Heart); Tim O'Hara (Lehigh) and Larry Redaelli (Assumption) celebrated a memorable day. (Photo courtesy of RBC)

Without looking at their hats, which one do you think is the “high D-I" recruit of these guys? Which of these kids is the happiest of the bunch? He must be the one, right? Well, that would be a bad assumption (pun intended) because despite that fact that 75 percent of the kids in this picture are not going “high D-I,” they all seem like this is one of the happiest days in their lives despite the stigma of not being good enough to get that all-important “high D-I” label.

This is where people miss the whole point of this thing.

When I look at this picture I see four kids who have worked their tails off for probably most of their lives and achieved something great. They have used the game to earn an opportunity to receive a quality education. I’m not using the word "used" in a bad sense, either. That’s what the game is there for, though. You play it because you love it; you use it to better yourself. Only the lucky few get to use it to make a living.

I do have one thing to say directly to the RBC four as they leave high school: Don’t let the gym door hit you on the way out! As a fan of a team that has to play RBC for the next two years (Neptune), and on behalf of the last three dozen or so Shore teams you’ve laid waste to over the last few years, I am so glad you’ll be wreaking havoc on whatever opponents your college teams will face and not us poor fools on your schedule.

So Mr. Nelson tweeting the Notre Dame fight song was a nice touch. Mr. O’Hara, some of the best hot dogs in the world are around Allentown. If you eat one with brown mustard, raw onions, and doggie sauce, you’ll be a better man. Trust me!  To Mr. McCord, you need to find Junior’s and get a cheesecake. It’s the best on the planet. And finally to Mr. Redaelli, it’s your own fault you don’t have a hat. If you weren’t so stinking hard to tackle, the folks at Assumption might have had the chance to get it to you.

The miles of smiles don’t stop there folks…..

Check out this picture of Joey Fields signing his letter with Central Connecticut State.

Monsignor Donovan WR/DB Joey Fields and his family celebrated his signing with Central Connecticut State on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of head coach Dan Duddy)

Who’s beaming more, Joey or Mom and Dad? While it’s certainly true that the NCAA saving you around 100K of tuition (or even worse, student loans), there is no greater feeling for a parent than to watch something incredible happen to your child. As a parent you are proud of your kids every day, but it all comes bubbling to the top like it did for these folks. Joey, like all of the kids in these pictures, has a phenomenal opportunity.  I have to admit the old parental pride was bubbling up in me, too, and I don’t even know these kids.

But the miles of smiles don’t stop there, either.

I really like this picture of Ryan Wetzel and Anthony Gargiulo posing with Coach LaCava or RFH senior Peter Righi with his coach or Matawan senior Nick Tomkins with his coach. The first thing that came to mind looking at the Colts Neck pair is flashbacks to a frigid day last November in first round of the state tournament against Neptune. It was nice of Anthony to slow down long enough to come into focus for a picture. I hope none of the recruiters tried to tackle him because that is a baaaaad idea.

Back to the point…. Coaches spend an insane amount of time working with these kids and expend a great deal of energy caring about them. Here’s the thing, though. Coaches care just as much about the kid at the end of the bench as the one who signs a National Letter of Intent to play a sport in college.

Everyone who puts any amount of energy into their work wants to feel gratification at the payoff. This is the payoff. I’ll bet these coaches get more gratification from their work seeing their kids succeed as men and women more than the score of any football game. You may be paid to win football games, but your job is to use the sport to make better people. Making better football players is kinda …. extra.

But the miles of smiles don’t stop there.

Check out this picture of Raritan’s Pat Toal with his fellow seniors, for example. Well, maybe the miles of smiles do stop here. Really guys, that’s the best you could do? Did someone turn off ESPN right before taking this picture? Did they run out of pizza in the cafeteria or something? Y’all look like my son when I tell him to get off the Xbox.

What about the flute player who got a scholarship to a conservatory? They don’t have a national signing day for that. Or the kid who doesn’t play a sport but gets a free ride anyway? They aren’t reported on ESPN. There isn’t a top 50 by subject for those kids.

But their successes are just as profound, even though their pictures aren’t posted on a sports website. So to all of them and to all of the kids in these pictures, I say congratulations on a job well done. I will have much more fun watching you in college representing the Shore with pride than watching you abuse my teams in high school. But there is one thing to remember…..

All you have been given is an opportunity. You’ve been given this opportunity by someone who believes in you, possibly even as much as you believe in yourself.

Make the most of it.

And don’t forget to come back and see us some time … On the ShoreLine.