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There are players that will suit up for Wednesday night's All-Shore Gridiron Classic who have little understanding of the history behind New Jersey's longest-running high school football all-star game. And then there is Donovan Catholic's Nunes Bukula IV.

When Bukula puts on the pads for one final time as a high school player at Brick Township High School's Keller Memorial Field, he will become the third member of his family to play in the Gridiron Classic. His father, Nunes IIII, was a standout running back for Pinelands who helped Ocean County to a come-from-behind 15-13 victory in the 1997 All-Shore game. His uncle, Vemba, was also a star running back for the Wildcats and played in the 2000 Gridiron Classic before a successful college career at Hofstra. Now, it's Nunes IV's turn to carry the rock for the Ocean County all-stars, and he'll do so as the team's starting running back.

"It's kind of crazy," Bukula said. "Obviously with my dad and uncle playing in it, when I was growing up I always wanted to play in this game. Growing up in Pinelands, my uncle Vemba still had his jersey and I would always have it with me. It's a blessing I was selected to play."

Bukula IV started his career at Pinelands where he received significant playing time as a sophomore, including a 174-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 19-14 win over Manchester. Following the 2019 season, he made the decision to transfer to Donovan Catholic. While the Griffins were coming off a program-record 9-2 season and a division title, joining Donovan meant Bukula would spend a year as a backup behind eventual Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year Jahdir Loftland. Donovan went 7-1 and reached the unofficial Shore Conference championship game in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and Loftland ran for 1,369 yards and 17 touchdowns in eight games. Bukula received just 24 carries as a junior, but he made them count by rushing for 269 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 11.2 yards per carry. He rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in a victory over Toms River North, offering a glimpse of what was to come.

09/10/2021 - Donovan Catholic / Rumson-Fair Haven
Richard O'Donnell

It was clear Bukula had the talent to step in and have a great senior season. All that was left to do was take advantage of the opportunity.

During the 2021 season, Donovan Catholic was again one of the best teams in New Jersey, and Bukula was a major reason why. The 6-foot, 215-pound back blended power, speed, vision, and versatility to rush for 1,249 yards and 13 touchdowns on an average of 8 yards per carry. He also caught six passes for 119 yards to average 124.4 scrimmage yards per game. He ran for a career-high 232 yards in a 35-0 win over Colts Neck and ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-7 win over Red Bank Catholic. Donovan finished No. 2 in the SSN Top 10 and Bukula was a Shore Sports Network First Team All-Shore selection. 

"When I got there Jah was a great running back and a senior, so I just waited for my time and did what I did," Bukula said.

Bukula had several collegiate offers from Division 1 and Division 2 schools and in January committed to Wagner.

With Ocean County set to feature the run-first offense of Central Regional on Wednesday night, Bukula should get plenty of touches and the chance to make his final high school game a memorable one.

"At Donovan, we ran the pistol and we're running some of that hear, too, so I'm used to it," Bukula said. "And our (Donovan's) right guard Aaron Crooms is also playing so when he pulls I'm already used to his leverage and how he's going to block."

The Bukula legacy is strong in Ocean County, and on Wednesday night the latest chapter will be written.


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