Gridiron Classic Notebook: Sam Mills Awards, Leadership Awards, Hall of Fame and More
LONG BRANCH - When the Ocean County coaches scanned their roster ahead of Thursday's U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic, something immediately stood out: Not a single player had been the placekicker for his team during the season.
Initially, Lacey quarterback Conor Davies was going to handle the kicking, but when the coaches asked if anyone else could kick, Brick Memorial wide receiver/defensive back Karl Kumm raised his hand.
"Coach said, 'Can anyone else here kick?''' Kumm said. "I just hopped right in, dusted off the cobwebs and got right back to it. I knew I could do it. I always believed in myself, and my holder, (Brick Memorial teammate) Joe Hans, we had great chemistry.''
The team that some dumb sportswriter said did not have a kicker ended up scoring nine of its 27 points on kicks by Kumm in a 27-7 win over Monmouth at Long Branch. He hit three extra points, a 25-yard field goal, and then a career-long 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Not too shabby for a player who kicked as a sophomore and then was just a position player, as standout Matt Cuppari was Brick Memorial's kicker this past season.
"I hit a couple long ones in practice,'' Kumm said. "The coaches having the confidence in me definitely gave me a lift."
Kumm also had a 45-yard touchdown catch in the win, having some fun as he backpedaled into the end zone for the score before offering a salute.
"We could never do anything like that (celebration) at Brick Memorial,'' Kumm said before laughing. "One time I just did the salute and Coach (Walt) Currie was so mad he almost head-butted me while I still had my helmet on."
It was part of a memorable night for Kumm, who also was selected as Ocean County's recipient of the prestigious Sam Mills Award. Kumm was a late addition to the Ocean County roster after a season in which he had 13 catches for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns while playing receiver in a flexbone offense dominated by the run game. He also had 10 pass break-ups and three interceptions in the secondary.
"It's cool to be in the spotlight,'' Kumm said. "I didn't get All-Shore, I didn't get All-Division. I'm a receiver in a running offense, and starting over some of these All-Shore candidates was a cool honor. I'm not a big name. I didn't end up in all the newspapers for anything. This season I gave up being the star for my team, blocking every single play and being the tight end and making the most of my opportunities."
Kumm was born in the Eastern European nation of Estonia and came to Brick as a child with his family. He still has plenty of extended family in Estonia who follow his football exploits on Facebook.
"They'll definitely be checking Facebook 4,000 miles away in Europe tonight,'' he said. "My mom came here with a suitcase and $100 and said, 'Go make a name for yourself.' I guess I'm doing that now.''
Also an outstanding student, he is headed to Carnegie Mellon University and has a clear vision of his future.
"I know I'm not going to end up in the NFL,'' he said. "I went for academics. I'm going to try to learn international finance, learn some Mandarin and hopefully hit those new markets out in China."
Better Late Than Never
Like Kumm, Toms River South defensive end Joe Odebode and Southern tight end Femi Palmer were late additions to the Ocean County roster, but both of them made their mark on the game. They also are good friends, and both of part of Nigerian families.
"It was awesome when we found out we were playing,'' Palmer said. "I called (Odebode) that day. We're like cousins. It was so much fun to get to play with him and my (Southern) teammates on the left side of the line one last time. I will remember this for the rest of my life."
Odebode was selected as Ocean County's defensive MVP after finishing with a sack and a tackle for a loss, while Palmer received the inaugural Leadership Award for Ocean County presented by the U.S. Army. Palmer, an outstanding student headed to the Ivy League at the University of Pennsylvania, also had a 14-yard catch that set up a field goal.
"I always pride myself in being a good leader in class and outside of school, so this was a great honor,'' Palmer said.
Odebode, who will continue his career at East Stroudsburg University, relished the chance to go up against a Monmouth County backfield featuring Long Branch star Dahmiere Willis and Rumson-Fair Haven standout Charlie Volker.
"I had to come in and shut them down,'' he said. "They've been hyped up all their careers, and we had to get it done."
Three New Hall of Famers
It was a special night for Shore Regional coach Mark Costantino, former Jackson Memorial and Wall coach Chris Barnes, and longtime newspaper reporter Chris Christopher, who all were inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame at halftime. You can read about all of their accomplishments in the official program.
Sam Mills Awards
While Kumm earned the Ocean County Sam Mills Award, it was also a special night for Long Branch's Dahmiere Willis. The star who set the single-season Shore Conference rushing record with 2,589 yards this past fall was Monmouth County's recipient. It was a nice link to the past, as the game was on Willis's home field at Long Branch, where Mills is a legend.
He went on to star as a linebacker at Montclair State before going from an undersized Division III player to an All-Pro in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and then the Carolina Panthers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mills tragically died of cancer in 2005. As someone who met him in person in the 1990s and saw him speak, I can't think of a more magnetic speaker who commanded a room. He was just an impressive individual the way he carried himself on and off the field, and he is greatly missed by the Shore.
For the first time in the Classic's history, Leadership Awards were handed out by the U.S. Army to one player from each county. Southern's Palmer was Ocean's winner, while Red Bank Catholic defensive back Mike Cordova earned the honor for Monmouth.
Coincidentally, the two collided on the field when Cordova delivered a jarring hit on Palmer that saved a touchdown in the first half.
Jackson Memorial beat Wall to win the Shore Conference 7-on-7 title before the game...Ocean's 20-point win was the largest margin of victory for any Ocean County team in the 38-year history of the Classic. The largest margin of victory overall was Monmouth's 36-0 win in 1994...The game MVPs for Ocean were Jackson Memorial wide receiver Matt Castronuova and Toms River South defensive end Joe Odebode. For Monmouth, it was Rumson running back Charlie Volker and Holmdel linebacker Frank Condito...While Karl Kumm's 43-yard field goal was one of the longest in Classic history, it still is short of the record. Brick's Kurt Weiboldt, who is now the kicking coach with the Green Dragons, boomed a 52-yarder in 1990, and St. John Vianney's Gil Gutierrez also hit a 52-yarder in 1989...Walt Krystopik is the first coach from Jackson Memorial to coach Ocean County to a win in Classic history...This is the first time Ocean has won back-to-back games since 2007-08. Monmouth leads the all-time series 20-17-1.
This was the first time the game was at Long Branch in Classic history, and it was a big success. The crowd was estimated at well over 3,000, and all the tickets at the door were sold.