Gridiron Classic – Recognition of Relentlessness: Southern’s Mason Fazekas and Keansburg’s Kason Preston
BRICK TOWNSHIP — The chatter could be heard throughout the Ocean County sideline every time No. 54 in white made another impact play on Thursday night.
“Is that the Southern kid again?”
“What a beast!”
“He just doesn’t stop.”
For the many who played alongside Southern senior linebacker Mason Fazekas for the first time it was an eye-opening experience, but for those who know him best it was just another I-told-you-so moment.
“I just kept telling all of them they got a little taste in practice, but they didn’t really know what they were working with,” said fellow Southern linebacker Bailey Bellissimo. “I told them they were going to find out Thursday night, and I think everybody did.”
Fazekas finished with four tackles for a loss and a blocked punt to be selected as defensive MVP for Ocean County in its 17-14 victory over Monmouth County in the 37th annual U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic on Thursday night at Brick Township’s Keller Memorial Field. Fazekas also took home the annual Sam Mills Award for Ocean County, an award given by each team’s coaches to the player who best exemplifies the determination and perseverance of the late Sam Mills, a Long Branch legend who was an All-Pro linebacker with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
“It’s real overwhelming and very humbling,” Fazekas said. “It’s still setting in.”
Fazekas ended his Shore Conference career with the same fervor he used to terrorize opposing offenses during the 2013 season. An undersized linebacker/defensive lineman at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Fazekas more than makes up for his lack of Division I size with all-pro heart and determination. He was second on the Rams in tackles with 68 (41 solo) while posting a team-best nine sacks on a Southern unit that led Class A South in points allowed at 14.2 per game. His nine sacks are the second-highest single-season total in Rams history.
When Fazekas arrived in Manahawkin as a transfer from Georgia for his freshman year, however, he wasn’t the beloved teammate he is today. He was the outcast, and the rest of the team took it out on him in practice. But that never deterred him. He continued to work and prove himself until he got on the field as a junior. As a senior starter he was Southern’s most impactful and consistent defensive player.
“Everybody always told me I couldn’t do it, and that’s what I used (as motivation),” Fazekas said.
“The only word for him is heart,” Bellissimo said. “It couldn’t happen to anyone who deserves it more.”
In addition to his four hits for a loss and the blocked punt, Fazekas also made a perfect form tackle in a 1-on-1 situation against Asbury Park’s Daquane Bland-Bennett on a punt return, and pressured Howell quarterback Connor McGlynn on Drew Scott’s interception that set up Anthony Starego’s game-winning field goal.
During the short week of practice that leads up the the Gridiron Classic it’s always difficult for coaches to get a feel for players they’ve never coached before. But from the moment he took the field, Fazekas let everyone know what he was bringing to the table.
“We knew about him as a Brick staff and we were excited to coach him,” said Brick head coach Rob Dahl, who led the Ocean County squad. “He didn’t let us down. From the first day of practice to the fourth day he was flying around and making plays. I knew (Monmouth County) would come out with that gigantic line, but he was quicker than them and in the backfield the whole game. He’s s small kid, but he plays with more heart than most guys I’ve seen in my life.”
When the coaching staff had to decide who to nominate for the Sam Mills Award, it was an easy choice.
“When Sam Mills played high school football he was more of an undersized guy that played with a lot of heart, and (Mason) was that guy that stood out in practice,” Dahl said. “You can’t judge him by his size, but you can definitely judge him by his heart. He plays with a ton of heart and soul.”
“It comes down to wanting it more than anyone else on the field,” Bellissimo said. “He comes to the weight room and works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. He just deserves everything he gets.”
Fazekas will continue his career back in Georgia at Chattahoochee Technical College with the plan to transfer to FCS program Kennesaw State after two years. With Southern head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. watching from the sidelines and teammates Bellissimo and Logan Sheehan playing alongside him, Fazekas’s career came full circle in his final high school game.
“I just wanted to leave with a statement and make Southern and my family proud,” Fazekas said.
Staying Humble: Keansburg’s Kason Preston Wins Sam Mills Award
By Tommy Farrell Jr. - Shore Sports Network Correspondent
BRICK TOWNSHIP — “Stay humble.”
Two simple words said by Monmouth County’s Sam Mills Award recipient, Kason Preston.
The Sam Mills Award winners were announced before the fourth quarter of this year’s 37th annual U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic at Brick Township High School. The Monmouth County winner was Kason Preston, a defensive back from Keansburg High School.
Preston will be attending ASA College next year and felt honored to be representing Keansburg and Monmouth County. The Titans struggled through a 1-10 season this past fall, but Preston was their standout with 29 total tackles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception at safety.
“This feels great. Kids from our school don’t get enough attention and it is a huge honor to be representing Keansburg in this game.” Preston said. “I truly thank (Keansburg athletic director) Mr. (Tom) Stark. He has taught me to be a great man. I will absolutely remember this game for the rest of my life. Playing alongside these talented players was a great experience. I would advise everyone to work hard so they can be in this game. You learn a lot and make so many new friends.”
“He was a great athlete, but an even better learner.” said Keansburg head coach Chris Damian. “He came a long way and worked hard. I was proud of how he came out and represented the school. He’s overcome a lot of adversity to get to where he is now.”
Despite Monmouth County’s loss, Preston was very optimistic at the end of the game. He urged younger athletes to keep working for what they want.
“Stay humble. Just want it. You got to want it. Go out and get it,” Preston advised.
Sam Mills was certainly speaking through Kason Preston during this year’s All-Shore Gridiron Classic.