The USA Football Heart of a Giant award program, presented by Hospital for Special Surgery and the New York Giants, recognizes high school football players within the Tri-State area that demonstrate unparalleled work ethic and passion for the game.

High school coaches from NY, NJ and CT can nominate athletes for a chance to win a $5,000 equipment grant.

2016 Heart of a Giant Award Winner

2016 Heart of a Giant Award Winner

Charlie Burt

Mahopac High School - Mahopac, NY

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Winner receiving check
  • The grand prize winner receives:
  • Heart of a Giant presented by Hospital for Special Surgery and New York Giants trophy
  • Additional $3,500 equipment grant for his or her high school football program
  • On field trophy presentation during the New York Giants Week 15 home game vs. Detroit on December 18

2016 Heart of a Giant Award Finalists

  • Week 1 Winner: Charlie Burt, Ryan Murphy
    Week 1 Winner

    Charlie Burt - Mahopac High School - Mahopac, NY

    Ryan Murphy - St. Luke's School - New Canaan, CT

  • Week 2 Winner: Teddy Galasso
    Week 2 Winner

    Teddy Galasso William Floyd H.S. Mastic Beach, NY

  • Week 3 Winner: Angelo Golino, Keshon Farmer
    Week 3 Winner

    Angelo Golino – Carteret H.S. - Carteret, NJ

    Keshon Farmer – Peddie School - Hightstown, NJ

  • Week 4 Winner: Connor Brown
    Week 4 Winner

    Connor BrownJefferson Township High SchoolJefferson Township, NJ

  • Week 5 Winner: Michael Carrino
    Week 5 Winner

    Michael CarrinoLyndhurst H.S.Lyndhurst, NJ

  • Week 6 Winner: Avery Hoffman
    Week 6 Winner

    Avery HoffmanRiverdale Country SchoolBronx, NY

2016 Heart of a Giant Weekly Nominees

The following Tri-State area high school football players have been nominated for the Heart of a Giant award:

  • USA Football
  • Nominee Photo

    Eric Magnifico

    Tight end
    Hanover Park H.S.
    East Hanover, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Eric Magnifico

    Tight end
    Hanover Park H.S.
    East Hanover, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the off-season, I remain committed to my training in preparation for the next season. As a team, we have regular lift sessions every school day. Additionally, I meet with my trainer at my gym and do my own individual workouts. Also, I spend three or four mornings a week before school hours with my speed trainer to help me work on my form, agility and endurance. Not only is exercise important during the offseason, I continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle by keeping a balanced diet filled with lots of protein and nutrients. I also enjoy watching NFL games to learn from the pros and study my game films from my past seasons, pinpointing my mistakes so I can correct them in the future.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: To have the 'Heart of a Giant" is to describe someone that displays commitment to the fullest. I believe that a lot goes into having a true commitment to something, and this is something that comes easy for me because of my passion for the game. Commitment is complete dedication in every aspect. There are no skipped sessions in training. My work ethic is filled with a focus and desire to be my best. With strong will, I maintain the desire to achieve success in everything I do whether it is on the field, in the classroom or and wherever I go. This is what having the "Heart of a Giant" means to me.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Three years ago, my family struggled with the news that my grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. I could see how it was affecting my grandmother and how difficult it was for our family to adjust to these new circumstances. I also noticed that sorrow affects people differently. It can either bring you down or you can be strong and keep fighting. I was starting my freshman season of football. I saw how my grandmother remained positive and determined to do what she had to do. I learned from this adversity. I took that same positive attitude and determination with me onto the field and spiritually kept my family in my thoughts. Playing football helped me deal with this adversity and kept me focused with my “never give up” attitude. Football has always helped me put everything into perspective.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I love most about playing football is how my involvement in this sport has shaped me into who I have grown up to be. It has given me a winning attitude. I have learned how to be a team player.  What we learn from football are lessons in life, both on and off the field. I have grown into the responsible person I am today. The team commitment, discipline, and hard work that goes into a successful season are ground rules for success in life. Over the years, playing football has helped me mature and enhanced my ability to problem solve. I have learned the importance of teamwork. I have learned the importance of dedication and commitment on all levels. For all these reasons, I love the game of football.

  • Nominee Photo

    Garrett Boures

    Linebacker
    Phillipsburg H.S.
    Phillipsburg, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Garrett Boures

    Linebacker
    Phillipsburg H.S.
    Phillipsburg, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I have had a few injuries during my high school football career that have always left me playing catch up with my training during the off-season. During my freshman year of high school, I suffered from a rare knee disease called osteochondritis dessicans, which kept me from playing the entire season. During my sophomore year I wanted prove to the coaches that I was here to play. That year, I had morning lifts with my coach before school and then I would lift with my teammates after school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On off-days (Wednesdays and Fridays), I would go to an off-site facility to lift. After my sophomore year, I had really bad pains in my groin that popped up during our state game that had quickly gone away afterwards so I thought that it was nothing. I ended up finding out after a lacrosse game that same year that I had an inguinal hernia that I was apparently born with and that ran down my left leg. Now my senior year is here and it’s turning out to be the only year since freshman year that I have finally be able to run and lift without experiencing any injuries, pain or discomfort. This season will be unique because we have just landed a new head coach who is also taking on the role of our offensive coordinator. We also have a new defensive coordinator. To date, we have had a lot of meetings to discuss the many changes that were going to take place this season, including a new offensive scheme and different defensive blitzes and coverages. The way I prepare for games is probably different than most people. I start my week by continuously watching film on our opponent. I also invite my brothers (teammates) over for team bonding at my house to stay focused before an upcoming game. About an hour before each game, I prepare myself mentally by listening to influential speakers to help get me pumped up and ready to go.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: One word that defines me as having the Heart of a Giant is WILL. During my freshman year, I suffered an injury that knocked me out for nine months and left me on crutches. The rare knee disease I have formed a hole in my knee, so I was unable to do anything for the longest time. I came back my sophomore year determined to do something great, however my coaches thought that I was undersized and was going to be weak because of the amount of time that I had to stay off of my feet. Determined to prove them wrong, I hit the weight room and ran every single day. During the first game of that season, the senior that started in front of me wound up getting hurt and ever since that game I became the starting outside linebacker. I was determined to not let my old injuries hinder the way that I was going to play this season. We finished that year with an 11- 1 record and a win in the State Championship game where I had the game winning tackle in overtime. However, during that game I suffered what I thought was a pulled groin. The pain had gone away shortly after, but it wasn’t until lacrosse season where the pain became so unbearable that I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a hernia. After surgery, the doctor explained to me that I was born with this hernia and it was one of the largest ones that he had ever seen. The doctor did not allow me to run all summer leading to my junior year, and was not cleared to run until two weeks before camp started. By the end of junior year, I led the team in tackles and played multiple positions that the team needed me to on both sides of the ball. Not only do I strive to be the best on the field, but also in the classroom as well.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Suffering from this rare knee disease I have is probably the biggest adversity that I have had to overcome because every freshman going into a high school wants to display their talents and what they have to offer for the next four year and I was fully unable to do so. My teammates would encourage me to come to every practice, lifting session and game. The coaches kept me involved and my teammates made me feel like I was a part of the team. Even though I was not directly playing with them, I was still able to feel as if I was a contributing member of the team.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: My coach has a great saying that really resonates with me. “If football was easy then everyone would do it.” Football is an intense sport and has molded me into a better person by making me tough, humble and dedicated. Football has also given me another family. The brothers that I have gained are the people that I am with both on and off the field almost always. It has given me that sense of pride to know that someone always has my back, whether I miss a tackle or make the wrong read I know that they are always going to pick me up as I would do the same for them. Nothing can compare to the sport of football and the amount of dedication that is incorporated into the game in order to be the best player possible. Whether it's breaking down plays during film sessions or doing extra reps and sprints to make sure that you are doing more than your competitor and seeing all of this pay off on game day, there really is no greater reward. To some people it can get overwhelming and seem like a waste of time but for my teammates and I it’s the only thing that matters right now. There is a reason why Phillipsburg is a winning program and that is because we don’t take anything for granted and seize every opportunity that is presented, and that is why I love playing football.

  • Nominee Photo

    Greg Carmona

    Linebacker
    Wood-Ridge H.S.
    Wood-Ridge, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Greg Carmona

    Linebacker
    Wood-Ridge H.S.
    Wood-Ridge, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: For me, preparation is a key element leading up to my season. This past offseason all started in November. After the 2015 season ended I went straight to the school weight room regularly where I would work out with a few teammates. I started the team’s first offseason weight room program where we worked out up to six times a week. In February I saved my money to join a very high-end athletic performance center named E.T.S (Explosive Training Center) where I worked out up to seven times over a five-day span. I also visited many schools and attended many football camps to try and get on college radars. This benefited me because after each camp I became a better football player. During the summer months, I worked out up to four hours a day daily. I wanted to be fast, strong and explosive. Once the season starts, everything leading up to game day is planned out perfectly, from what I eat to my stretching routines. Preparation to me is vital to having a winning season.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: WILL. Without the will to do anything there is no purpose in actually doing it. For me it’s the will to achieve a free college education. It's what keeps me going. The will to make our football program a winning one keeps me going. My will helps me when I'm tired. When I work out for two hours at 5:00 and decide to push myself through being tired and workout again at 8:00, to me…that's having will. Will pushes me in the classroom along with the weight room and the field.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Adversity happens to me all the time. Hardship surrounds me. I thankfully have not had an event alter my life, but the adversity will always be there. I have asthma which holds me back often, but I fight through the challenges that come with it. I wasn't supposed to start my junior year, even though I trained my butt off. Colleges told me that I was no good and shouldn't even consider attending them. There has been a lot of hardship in my life, but no matter what, I push through it and stay loyal to myself and that will never affect me.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I love everything about football. My most favorite part is the process. I love to train and get better. When I'm in season I love the contact. I like to hit and be a physical player. The brotherhood is also a trait of the game that makes me love football. Football brings communities closer. The school’s reputation is on the line at every football game. The thrill is why I love to play the game.

  • Nominee Photo

    Matthew Dufner

    Defensive back
    Warren Hills H.S.
    Washington Twp, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Matthew Dufner

    Defensive back
    Warren Hills H.S.
    Washington Twp, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: My offseason consists of a lot of team oriented events that include 7on7, team lifts and team practices. If I am not doing something team related, then I work individually or with a small group of guys to get some quality training in. I will lift and/or condition by myself or with our team’s quarterback and take him to the field to run routes and put me through DB drills. All of this preseason work is what prepares for me for camp and the upcoming season, but is not the same as preparing for a game. Once game weeks come around it is solely team-oriented preparation. We review game film on our opponent as a team on Mondays and incorporate a lift and run session. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are full pads with separate offense and defense game film sessions during lunch hours. Thursday is our walkthrough and on Friday nights… WE WIN. To wrap up the week, we finish with team game film review from the game the night before, and lift and run. Then it starts all over again.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: The Heart of a Giant criteria that best defines me is WILL. Throughout my life, I have had the attitude that losing and poor performance are unacceptable. Not only do I have this attitude on the field, but I have it in the classroom as well. I want to succeed in everything I do and that is what drives my success both on and off the field. My junior year I went from a no name on the football team to a starter all in the course of one preseason, and in this same year I brought my cumulative GPA up to a 4.007. Both of these accomplishments were worked so hard for and they were made a reality by my will to succeed.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Last football season, our quarterback passed away from a hit he sustained in a game. Not only was this personal adversity, but this was team adversity. We came together as one to face this adversity as one unit, not individuals. Being able to play football every day and to be with your teammates really helped me overcome my teammate Evan's passing. If it wasn't for football, then I don't know how I would have handled his death especially because I played basketball with him and had a relationship with him outside of school as well. Even though we didn't end up having the best season record-wise we still came together to overcome extreme adversity, and to fight our pain together.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing I enjoy most about playing football is the brotherhood and family feeling you get from playing with your teammates. Every day you go outside and grind next to the same guys, doing things most people wouldn't even dream of doing. You become so close from being together all the time that you end up having a second family. Your teammates become your brothers. This is such a special feeling that only a few people get to experience and I am truly blessed to be one of the few. I love my teammates like my brothers and would do anything for them.

  • Nominee Photo

    John Tessitore

    Kicker/Punter
    Choate Rosemary Hall
    Wallingford, CT

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    John Tessitore

    Kicker/Punter
    Choate Rosemary Hall
    Wallingford, CT

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: There is a stigma about kickers and punters that they necessarily aren't as tough as the regular offensive or defensive positioned football player. Over the past couple years, I've tried to change that reputation. In the offseason, I probably have to work almost double the time than a player at any other position. I work with Total Athlete Conditioning, which is a program that allows me to train not only as a kicker or punter, but also a total athlete. Many athletes on our team train with this program, therefore I am doing every bit of speed work, agility training, conditioning and lifting that every other position is doing. At the end of summers training, I was rated as the most powerful athlete on the team after one day of testing and the third most powerful athlete on the team after the second day of training. This desire to get better as an athlete, not only as a kicker/punter, is most likely a part of me because I always played football growing up, not soccer. Football has always been my main sport, having played quarterback, wide receiver and safety. This is the first season in my football career where I will just be playing kicker and punter. For kicking and punting training, I work with Kohl's Kicking. I am ranked as a 4.5-star punter for my class on the Kohl's Kicking rankings. There are many steps in kicking and punting a ball that most people don't understand. Every single day, I will at the least take 75 catch-mold-and drops, 15 kickoff dry runs, and I also take my field goal steps over and over again. That is the bare minimum day if I am not kicking a ball. I kick and punt at least 4 days a week on top of the Total Athlete Conditioning training that I go through 5 days a week. I also go to yoga once a week. On top of training by myself, I will visit with coach Jamie Kohl a couple times throughout the summer to work with him and I will also train with Coach Matt Maczura also. I try to think of my body as a temple and if something enters my body that will not help me out, then it will not enter my body. I constantly mentally think about the football season throughout my day and make sure that I put in the hard work to get great results.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Commitment definitely defines having the "Heart of a Giant.” Kicking and punting are both crafts that have to be mastered. I would actually say that committing to something is the hardest thing to do in life. With all the distractions that everyone has, the ability to block out everything around you and commit yourself to an activity for a period of time is very challenging. Having the "Heart of a Giant" means that you have the ability to focus on your craft through hardship. There's a saying that I love, "Once you step over that white line, nothing matters anymore." This quote has always stuck with me when thinking about work ethic and commitment. It's a mindset that nothing else matters when you enter a situation. Not just in football terms, but in a life. For example, you are hanging out with your family, why would you not commit yourself to fully indulging yourself into the time you have with them? My whole mantra is that if there is only a certain amount of days we have, then why waste one? I wear a wristband every day that says, "Don't Waste A Day," and that is my mindset and applies to me having the "Heart of a Giant."

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: My best friend in life was my Grandpa. I saw him every single day growing up and we spent more time together than I had with any other person in my life. My grandpa passed away my freshman year of high school. His process of becoming sick to never being able to see him again went by very quickly. It may not have been a shock for some people in our family, but to me it was the biggest shock I've ever experienced. Honestly, I have a lot of friends, some I may call my best friends, but there was nobody in life who I was closer with than my grandpa. He came to every single one of my games, and to know he wouldn't be there anymore brought a serious pain within me that I had never felt before. However, there is nothing like a team full of my “brothers.” I play varsity basketball also, but there is something about a football team that forces the teammates to become inseparable. When the team heard about my grandpa's passing, they knew how tough of a time it was for me. Coaches came to the services, players gave their condolences and supported me, and it got me through such a tough time. It wasn't the actual playing football that helped me overcome this adversity, but the brotherhood that comes with playing football that helped me most.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing I enjoy most about playing football is family. My goal ever since I was a child was to play college football. We have not lost a game the past two football seasons and have won the championship back-to-back years. That is what I work for every day. My highest prioritized goal is most definitely helping this 2016 Choate Rosemary Hall football team win another championship before anything else. Every single one of my teammates is like a brother to me. Every single coach is the equivalent of a father figure to me, and I don't think I have been around more likeminded people in my life than in the Choate football program. The thing I enjoy most about football is the struggle that we all go through during offseason training and preseason, a struggle that turns us into a family. The constant battling brings everybody together like nothing else ever could. Football is a pure meritocracy. The amount of work that you put in will get you the same results once the game comes. It is the greatest sport and the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. Football has changed my life, and I will forever try to pass this gift on to others.

  • Nominee Photo

    Charlie Burt

    Defensive line
    Mahopac H.S.
    Mahopac, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Charlie Burt

    Defensive line
    Mahopac H.S.
    Mahopac, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Training is not just a hobby for me, it is a lifestyle.  My offseason workouts are intense.  In the winter, my schedule consists of 4 days in the weight room with 2 days of conditioning circuits (football drills, sprints, etc.).  On top of working out in the weight room, I trained at TFW (Training for Warriors), where I have trained since I was in ninth grade.  By the time that summer of 2016 came around, I was lifting twice a day for five days and conditioning during three out of those five days.  My lifting schedule has most certainly prepared me for the 2016 football season. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Although I am proud to fit all of the criteria for the "Heart of a Giant" award, DEDICATION is the criteria that suits me the most.  Most people do not really notice it at first glance, but I was born missing my left hand.  My entire life people have been giving me strange looks, doubting me, and trying to shake my confidence, but it is my dedication that allowed me to defy their negativity and persevere.  I have been playing football since kindergarten.  I started with flag then moved on to tackle in third grade.  I love this game and have been working out for football since I was in seventh grade.  Ever since then, my desire to beat the odds and play the game that I love has always outweighed the doubts people have about me.  I set my mind on a goal and do not stop until I achieve it. For example, I am now able to deadlift 405lbs with the use of a hook.  It was this very attitude and dedication that has made me the official “coach's captain” this year alongside one of my teammates. Captains were chosen based on a pride system which included all the criteria below. I believe that I fit the criteria of DEDICATION perfectly.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: The summer going into my junior year was one of the darkest summers in my life.  Heading into my varsity season as a junior, I was excited to finally be playing with the "big boys."  Throughout the summer, I had attended every workout and made my way to the top of the depth chart at my position.  On the third day of triples, I took a low blow to my knee and ended up suffering an MCL tear.  The estimated recovery time for this injury was six months.  Shortly after my devastating injury, my brother's best friend passed away at just 12 years old after a long, hard battle with cancer. His spirit has been a driving force in my life since I met him and I firmly believe that he is one of the major reasons I was able to turn a six-month recovery into just a one-month process by always believing and never doubting in my abilities.  It was this very concept that allowed me to work my way back into the starting rotation after my injury.  The "fight until the end" mentality that I learned from him is a lesson that I will use my entire life.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I enjoy everything about the game of football.  The late night laughs after practice, the bonds we build with our brothers, the long and harsh practices because we know there's a huge game ahead, getting knocked down and jumping right back up, never doubting ourselves and never giving up…these are all things that I enjoy about the game.  Besides actually playing the game of football, I love what it has taught me about life.  There isn't any other sport that relates to life more than football.  It's a constant fight no matter what, and those who never give in and always believe are the ones that rise to the top.  Overcoming adversity and putting every ounce of energy that you have into the game pays off.  Playing as a team and standing united as one makes you absolutely unstoppable.  The desire and the will to win are earned by taking what you have and continuously moving forward, no matter what lies in the way. Football is more than just a game, it's my life and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Even though I may or may not play in college, I know for a fact that this game is what has made me the man I am today.  Without football, my life would be boring and shallow, growing up in a small town, that's all that we have.    I thank God for the privilege and honor to play the game I love with my “brothers.”

  • Nominee Photo

    Ryan Murphy

    Offensive line
    St. Luke's School
    New Canaan, CT

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Ryan Murphy

    Offensive line
    St. Luke's School
    New Canaan, CT

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Winter, spring and summer training is critical to fall success because it provides opportunities for teammates to not only get stronger physically, but to foster camaraderie and strengthen the bonds that keep players fighting late into the fourth quarter during the season. Balancing offseason training with maintaining academic high honors, student leadership positions, extensive volunteering and standardized test preparation, I make every effort to spend at least two hours daily preparing both myself and my teammates for the upcoming season. I work closely with my coaches to tailor a training plan that suits my personal profile and I heartily encourage my teammates to do the same. For me, the more football players in the weight room, the better. Surrounded by my teammates, I am motivated to work even harder and to set a positive example. Even if I could bench 500 pounds, it would mean nothing if my teammates weren’t preparing diligently as well. I enjoy taking the time to assist players who are struggling with either strength or fitness and helping them to improve their numbers. My teammates will often repeat my personal motto when it comes to physical training, “do as many reps as you can, then do one more.” To be a leader during the offseason, I start by setting a good example myself. This year, my coaches want to play me in a flexible defensive line/linebacker capacity, and as a result asked me to work on my agility and linear speed. Since speaking to my coach in February, I have lost a total of 40 pounds, added lean muscle and greatly improved my speed and endurance. This required a complete change in my diet, cutting out all “junk food,” refined sugar and fried foods entirely.  It also involved daily training that incorporated both sprints and long-distance runs. After developing shin-splints in April, I refused to modify my regiment and simply trained through the pain. However, I am most proud of the progress my teammates made over the winter. I am confident that this newfound strength will translate to the field. Also, I came to the school almost every day this summer, inviting my teammates to join me in preparation for our rigorous preseason. In addition to weights and core work, I lead my teammates through the roughly three-mile “campus run” around our school that encompasses 16 hill sprints and numerous stops for push-ups and other exercises. Our preparation was evident this preseason when every player finished the campus run well inside of the established time limit.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Each practice, I strive to make the most of every drill, every rep and every opportunity to build upon not just my own skills, but those of my teammates as well. To me, character is the most important element of my leadership both on and off the field. Whether it is running between drills or staying after practice to help the managers clean up the equipment, I always make sure that I am doing the right thing, regardless of whether or not coaches are watching. It is one thing for our team to say mantras like “no walking on the turf,” and “put your whole self in,” but it is another to actually live by them every moment of every day. Having strong character requires one to go beyond simply repeating those lines, one must actually fulfill them. The ultimate test of character is whether or not someone behaves the same when coaches are not around or are not watching. On occasion, after the coaches have gone home, I will stay with younger players to give them additional reps and additional time to improve their skills. Last year, I stayed late many times with the backup quarterback, helping him practice taking shotgun snaps. When his number was called during the season, we knew that his confidence in the shotgun was because of our practice. I try to set the best example I can for both my teammates and the wider school community off the field as well. My peers elected me yearly to serve as the Class of 2017’s Honor Council Representative in sophomore, junior, and senior years. The Honor Council reviews cases of academic dishonesty as well as behavioral infractions, offers insight to the offending student, and finally makes a disciplinary recommendation to the school administration. In my service on the Honor Council, I have faced numerous complex situations and passed difficult judgment on my fellow students, including close friends and even my teammates. The most rewarding aspect of serving as an Honor Council representative is the fact that I am held to a higher standard of integrity and accountability than my peers. It is my job to set an example for the entire student body, and I take this responsibility very seriously. Setting a high watermark for respectful and honest conduct at my school has shown me the importance of character, both on and off the gridiron.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: What many people don’t know about me is that I live with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather suffers from heart failure and other medical complications. My parents help my aging grandmother with his medical care and the difficulties of day-to-day living. He has had four heart attacks since I was born, and I am not unaccustomed to waking up at the wee hours of the morning to sirens and the hurried footsteps of rescue personnel. Due to his illness, he is unable to leave the house often, and few people from my school community have met him. Despite this, we have a very close relationship. In fact, it was my grandfather who inspired me to first play football in fifth grade. As a young man, he played offensive line just as I do. In many ways, I feel as if I am continuing his legacy on the gridiron. Unfortunately, his condition has deteriorated over time, and he has not been able to come to any of my high school games. Even though he is physically unable to support me on the field, I know that he is with me in spirit during games. When I return home from the game, he always asks the same question no matter the score or my personal performance, “Did you leave your heart on the field?” Every time I suit up for a game, I know that I must leave my heart on the field because, sadly, my grandpa might not be there to ask me that question next week. I know that while he wants me to succeed, what he truly values is my effort. He has taught me that the only thing that can never be recovered is time. Once a moment has passed, it can never be reclaimed. The same applies to every game, every drive, and every snap. Playing football has allowed me to live by my grandpa’s advice each day and to make him proud of me and my effort.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I love football because it emulates life. In many ways, I learn how to be a better person from the experience. Qualities that I can develop and enhance include perseverance and toughness, determination to succeed, and willingness to work hard. I know that there will be situations later on in my life where I will be challenged, but my perseverance gained through football will give me the confidence to tackle the obstacle. Football teaches me to give my maximum effort at all times, even when I am physically exhausted. I will carry this determination into college and throughout my entire life, harnessing it in “fourth quarter” situations, where the difference between success and failure is one’s ability to push through the pain and continue to give maximum effort until the job is complete. Also, I learn valuable lessons about teamwork and putting the needs of others before my own. I believe that playing offensive line teaches humility. No matter how well we execute our blocking schemes, the “skill players” always get the credit and the glory. However, football also provides opportunities for individual excellence, especially on defense, as I strive to make an excellent tackle or force a fumble. Playing varsity football has even enhanced my time-management skills. As practices often run for more than three hours, I have developed an efficient system that allows me to effectively utilize my time and finish my homework. What I love most about football is how simple it can be. I know that my teammates will be there for me just as I am there to support them during challenging times. During practice and games, I lock in to football and the task at hand: giving maximum effort and executing my responsibility. No other sport affords the same opportunities for personal growth and teaches the same life lessons as football. I am both lucky and grateful for the opportunity to play and be a part of the greatest sport in the world.

  • Nominee Photo

    Justin Judge

    Running back
    Kings Park H.S.
    Kings Park, NY

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    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Justin Judge

    Running back
    Kings Park H.S.
    Kings Park, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Every athlete knows you make your gains in the offseason. What separates you as an individual from the crowd of average players is your work ethic and dedication to your training. You must want to become better than you were yesterday. I take the offseason very seriously! Not just in the weight room, but by also attending as many camps, showcases and combines as possible. I learn as much information as I can to bring back to my team. In the past we lost to a particular team in the first round of playoffs and we are now playing them our first game of this upcoming season. It has motivated myself and my teammates for vengeance. Every run, squat, bench, deadlift or ball I catch makes my training have meaning and purpose to win!

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: CHARACTER. I am committed 100% to anything that I am doing. My dedication to family, friends, school and sports goes above and beyond. I have a strong will, I don't follow anyone and make my own decisions. I am proud of what I've accomplished in my life and look forward to all I still have to learn and experience. Growing up, I was taught respect and to demonstrate respect towards others. I like being a leader and never backing down to a challenge. My father always explained to me to never put yourself above others and to never settle for being just average. When others run from the fire, I run into it to help others.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: The hardest time I've had to face in my life was in 2012 when a very close family friend of mine was killed suddenly in an accident at the age of 17. I never faced anything like that in my life and wasn't sure how to deal with the emotions I was feeling. The training aspect of football helped me to release the sadness I was feeling. Being on the field with my teammates that I've been playing football with since I was little boy made me see the importance of their friendship and support. The word "team" took on a whole new meaning for me. I know playing football makes me a better person. It has taught me to never give up your passion during a sad or difficult time. Football is a sport to some, but to me it is a time when I can do something that makes me feel proud of myself and be part of a group that has my back and always have theirs, no matter the up or the down that you are facing.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: Football has become a lifestyle that has changed my life and helped me develop into a man. It's taught me all kinds of things from the first time I stepped on the field for a youth practice back in the day. For me, football separates itself from any other sport because with football you learn to come together and form a special bond and brotherhood with your teammates. That in itself cannot be found anywhere else or in any other sport. Football develops a second family for you, a family that you can always go to for support, guidance and friendship. I am always looking out for my teammates both on and off the field. I have the guys over my house to go swimming or to just sit around and talk to just help our bond grow even stronger. It's a great sport to be a part of and when you love being a part of something so meaningful it creates memories for me that will last a lifetime.

  • Nominee Photo

    John Magliocco

    Linebacker
    North Shore H.S.
    Glen Head, NY

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    Thomas Licata

    John Magliocco

    Linebacker
    North Shore H.S.
    Glen Head, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: The amount and quality of work one puts in during the offseason definitely determines how successful their season will be. The summer before becoming a Freshman in 2013, my older brother Anthony was a senior getting ready for his varsity season as I prepared for my first year on JV. Although many of the guys on JV were not in the weight room since all of the Varsity guys would be in there, I wanted to go with my brother and work out with all of his teammates. While it was only my second year playing football after playing soccer all my life, I needed help learning most of the lifts. Thanks to all of the varsity guys who helped me, my lifting techniques became stronger. Since then, I work out in the weight room 4 times a week and maintain a quality diet. From the end of the season and into June, I work mainly on my muscular endurance (high repetitions using a manageable weight until I get tired or see my form weakening). Then when summer comes around our team trainer decreased my number of repetitions but significantly increased the amount of weight I was lifting to work on my muscular strength. Now in-season, the team heads to the weight room twice a week with our trainer to continue working on heavy lifts to gain and maintain strength and then complete a team core session immediately following each workout. On Fridays, I attend our team's pasta party at one of my teammate’s houses before each game, however I make sure that I am home to get a good night’s rest in. Aside from all of the physical preparations, I fully focus on my mental preparation the morning of game day. I get to the locker room before anyone else to make sure I’m all suited up before all the guys get in and then sit on the bench in the corner listening to my music thinking about what I have to do to help my team be successful.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: When participating in anything in life, I have always and will always give my 100% effort, especially when playing football. My commitment to the North Shore Vikings Football Program is beyond a serious one. It’s a commitment that defines me for who I am not just on the football field, but in life. The feeling of losing to Bethpage in the first round of the playoffs during my junior year after an exhausting season of so much hard work and preparation is a feeling that I promised myself that I would not have to feel anymore. Understanding that returning my senior year as a captain and having one last ride with my teammates of North Shore was going to be a season I will remember most vividly for the rest of my life. I wanted to make sure I took my work and preparation to the next level, however, I knew that in order to do so that I somehow needed to be even more committed to the sport that I love to play. Understanding this, I made the decision to tell my basketball and lacrosse coaches that my heart belonged on the gridiron and that I decided to focus solely on football year round. Despite sacrificing two sports that I loved to play, I knew this was the right decision in order to be successful my senior year. As I continued to work harder each day and keep an eye on my diet, the season had finally arrived. After a week into camp, my hard work and commitment to the team is on full display. No matter how hot it gets or how hard I may get hit, I fight through the blood, sweat and tears in an effort to be successful this year. If I continue to mess up something that we are working on in practice, I stay late and go over it with coach and continue working on that skill until its natural for me. From being the first one in the locker room with coach at 7:15 each morning to being the last one to go home, I make sure I accomplish what is expected of me, showing my commitment to the North Shore Vikings Football Program.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: On June 25 of this summer, I had faced the darkest and most difficult time in my life. I woke up one morning and had heard about the death of one of my family friends who I considered to be a brother to me. This was something I never thought I would ever have to hear. From growing up together and building forts in my living room, to 10 years later playing football together, Nicholas Daley was always someone I knew I could go to for a good time. Before each football season, his family went to Lake George for about a week before camp started and stayed for two weeks. However, just like the rest of us, Nick knew he could never miss the beginning of camp as he would risk the chance of not starting or not being able to play in the first game. So each year, Nick, his brother Kenny and cousin Ryan would stay at our house for a week until his family got back. My mom would cook all of us a big breakfast in the morning before heading to practice at 7:30 a.m. and then have food for us when we came home from the first and second sessions. Nick's dedication and commitment to the team was something no one will ever forget, and something I have carried on this year. Watching him each game starting at the linebacker position, seeing him go crazy after each tackle or sack he made was such a joy to watch. As I continue to fight through this difficult time in my life and continue to play football knowing that I'm making him proud each day at camp is the only thing that helps me overcome this difficult time. After I make a crazy catch in practice or make a big hit, I know he's smiling in heaven knowing that he taught me well. Additionally, I will be dedicating this season to him and will be wearing his jersey number (#22). I know each Saturday he will be right by my side at the inside linebacker position waiting to take on the next blocker that comes his way.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: Football is unlike any other sport. There's so much more to it than basketball or lacrosse. Football teaches valuable life lessons and creates memories you'll never forget. The thing that I love about football is the feeling of "going to battle" every Saturday morning with your second family, the guys who have been by your side throughout the entire summer and who have pushed each other to their limits in order to be successful. There's nothing like stepping onto the field as a captain with my whole cavalry behind me knowing they have my back no matter what and that I have theirs. There's nothing like walking through the school hallways wearing your game jerseys on Fridays and knowing that you have 30 more guys who understand what it is to be a team. There's nothing like spending more hours during the summer with a group of dedicated teammates than with your own family. Football provides you with a second family, a family that looks out for you and has your back, no matter if you play on JV or varsity. Football provides you with a family that picks you up when you fall down and a family that puts their body on the line for you each time you have the ball. Being with my second family and knowing that no matter what happens in life I'll always have someone to reach out to, someone who I trust to fight "battles" with me, and someone who knows me more than just a kid who went to the same high school, is what I love about playing football.

  • Nominee Photo

    John Burk

    Offensive line
    Parsippany H.S.
    Parsippany, NJ

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    Thomas Licata

    John Burk

    Offensive line
    Parsippany H.S.
    Parsippany, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I'm a multisport athlete and train with my offensive line coach year round, both during football and track season. I have a rigorous conditioning and weight room routine that I maintain throughout the year. To prepare for the season, I help guide my inexperienced teammates and better myself with the other veterans. I give 100% in the weight room and on the field in order to push both myself and my teammates toward success.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: CHARACTER. Although I may not be the fastest or best conditioned player on the field, I know that I hustle during practice and games. I don't get down on my teammates when something goes wrong, but I try to help them recover and move on. I lead by example in the classroom and on the field. I train hard, study hard and present myself with a positive public image in hopes of setting a positive example for my teammates. I believe that the best team is the team with the best character.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Last fall, I was struggling with an intensive class schedule and social/mental stress. Football provided me a relief. Practice and games gave me the opportunity to take out all of my frustrations and focus on nothing but football. I was able to push aside mental struggles by practicing and playing with ferocity and intensity. Overcoming adversity through football made me both a better player and better person. Although other aspects of life were beating down on me, football provided me with an escape.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: Besides the big hits, wins, losses, blood, sweat, and tears, the most important reward of being a football player is the family you develop within your own team. Sure, pancake blocks and long touchdowns are exhilarating, but football teams become a brotherhood and brotherhood is invaluable. As players, we spend as much time with one another as we do with our own families and develop a home away from home. No matter the situation, my teammates will support me and I will always support them. Football creates inseparable bonds and I enjoy nothing more. The game can be wonderful or gritty, but your football family lasts forever. As much as I enjoy dominating an opponent and winning games, I most enjoy the family I have become a central part of as a result of playing football.

  • USA Football
  • Nominee Photo

    Eugene Figueroa

    Wide receiver
    Elmwood Park H.S.
    Elmwood Park, NJ

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    Thomas Licata

    Eugene Figueroa

    Wide receiver
    Elmwood Park H.S.
    Elmwood Park, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: When I train in the offseason, I make sure that when I get into the weight room or onto the field that I am there to not only workout but to perfect my performance. When I hit the weight room, I make sure I hit it HARD because if not then I would be wasting my time and nobody enjoys having their time wasted. I also make sure that the younger guys on my team work to have better technique or form while they're lifting so I know they're actually working out correctly and not going to injure themselves. To prepare for the season and games, I have to make sure my teammates are ready to play too. Football isn't a one-man sport like basketball where you can have one player who is a Division-I athlete score about 40 points a game along with four other players on the court scoring less than 10 points each. Football is a team sport and you need all 11 players to do their job and I try my best to make sure of that. If someone messes up their assignment then I will be on top of them like a leader should so that on the next play their assignments will be crisp.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: DEDICATION. Having the "Heart of a Giant" applies to me because if you have big hopes for your junior season and it all comes to and end just because of one play, then you must find within yourself the ability to overcome. During the second quarter of one of our games, I ran the ball for about 15 yards and then was hit out of bounds square in the legs. When I was hit all I heard was a pop. I was yelling and in pain while holding my left knee on the opponent’s sideline. As I got lifted off of the ground, I walked off the field by myself with no help. I was then taken to the emergency room to get x-rays and thankfully there was nothing broken. After the x-rays, I got an MRI which revealed that I had suffered a torn ACL that would end my junior season. When I was told I needed to have surgery, I broke down in tears knowing that my junior season was over and felt that I would never be the same athlete again. It took time for me to get over the fact that my junior season was over so suddenly, however, I was ready to get the surgery on my knee and most definitely ready to get into rehab and get back to being 100%. My first day in rehab and it was the most difficult time of my life, I wasn't able to do anything. I had seen other kids around me with the same injury that I had, but they were able to walk and run. I knew then, that I had to push myself. I never gave up. Now my senior season is here, I am back on my feet and I am ready to lead my team on the field!

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A:During my recovery after ACL surgery, my father was in the hospital after falling ill. Every single day I texted him after I came out of therapy. I would send him videos and pictures of me getting better. He would be so proud and then he'd call me but it would be a very short conversation because he would end up coughing a lot and not being able to breathe without an oxygen mask. My father, Felix Figueroa passed away on January 12, 2016. I never really wanted to know what he was diagnosed with because it broke my heart to know that he was hiding it and couldn't stay strong for long. That is why when I play football my senior season, it will be all for him. This year I am missing my #1 fan at my games but I know for sure in my heart that he will always be there for me. ~ Long Live Dad ~

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: It all started when I was 5 years old watching my older brother play high school football. I never understood the game when watching it since I was a child, but seeing my older brother play the game made me want to play it too. I started off playing flag football and I was the kid who didn't know what he was doing compared to other kids that knew how to play. I scored my first touchdown during my first year of playing football and it was a great feeling because I had my whole team come to me yelling and shouting with excitement. That’s where it all started for me. Being able to breathe in the football atmosphere feels great because it tells me that I know that I have players on my team that have love for me and are there to cheer me on no matter what.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Cris Mogrovejo

    Linebacker
    Hightstown H.S.
    Hisghtstown, NJ

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    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Cris Mogrovejo

    Linebacker
    Hightstown H.S.
    Hisghtstown, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: In the offseason, I train in a facility called Nicolas’ Dungeon. Nicolas has trained NFL players and was featured in the New York Times. I would go to “The Dungeon” five times a week to get my body in the best shape possible for the upcoming football season. The workouts mainly focused on explosiveness and conditioning which would help me be able to go hard on every play during the season ahead. During the season, I prepare best by pushing myself to the limit every day during practice, while also pushing my teammates to do the same in order for us to perform as best as possible on game day. Before games I watch and listen to motivational videos for inspiration. It is important to go into a game with the right mindset. I believe that if you go into a game with any doubts that things won't go your way. If you go into a game ready to play, then good things will happen.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: WILL. I take advanced placement and honors classes and I am an A-B student. I understand that if I don't keep my grades up that I won't be able to play. That said, I don't settle for C's or D's in my classes. I like to overachieve in everything I do whether it is on or off the field. "If you do something, then you might as well be the best at it," is a quote I live by to keep my drive to succeed in anything alive.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A:After dealing with some non-serious issues in elementary school that had ultimately left me attending school in a new district once I got to high school, I turned to the sport of football to help alleviate the situation I had been faced with. I started watching college football on Saturday's and saw myself playing as a linebacker and I decided to give football a try my freshman year. My new school was too far from home to have someone drop me off at the end of the school day for practice.  I would be showing up late towards the end of practice because the ride back from my school was 40 minutes away and school did not finish for me until 4 p.m. Ultimately, my old school district had no other option but to let me back into my old district a year early to attend high school for my freshman term because I wanted to play football and schools are not allowed to deny that from students. I ended up loving football and thanking the game for allowing me to return to my previous school district and rejoining my friends.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The one thing I enjoy about playing football is tackling people. I enjoy watching people get right back up after a big hit. Football teaches you lessons without you noticing, for example getting tackled and getting right back up signifies that life won't always be easy. No matter how hard I get knocked down by life the best way to react is to get back up and continue “playing.” These little lessons that football teaches me is what I love about the game.

  • Nominee Photo

    Teddy Galasso

    Fullback
    William Floyd H.S.
    Mastic Beach, NY

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    Thomas Licata

    Teddy Galasso

    Fullback
    William Floyd H.S.
    Mastic Beach, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the offseason when not working to help my mom with the bills, I conduct my own strength training in my spare time. Then after school, I train with my team in the weight room, followed by agility workouts with my teammate, Jermil Banks, and 2016 graduate and former Floyd football player, Jeremiah Brennin. After agility work, I go to my own gym to work on strength training before heading to work. I also attend all offseason workouts and clinics with my teammates and prepare for games by working hard in practice all week. Last year, coach wanted to send me down to junior varsity and I told him that I didn’t want to go. I wanted to be up at the varsity level against tougher competition. It was then that I decided to work even harder than I ever had in my life. As a result of this hard work, coach just named me his captain for the opening game of my senior year. As the starting fullback, I hope to help lead my team to some big wins.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I believe out of all of those listed, the commitment part most applies to me. During the season and even during the offseason, almost anything I do in my spare time is football related. I am either at clinics or in the weight room with my team or at the gym on my own. But after thinking about it further, I believe that I exhibit all of those characteristics in one form or another. I’m committed in my training and in all that I do. I am extremely dedicated to football, to my schooling and to my mom. I have the drive to succeed on and off the field. I am taking business classes in school and using what I learn there and in my job at the restaurant as skills that I can use throughout my life. I hope to go to college and major in business management so I can own my own business one day. I’m a man of few words, so I do try to lead by example and let my hard work and effort speak for itself. That, along with having to deal with family challenges in my life, have definitely helped build character. I always try to help, encourage and pick up my teammates. Like I said before, I’m all about the team and helping us to perform well together and hopefully win some games. My ultimate football goal is to win a championship like my brother did during his time here at William Floyd over 10 years ago.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: My father left us five years ago and I haven't seen him since. Since then, I've had to take additional responsibilities such as getting a job and helping with the bills so we didn't lose our home. Playing football has taught me the value of teamwork and how every member of the team, whether in football or in life, has to pull their weight to help the team be successful. Football has taught me the value of doing my part.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I enjoy everything about playing football. The best thing is the camaraderie among my teammates. Working and preparing together, getting in the trenches together and succeeding or falling short together. No matter the outcome or the result, we know that we are in it together like a family.

  • Nominee Photo

    Josh Rayham

    Quarterback
    Stuyvesant H.S.
    New York, NY

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    Thomas Licata

    Josh Rayham

    Quarterback
    Stuyvesant H.S.
    New York, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Offseason training starts the moment the season ends. A lot of heavy reflecting goes into my training. I try to watch game footage of not just myself but of other players on my team to find out not only my strengths and weaknesses but also ones of my fellow teammates. My school isn't very well known for our football team. People are always saying that "Stuyvesant football sucks" and I take that and use it as motivation to train hard during the offseason. My goal is to push myself to get better both on and off the field and to raise the pride that my school has in our football team. I do a lot of weight and speed training during the offseason, as well as try to understand the offense better. As a quarterback your responsibility is to hype up your team and push them to keep trying when the going gets tough. You also need to be able to understand what’s going on not only on offense but also learn how to read the defense and make the adjustments necessary to get positive plays. I spend a lot of time studying both the offense and defense and learn how to play against specific things effectively.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: DEDICATION is the trait that best defines me. Last year during preseason I was playing in a 7on7 tournament and when I went up to catch a ball and when I landed someone barreled into my knee and tore my ACL. I had to be out my entire junior season because of surgery and couldn't show my coach and my team what I was primed to do that season. Once I was almost fully recovered I started training again. First I trained my leg back from its atrophied state and then I got back to throwing. By then, I found another guy who was a quarterback and together we trained. By the time the season came along I was throwing better than I was before my injury and now I'm competing for my spot as starting quarterback and hope that my training and dedication to the sport paid off.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: During my sophomore year, my aunt died from leukemia and her passing really shook up my family. She was my only aunt and she cared a lot for me and even though she wasn't a huge football fan, she supported me in whatever my goals were. After her passing, my mom wanted me to take a break from football, but I decided I will play the rest of my season with her in mind and in spirit. Though her passing left a huge hole in my family and in my life, football filled that gap because my team always had my back and that’s when I truly felt that my football team is not only a team, but it’s a family as well.  

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: When I play football, I enjoy the sense of brotherhood amongst team members. I will always have my teammates' backs and I know that I can rely on them to have mine. That sense of brotherhood and the idea of banding together and experiencing up and downs is what makes me love football. From freshman year all the way to senior year, you get to meet so many different people with different passions and they too become your family. Besides, nothing beats the feeling of waking up on game day, heading to the pier, meeting up for the bus and as one giant team having fun and causing mayhem on the field. When we stand as a unit we can dominate people who are stronger and faster than us…and that’s what makes football so great.

  • Nominee Photo

    Cole Horan

    Linebacker
    Floral Park Memorial H.S.
    Floral Park, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Cole Horan

    Linebacker
    Floral Park Memorial H.S.
    Floral Park, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the offseason, I train heavily in the weight room and go running 4 days a week. I also play lacrosse throughout the summer which helps keep me in shape. I love working out and my teammates often find me either in the school weight room or at the local gym I belong to. I also develop my own personal workouts as well as work out with alumni who have helped me become a stronger athlete.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I believe I am the epitome of someone with WILL. I love Floral Park and my school as much as anyone you will find in my town. Our town isn't known for good athletics and is often the underdog when heading into battle on the gridiron, however, this does not discourage me. I believe it is the will of a man that decides who will win the battle. You fight until you can't fight anymore, and that's what I do every season, every game, and on every play.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: A time that I faced adversity in my life was when I was in a hot air balloon crash with my family. We were visiting my aunt in New Mexico and decided that a hot air balloon ride would be incredibly fun and interesting. However, this was not the case. Mid-ride, the burners stalled out and we began to crash. It was the scariest moment in my life, and as I closed my eyes and thought that this was it, the strength I had gained from playing football gave me the ability to find enough courage within to keep myself composed and alert to avoid injuries. While several family members were injured and shaken up, I felt strength in knowing that if I can command a group of men out on the field, that I can be there for my family. It is that strength that I have gained from playing football that I will always be thankful for.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing that I love the most about football is how unselfish the game is. Unlike basketball where one player can take over the game, in football all hands need to be on deck to succeed. An All-American running back can only do so much behind a bad offensive line. It takes a whole group, from the trainers to the star players, to put together a winning football team. Every day, you are forced to make sacrifices that may hurt you individually, but in the end better the team. Football is all about coming together and adopting great chemistry in order to be successful. While not all of my closest friends play football, I feel as if my football teammates are my brothers. The bond created through the struggle and the good times create a brotherhood that cannot be broken.

  • Nominee Photo

    Connor Breit

    Linebacker
    Nanuet Senior H.S.
    Nanuet, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Connor Breit

    Linebacker
    Nanuet Senior H.S.
    Nanuet, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: In the offseason, not only do I train myself but I also wrestle and play lacrosse. All of my hard work from two other sports definitely carries over. I took 4th at states at 195 pounds this past winter. I train 5-6 days a week in the off season after my wrestling or lacrosse practices. I also do agility drills, usually alone on the football field. Every week my workout routine consists of chest, legs, back, shoulders as well as many other small muscle groups like wrists and calves. In the season, I make sure not to over-train and strain my body. I still workout but my workouts are more maintenance.  This summer I got my weight back from 195 in wrestling season to 220, while staying very lean. My bench jumped up from 305 to 325 this summer and all of my other lifts saw great improvement as well.  Before games, our team has a pasta dinner together and we watch a lot of film.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I would say that commitment applies to me most. Each day of the school year, I cannot start my homework until about 10-10:30 p.m. because when I am done with practice for whichever sport I am in I go home, shower and go straight to the gym or field. I usually spend 2 extra hours every day in the gym or out on the field practicing my agility drills and conditioning. The consistency in my workouts helped my gain the 25 pounds back and my running and agility helped me keep my game quick. I made it to every single offseason practice except one because of a funeral. I also do my best to help my other teammates stay committed. I would call and pick up numerous other kids and drive them to our offseason practices. I'm also committed because I will play through injuries for my teammates. Freshman year I sprained my AC joint in my shoulder and played through it in varsity and sophomore year I had a high ankle sprain I suffered in the middle of a game which I played through as well. I will do anything for my team.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: During my sophomore year, my grandpa had passed away and I was distraught. My grandpa had lived in my house for the last 8 years and I saw him every day. When he passed away I was at a real low point in my life because he meant so much to me. My whole entire football team was there for me. They all showed me a lot of love and football taught me how to overcome my sadness and turn it into determination. I dedicated my wrestling season that year to my grandpa and I won my first section title.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I enjoy the bond that the team has here at Nanuet. I wrestle and play lacrosse too but no team I have ever been on compares to the team we have in football. This team has become a family and I love that I can shoot out a text to a group chat of my team and have my boys respond in a second. We all care for each other and it helps on the field. I know if I can count on my teammates off the field I definitely can on the field. I also enjoy winning with my team.

  • Nominee Photo

    Chris Giangiulio

    Defensive back
    Summit H.S.
    Summit, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Chris Giangiulio

    Defensive back
    Summit H.S.
    Summit, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A:Every offseason, all of the players meet with our head coach and position coaches to discuss our individual and team goals for the upcoming season. As a freshman I weighed in at 95 pounds. I was one of the smallest kids in the program. I am young for my grade and was always one-year behind my peers. I did every workout that my teammates did as best as I could. During my junior season in the last regular season game, I broke my collarbone and I could not lift for weeks after the season ended. In my meeting with our coaches leading into my senior season, I set the individual goal of increasing my weight from 135 pounds to 160. Our coach always tells us to compete and throughout the winter I competed for my varsity hockey team while staying at the same weight while everyone else on the team was putting on weight and muscle for the upcoming season. I knew I had to win the spring and the summer. Monday through Thursday after school, I completed the team workouts and also did extras including curls and running. After working my tail off in the spring my weight increased to 148 pounds. Gaining thirteen pounds was not the easiest thing to do. During the summer I worked out the hardest I've ever worked out in my life. Whether it's cleaning, benching or squatting I gave it my all. My bench press max went from 135 pounds my junior year to 165 pounds this summer. My squat max went from 165 pounds to 225 pounds. Lastly my clean max went from 135 to 200 pounds. I also grew from 5'9 148 pounds to 6'0 155 pounds. As my coach always says, we need to win the offseason and I did just that. My forty-yard dash went from a 5.9 to 5.1 seconds. My overall rank last year was 49th out of 55. This year I went up to 19th out of 73 teammates. I became a battalion leader for my team based on my hard work and determination, an honor awarded by Coach Kostibos. Whenever I think about football, I think about how coach changed my life. I have one goal now and it's to win a state championship.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I feel that Commitment is the best way to describe me having the Heart of a Giant. Commitment can be seen in many ways. I am committed to my team in the way that I will try my hardest to achieve our goal which is to win the state championship. I am always one of the first to show up no matter if it's a practice, game or film. I am all-in, all-the-time for my team and I never want to be the one who is lacking. I want everyone else on the team to be as committed and dedicated as possible. I take pride in Summit football and I want to do whatever I can for the team even if I'm not the starter. I give it my all whether it's scout team or a real game.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: In order to have the Heart of a Giant you must be able to overcome adversity. I had dealt with adversity my sophomore, junior and senior years. The most significant adversity we overcame was my junior year. After winning our first two games, we felt we were on a roll heading into Warren Hills. The game was played on a field in the middle of nowhere but you could feel the football atmosphere. It was a cool night in September and we were playing in the closest game of our lives. In the middle of the game the starting quarterback for the Blue Streaks went down. On our sideline, no one thought anything of it. He comes back into play the next drive and was hurt again. He walks off the field and collapses. From our side of the field we did not know he collapsed. He got taken off on a stretcher and gives a thumbs up to the home crowd before getting in the ambulance. We finished the game, having won by 2 points in the last seconds of the fourth quarter. We went home on the bus cheering because we won our toughest game of the season. After getting undressed back at the fieldhouse my teammate was hugging me and my friend Mike. Shortly after, coach walked in with a look of sadness telling us that number 18 on the Warren Hills Blue Streaks had died on his way to the hospital. We all broke into tears and could not wrap our heads around what had happened that night. I remember driving home with my friend and I've never been so sad about something and someone that I never met in my life. We came in the next week knowing we had a tough game coming up against our rival team. We were not emotionally ready for the game and lost our next three games, but we came out against Voorhees after the three losses and finally put in a complete game after the adversity. Evan Murray from Warren Hills will always stay in my mind and although we were not teammates, we shared a common bond in that of playing football. Football is family, and with my family and my brothers beside me on the field and off, I would never have been able to overcome the emotion of what had happened that day.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing I enjoy most about playing football is that in Summit, we are a family. We would lay it all on the line for one another and if someone was facing a tough situation, whether in or out of school or on the football field, then we all suffer. If one person is late that falls on all of us because we are one. We are 73 strong this year and in order to be the best we need to be all in as one family. I enjoy that aspect of Summit football because it is the only team that I have been a part of that I feel as though we are family. I love knowing that there are 72 other people willing to go through hell and back with me. We have completed Marine Corps training twice and a mental toughness day. We work together as teammates, and more importantly as brothers, in battle to defeat our opponents. It is the camaraderie, loyalty to each other and bond as one family unit, 73 strong, that helps us accomplish our goals.

  • Nominee Photo

    Zavion Stevens

    Fullback
    Bloomfield H.S.
    Bloomfield, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Zavion Stevens

    Fullback
    Bloomfield H.S.
    Bloomfield, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Training in the offseason is more of a year-round job.  I work with the mentality that there is no offseason, preparing myself to play daily.  I work out every day except Sundays, sometimes twice a day, as I get up in the morning and then after school with my teammates before I go off to work.  There are days that I feel like I can’t do it but I push myself to work hard because the pay-off is great and as a varsity captain, I must lead by example.  My teammates and I are very competitive and make workouts fun so I look forward to being in the weight room with them. I prepare for my games by studying the past games, teams and even specific players on Hudl.  I also study my moves to see how I can improve and take advice from the coaches who are always there to help.  At Bloomfield high school, we have a wonderful team of coaches who keep us motivated.  As seniors, me and my fellow captains follow that example. We help each other prepare as a team through motivation and encouragement and help each other with individual strengths and weaknesses to prepare for each game.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I believe CHARACTER is what defines having the heart of a giant.  In times where there is so much media controversy about race and politics, it becomes difficult understanding the world we live in.  Born bi-racial, I’m blessed to grow up experiencing 2 different cultures and it’s taught me to look at the world differently.  I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with two of my grandmothers before they passed recently.  They were the matriarchs of my generation.  They were the glue who held both of these large families together that form the world that created me.  I watched them go above and beyond to help their families, their friends, and even help strangers without color boundaries or prejudices.  They were both amazing women who lived by faith and not by fear. I looked up to them because they taught me a lot about giving back to others, having strength, will, commitment and seeing all people as one race, human. It’s because of what my grandmothers instilled in me that I enjoy volunteering and giving back to the community.  I coach flag football for kids in the 3rd and 4th grade in the spring, as well as volunteered on Sundays to help with the Sunday School classes in our community.  I’m a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at my high school and during bad weather a couple of my friends and I get together so we can help senior citizens that can’t come out and shovel.   We also get together to clean up our local park and make it safe for kids to play.  This year I was lucky enough to help set up for the USA Gymnastics local meet at our high school for up and coming young Olympic gymnasts.  Most of all, I love to make people smile. Whether it’s a teaching a young kid how to run the football, or conversing with an elderly person at a nursing home, or even joking around with my teammates in the locker room, it’s the best feeling to know you made someone smile.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I expected my sophomore year would be a great one as the starting fullback on junior varsity.  We went 8-1 the year before and I was on fire.  To make it even better, I was finally going to be playing on the same field with my older brother, who was the captain as well as the starting fullback and middle linebacker on varsity.  I had worked hard enough through summer camp to push myself to second or third string fullback on Varsity which meant I would possibly be my brothers backup.  Although I knew my time on the varsity field was going to be limited to the last few minutes of the game, I looked forward to storming out at the beginning of every game with our flags and our chants and my brother right beside me.  After 2 varsity losses at the beginning of the season, our next game would be against a team that we were determined to beat. We were all excited and prepared to win the next game.  The stands were filled, the fans were cheering loudly and the Friday Night Lights shined brightly that evening.  My brother, pushed his way up the middle every chance he got and gained yards to put us ahead by a strong lead.  Second quarter, my brother was in on defense, forced a fumble, dove for the ball and was hit from behind with a helmet to his arm.  A gruesome crack followed by a loud yell, teammates scrambled to get help, coaches and trainers ran on the field to assist and suddenly the crowd was silent.  My teammates fell to their knees and I stood in shock as I watched my brother on the ground in excruciating pain.  My parents rushed onto the field while my teammates and I huddled together and prayed.  Minutes later, he was slowly picked up and wheeled away towards the ambulance, when he turned and looked at me and gave me a thumbs up.  I knew without words, what he wanted me to do.  At that point, coach turned to me and said, “Zavion, get ready to get in.”  Under distress, sorrow, fear and uncertainty, I marched on the field holding back tears for my brother that evening.  I played my hardest that night, rushed for a total of 50+ yards and we scored for the sake of my brother and our team.  We played our hearts out that night and finally got a win.  I hurried to the hospital soon after the game to be by his side before he went into surgery.  Despite my success on the field that evening, hearing my brother say “I’m proud of you” was the highlight of my day.  He ended up being out for the rest of the season, and I ended up being the starting fullback my sophomore year.  It was a bittersweet feeling that season, becoming the starter after my brother’s season ending injury, but I played hard that year for him and because of him.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I’ve been playing football since I was about 6 years old.  I don’t think at that age I knew what I was doing but I knew I was having fun.  Yes, the helmet was huge, the shoulder pads were oversized and all of the equipment was super heavy, but it was exciting!  I was probably the smallest kid on the squad each year, but my desire to run and tackle kids twice as big, was intense.  As I got older I learned that football signified so many other things.  Overall teamwork is what made me love the game.  I’ve been fortunate enough to play for teams that play well together.  We always keep communication going, we’re friends on and off the field, and we’ve always got each other’s backs.  We share our emotional high’s and low’s, encourage each other and get hyped with loud crowds and supporting fans.  It’s an unbreakable bond every time we step on the field, with one goal…to win.  That’s what football is about.  With all honestly, I really believe all my coaches and teammates deserve to be considered for this award, but I’m honored to be nominated.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Daniel Conte

    Quarterback
    H. Frank Carey H.S.
    Franklin Square, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Daniel Conte

    Quarterback
    H. Frank Carey H.S.
    Franklin Square, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the offseason, I prepare by watching film to see exactly what i can do to improve my ability. I would meet with my coach before school every day at 7 a.m. and do footwork drills and throw passes to receivers. I would invite a lot of the guys to come down as a team and show them exactly what they can do to get better. During the school day, I would go on my lunch period to meet with Coach Stanley and learn all new plays that we wanted to put into our offense, what to do on throws against certain defenses, and other quarterbacking items. Every day after school, I go into the weight room and workout for about three hours. Two hours are spent lifting weights and for about one hour I go out on the football field and do ladder drills and throw balls to my younger brother or anyone who wanted to come down and catch passes. I also go on a 3-mile run every day at night before dinner so i can keep my body right and in the best shape as possible. During the preseason, I make sure to meet with my coaches as much as possible to go over whatever questions I have that need to be answered and they are always there to help me. Now that the season is right around the corner, I will begin watching a lot of film on the teams that have on the schedule each week. Right now I’m watching film on our week one matchup to learn the weaknesses that they have in their defense. I have also studied other great high school quarterbacks on “the Island” to see what they do to have a greater advantage over teams.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Character is what best describes me because I will always make sure that when I am playing with my team that I am always setting a good example and showing them that I will give 150% on every play on the field. I am always open for questions from my teammates. Just recently they had a question about signals because they didn’t know them, so I sent them all a video of me doing the signals so they could learn. I would later test them at practice. When we condition, I make sure everyone is trying hard and pushing themselves the whole time because that is the only way that we will get better and beat teams in the games that will require us to keep pushing through the fourth quarter. My team also motivates me to keep going because we are really like a family. No one gives up on each other and every day at practice is a battle. Every day is a game and that is contagious because once a few guys are treating practice like that everyone steps up and does that.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I face adversity every day in my life. I have bipolar depression and it gets really hard at times to live with this because there have been many low points in my life that were life threatening because I get so depressed. The coaches have always been there to keep me going, as well as my family. The worst it has ever gotten was when I had to be sent to the hospital because at that time I was a danger to myself and I was afraid of what I may have done to myself. I have been to so many doctors and have been on so many medications that I’ve lost count. I’ve had doctors tell me and my parents that "Dan’s not bi-polar, this is just him." That didn’t make sense because that’s not who I was. I get mood swings that could last a few hours, a day, or even more. Football has helped me a lot with how I feel because of how much energy it helps me release. The training and preparation for football and how much focus that goes into the sport distracts my mind and helps me feel good about myself. It’s always been an out for me and just the support I get from everyone in school and my coaches and teachers helps me overcome the adversity.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy most about playing football is the atmosphere football creates… it is just amazing. Walking around every Friday in school with my jersey on and seeing the rest of my teammates wearing their jerseys and the cheerleaders in their uniforms is a great feeling. Waking up Saturday morning knowing it is game day and seeing how excited everyone is the best. The community is so involved with our football team and when we get ready to walk down on to the field and see everyone in the stands and surrounding the field screaming and chanting and wearing their black and orange, time freezes and it is almost like a dream. Running out onto the field and playing in front of such a large crowd gives me the chills. I’m sure it's intimidating to the away team that has to come over to our school to play against us. I love how football challenges you mentally and physically because it prepares you for real life. To have to think in a split second on where to go when the ball is snapped or when you have the ball and your running, which way to move to make the guy miss. It also teaches you that life is a very long period of time and just because you may think your losing and you want to give up that should be the time that you stand up with the people beside you and you battle back together to get back on track and succeed. It teaches you to never give up… just keep fighting and you will win.

  • Nominee Photo

    Albert Mobilio

    Offensive lineman
    Paramus H.S.
    Paramus, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Albert Mobilio

    Offensive lineman
    Paramus H.S.
    Paramus, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: In the offseason, I train with my football team in our weight room. Since the second week in January, I have been lifting 4 days a week with my teammates and that continued through the end of July. I have been working very hard in preparation for my senior season because it means a lot to me to have my team go out on top, especially following a down year last year. With a lot of time spent in the weight room and going through off the field workouts to improve my offensive line technique, I believe I have prepared the best that I possible could have to ultimately have a really good season.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: The best criteria that defines me is WILL. I want to be the most well-rounded person both on and off the field. I pushed myself hard in the offseason to be able to compete at a high level. Not only do I try to improve my skills on the field, but I take my schoolwork very seriously. I value my education more than my athletics. I understand that my academics can take me farther in life than football will. I would say my best trait is that I ask a lot of questions. I am constantly sharpening my mind to not only have a higher football IQ, but in life as well. The word WILL applies to me because I always strive to be better as a person and an athlete. I don't settle for the bare minimum. I like to be better than the people around me and I have the drive and passion to do so. I don't quit until I exceed my own expectations. That's why I believe I have WILL.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: A few years ago my grandmother passed away. It was my freshman year of high school and the beginning of our playoff push. I was very close to my grandmother and her passing affected me greatly. It was hard for me to get my mind off of it and it was hard to go back to playing football after it happened. However, when I stepped on the field for practice again it all went away. Football allowed me to escape for a little bit. It gave me the opportunity to not think about my grandmother for a few hours a day. When we returned to the game field onFriday night of the first playoff game, I stepped out to take the field with my teammates and I forgot about everything, and it was a wonderful experience. Football gave me that ability to free my mind of my worries and what was bothering me and it helped me get through a very hard time in my life.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy most about playing football is being with my friends. Playing football since second grade has allowed me to create unbreakable bonds and unforgettable moments. I enjoy it so much because through the hardships of camp and losses during the season, I know my brothers are beside me ready to go to war the next week. We are all best friends and we all hang out together and that's what I love the most. I get to go out every day and grind and have fun with my best friends. Without football I wouldn't be the person I am today and I wouldn't have the people around me that I do.

  • USA Football
  • Nominee Photo

    Emmanuelle Pierre-Louis

    Warren Harding H.S.
    Bridgeport, CT

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Emmanuelle Pierre-Louis

    Warren Harding H.S.
    Bridgeport, CT

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the winter of 2015, I was committed to the weight room five days a week. Coach Santiago institutes NCAA Division-I college football program workouts to get us ready for the 2016 football season. On Mondays and Thursdays, I worked on chest, on Tuesdays and Fridays I worked on legs and on Wednesdays I worked on arms and back. After every workout I finished up with an ab routine. I knew that I had to be committed to the weight room to be stronger than any opponent that lined up against me in the 2016 football season. During the spring and summer, I participated in various 7on7s across Connecticut. I feel that 7on7s have helped me on the defensive side of the ball tremendously, teaching me to know when and where to be in certain coverages. 7on7s have also helped me on offense with catching the ball and route running. The quarterback only has about four seconds to throw the ball, so I have to be very quick and precise. 7on7s were a major part of my preparation for the 2016 football season. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: WILL. I work very hard in practice, the film room and the weight room. I always compete with my teammates, hoping that it will push them to work even harder than they did before. We always have small competitions everywhere we are together. We never stop pushing each other and we all desire to be on top. I will always push my brothers to be the best that they can be. At the moment, I maintain a 3.3 GPA. I always knew that education is the key to being successful. Without education I feel I cannot provide for my family. All I want to do is make sure that my family does not have to struggle through life. I need to maintain and strive to raise my GPA to make sure I can get into a good college, earn my degree and finally be able to give everything I have to the family that has supported me through everything.  

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I was born and raised in Stamford, CT and moved to Bridgeport, CT my freshman year of high school. I did not know anyone in the city of Bridgeport except for my family. When I started practicing with the team in the summer of 2013, I started making friends who eventually became my brothers. The team never put me down, they always taught me when I was wrong and they never belittled me. The feeling of the team welcoming me felt great because I was alone, but then I ultimately found a family that I will never forget.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I enjoy football so much because I can release my anger out of people in a legal and safe way. All my pain and struggles get left on the field. When I strap on my helmet and lace up my cleats, I forget about anything and everything. The game is truly amazing and I can absolutely say that I absolutely love football. Football has molded me and I would not be the person I am today if I did not begin to play this beautiful sport. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Ethan Mersing

    Defensive lineman
    Montville Twp. H.S.
    Montville, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

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    Thomas Licata

    Ethan Mersing

    Defensive lineman
    Montville Twp. H.S.
    Montville, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: My offseason consists mostly of the two other sports that I participate in outside of football…wrestling and lacrosse. However, I do have a couple weeks in between each sport to get some extra work in before the season starts for each sport respectively. During the summer, I work out every day by myself in my basement and in my backyard. When we have football practice at the high school I also try to get extra work in after some practices. When the school year starts, I obviously continue to have practice after school but I do try to get an extra workout in in the mornings in the weight room. These workouts are normally by myself or with some of my teammates that I have influenced to come in during the mornings with me. I have 4 things that I work to improve on with every workout in the mornings - my agility/quickness, conditioning, muscular endurance and muscular strength. I do specific exercises to maintain each objective. These workouts normally occur in-season for each sport because we normally have morning workouts in the preseason for each sport that I participate in, so I continue to push towards my goals with each objective even when we're off. When it comes to on the field and during actual practice, I try to maintain a mindset to go 100 percent all of the time. This mindset helps me make my teammates better as well as myself as we all try to come to a achieve our common goal of winning games. This cycle of constant work is what has helped me to become the best teammate that I could possibly be and helped me to do all I can for the team. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I believe the criteria that best suits me is DEDICATION. I love every sport that I play, but I especially love football. I never played sports when I was younger but when I became exposed to the concept of high school sports and high school football, I became addicted to it. Football is seen as a “big man's” game especially for those that are on the line like me. When I play standing at 5'10" 170LB, I am often seen as too small to be on the line, but I feel just as big as those that are larger than me. Football is a mental game and I have the mindset that I will give 100 percent against the person that is across from me. I must do this for my teammates, my coaches, and for the town of Montville, for that is who I truly must play for and I take lots of pride with wearing MONTVILLE across my chest. I will do anything for my team no matter where I am playing on the field…no exceptions.  

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: When I was young, I was always one of the slowest, laziest and uncommitted kids, but football opened doors for me. Through football, not only have I been able to change my entire way of life but also the way I work. Football has taught me to never doubt myself and to commit myself 100 percent to whatever I do. I now take pride every day in trying to be first in conditioning at practice or even just practice in general… all of it comes to a common goal of becoming the best player and person I could possibly be. My experience with football has created a positive change in who I have become and who I will become in the future and it has taught me many tools in life that will lead to future successes.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I truly love everything about the sport. Whether it is from the intensity of a game or the camaraderie with my teammates, it has truly made me love the game in its entirety. I love learning about the game every day and experiencing new things that help make me a better football player. I love what the game has to offer for there is not another sport like it. The idea that on any given play something exciting could occur such as a long run or a kickoff return for a touchdown is truly breathtaking for me. I love the preparation that is needed to be successful in football, such as watching film and preparing against certain fronts and defenses to correctly give you an advantage on every play. When I am done with playing football, I want to be a coach. It is my dream and the only place I would want to coach is at Montville for it is my home. I want to share my experiences with younger players like my coaches have with done with me. I attribute everything I have become today to all of my coaches, especially Coach DeBonta (Head Coach of Montville High School). He has taught me everything I know from a mindset and maturity standpoint. Just the idea that a coach and a sport could change the whole way I view life is what makes football so enjoyable for me. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Marcus Gaspard

    Defensive back
    Hackensack H.S.
    Hackensack, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

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    Thomas Licata

    Marcus Gaspard

    Defensive back
    Hackensack H.S.
    Hackensack, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: For me, football is a year-round sport but I am also multi-sport athlete. During the offseason, I compete at the varsity level on the Hackensack High School track team. On an individual level, I race in the 100-meter and 200-meter and I am on the 4x100-meter relay team. By running track, I am able to work on developing my speed and stamina which is a great asset to have during the football season. Also during the offseason, I train daily at E.T.S. in Teterboro. At E.T.S., I am able to compete with some of the best athletes in NJ and be trained by some of the top coaches in the area. Our workouts consist of agility, weight lifting and basic ball skills. Preparation for the upcoming season takes places all summer.  I prepare for the season by always being the first one in the weight room and practice. I not only prepare physically for the season but I also mentally prepare by learning the plays for my position as well as others. I am a student of the game and a very coachable athlete. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Although I can relate to all five of the criteria listed, the one that stands out stronger than the rest is CHARACTER. Character is something that was instilled in me during my upbringing. Both of my parents have always taught me to be respectful of others but to also be my own person. I have emerged as someone who leads by example and motivates others. Coach Wimberly, my current high school coach, always tells us "character is what you do when nobody is watching." With that being said, as a player even when my coaches back is turned I always strive for excellence and go above and beyond. By doing this I am able to help my teammates strive to always give their best. I never leave anyone behind, even if means that I have to carry a teammate who can no longer run when we are at the end of a practice in the dead heat of summer. By being a positive team player I am able to show others that by working together we are able to have a successful outcome. We are stronger together than when we are alone.  

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I have been playing football since 4th grade and really did not face any difficult times in my life. It wasn't until 5th grade when I experienced a change in my life by having to deal with my parents separating and eventually getting a divorce. I was fortunate enough to have parents who worked their hardest to make sure that I would be okay and not be too affected by this. The one constant I had in my life was football. Every day from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. I was able to go to practice and not think about anything except what was going on on the field. I wasn't as good as I am now but during this time I was determined to do my best and not spend time on the bench. By having this focus, I was able to escape some of the sadness that I felt from the changes going on in my life. It was during this time where I developed a true love of the sport. Thanks to the support I received from my "football family," I was able to learn that the word family can have different meanings. As long as you have people who love, care and support you, then you are truly blessed. My parents may not be together but to this day I always see them together in the bleachers supporting me through it all.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: When I first read this question all I could think of is that I enjoy winning, but like they always say, “winning is not everything,” and I would have to agree. I enjoy being part of a team. These teammates are like family and we have a brotherhood that is unbreakable. Some of us have been playing football together since grammar school. I also enjoy the feeling I get on a Friday night before a game and the thrill of running on to the field in front of a packed stadium with the fans are cheering us on. The adrenaline pumping with the anticipation of kickoff and knowing that all my hard work has come down to 48 minutes…this to me is what I love about football and I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Matthew Valecce

    Quarterback
    Fordham Prep
    Bronx, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Matthew Valecce

    Quarterback
    Fordham Prep
    Bronx, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I consider the sport of football to be a year round endeavor for me. My training and preparation for the season includes a variety of tools. I train on a regular basis with my quarterback instructor, Madei Williams, who played at Syracuse University. We focus on both the fundamentals of the position as well as the mental aspect of the game. I appreciate the fact that he knows what it takes to succeed at the next level and I believe he has made me a better student of the game through learning of his experiences both on and off the field. In addition to training with my mentor on quarterback specific drills, I also spend a lot of time working on my strength and speed. I lift all year round, both individually and with my teammates. I have put great effort into building more muscle mass and I am focused on eating the right nutrients to help increase my gains. Calisthenics and a variety of speed drills were a main focus for me over the summer and my work with my speed trainer has paid off, with improved footwork and agility. I was able to showcase my improvements at many football camps this summer across the country. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: The criteria that I believe is the most important to having the Heart of a Giant is COMMITMENT. Ever since I can remember, playing the game of football has always meant "going all in." To me, that means doing whatever it takes to get a job done. My commitment starts with taking the 620 a.m. train to school every morning so that I can lift before the school day starts. I carry a pretty rigorous course-load of A.P. and Honors classes so it is imperative that I manage my time wisely during the football season. My commitment to my craft continued all summer with traveling across the country to various football camps and showcases to work with different coaches and to compete against some of the best football athletes in the U.S. There were weeks this summer where I attended a camp or some football showcase nearly every day.  I am thankful to my parents for their support which allows me to improve my game by transporting me to all of these camps! I have played the quarterback position for over 7 years now, and throughout that time I have put everything I have into studying the playbook, learning the game, learning about my teammates and getting to know them on a personal level so that I can help them achieve their goals as I achieve mine. The game of football is a very technical game and it takes a lot of time to absorb the details of the game, all of which I do not take for granted. I truly believe that I am a student of the game because of my commitment to perfect my craft and how I really understand the game’s nuances. I understand that I have to be prepared both mentally and physically for this game and that means being the first man on the field and the last one off. It also means, giving up social nights out with friends to get better as well as increasing my knowledge of the game by studying copious amounts of film, talking with coaches, getting out of your comfort zone with your training. My knowledge of the game is extremely high in my opinion. I love challenging myself every day by learning more and more about it every season. I take on a lot of responsibility when it comes to leading my team and I am fully committed to the process of learning more every day to make both myself and my team better. There is nothing I want more than to achieve success both on and off the field. I believe that the accolades I have achieved to date and the stats that I have created in 2 varsity seasons, including starting as a freshman, show how committed I am to my team and my work ethic.  

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: This is a hard question for me to answer because I can't think of one specific incident where I believe football has helped me overcome adversity. I will say it has helped me grow as a person, a teammate, a son and a brother. High school for me has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride thus far. Full of some very high highs, but also some pretty low points. Football has been the one constant for me besides my family, that has given me an outlet to express myself and feel good about myself as a person. Some peers can be hurtful and I have had to deal with my share of being scrutinized. Not always going along with the crowd and sticking up for yourself is hard to do in high school sometimes, but I owe it to myself to be strong enough to not let critics determine my choices in life. Football allows me that escape to work hard and dedicate myself to something that is a team-oriented endeavor that brings great success if you work together.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: There are many things that I enjoy about football but I would have to say the most amazing thing to me is how rewarding the sport can be. Nothing is better than having a sport where you have the ability to make up for a mistake right away. It's a new play every few seconds, so if something goes wrong the first time around, you can make up for that mistake on the very next play…I love that! Adrenaline is another powerful force that makes me love the game of football. I am a two-sport athlete and nothing gives you that feeling of adrenaline like football. It makes me a force to be reckoned with and I love every moment of it. The game of football is so rewarding on many levels, the experience you share with your coaches and teammates can't be matched. The energy of the game is infectious, and the highs and lows of the game help shape you into the player you are destined to be. The intellectual side of the game is also incredibly rewarding, you have to become a true technician when learning plays, knowing what will be the best play to call at any given moment in a game. I love that with each new season and new teammates, my knowledge base grows. Rewarding is definitely the word I choose when describing why I love football the way I do.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Tommy Gilmore

    Defensive back
    High Point H.S.
    Sussex, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Tommy Gilmore

    Defensive back
    High Point H.S.
    Sussex, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Right after the season ends in December, our team gets right into the weight room. We go four days a week from Monday to Thursday and have off on Friday's and for the weekend. I play basketball in the winter so to make up for the workouts I miss I complete them in gym class during school. We have workouts a couple days a week during basketball season so I'm getting two additional lift sessions in weekly. I don't have a problem keeping my strength and conditioning up in the offseason. When spring comes around, I'm back with the team lifting most of the week. When we're off, I'll get a few of my teammates together and we'll sometimes go to the gym again but mostly to just work on football stuff and get in some more conditioning work. The offseason is most important and I try to work as hard as I can to set a good example for the younger guys in the program.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I think dedication defines having the Heart of a Giant best because when I think about heart or playing with heart that's what comes to mind. Overcoming adversity and persevering just describes it perfectly. I've come to learn that people get defined by how they act when things aren't going so well. Anyone can lead, anyone can set a good example and anyone can act the way they are supposed to when things are perfect or when you’re winning a game. It's the people that can stay poised and focused through those tough times that have the Heart of a Giant and that's the kind of person I try to be for myself and for my team.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Going in to sixth grade, my mom got into a car accident. She didn't have any major injuries but she did injure a bone in her neck and had to get surgery which had left her out of work for a long time. During that time, money was very tight and it wasn't like we were making a lot of money to begin with, we were just an average family. For a couple of years it was hard not being able to get some of the things that I needed and it got to the point where we almost had to move out of our house because we just didn't have the money. Football helped me with this because during football, nothing else going on in your life matters. For a couple hours a day you don't have to worry about anything, and when your winning games and having fun with your friends it takes a lot of the other stress out of your life. Eventually things did get better and my mom went back to work.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: So many things come to mind when I'm asked this question and there's so many things I love about the game. I would have to say the thing I enjoy and love the most about football is my teammates. There's nothing better than working hard and playing ball with your best friends who you've been with and stuck by your whole life. It's satisfying to know that whatever you do they have your back because they know you'd do the same for them. It's what the game is all about…brotherhood and teamwork…and that's why I love it. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Jerrick Anthony

    Linebacker
    Marist H.S.
    Bayonne, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

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    Thomas Licata

    Jerrick Anthony

    Linebacker
    Marist H.S.
    Bayonne, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: My offseason training consisted of lifting in the weight room 3-4 times a week. The weightlifting program that I was on was great and the three core workouts that I focused on were bench, squat and deadlift. The amount of sets and reps were based on percentage charts and would increase in weight while decreasing in reps as the months went on. Each day that we lifted we had different workouts and that targeted either the upper body, lower body or the core. The core work outs were accompanied by other workouts such as multiple dumbbell work outs or other smaller workouts that targeted specific muscles. At the end, everyone would have to do 100 push-ups in sets of 25. During my weight training, I always lifted heavily because in my mind that seemed like the only way to get stronger. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: COMMITMENT. During the offseason I would go to every weight room session or conditioning session only having missed one or two because of family events or something of that similar matter. When my team started lifting, I would immediately get my change of clothes out of my locker after school and get to the locker room, always being the first of my teammates there. Only on occasion would someone get there before I did. Once the coach and the rest of my team arrived we would head into the weight room and me and three other teammates would lead everyone in stretches and then our workout would begin. As a leader of one of the workout groups, I would ensure that everyone in my group gets the workout done before we move on, always looking to push people a little further by adding on some more weight to each set. We wouldn't leave the weight room until everyone finished their workout! 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: A time when football had helped me overcome adversity in my life was when I was an incoming freshman. Heading into high school I had a low self-esteem. My grades were alright, around high-70s to mid-80s, but I just thought school was a waste of time and that I would struggle throughout. Eventually, football helped my self-esteem and brought it back up where it belonged. I ended up finding a belief in myself and my abilities. In school, I eventually made “Principal’s List” every marking period by maintaining above a 91 average in all of my classes. I was also exempt from all of my finals. For this to happen a student must keep their grades in each respective class above a 90 throughout the year and get above a 90 on their midterm. Physically, football had allowed me to get my body into better shape. A few years back, I saw myself as being overweight and wanted to shed some off that weight and turn it into muscle which happened as I regularly participated in weight room workouts and conditioning. Not only did football improve not lifestyle, it helped me as a person in every way.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: There are a few things that I love about playing football. One of these things is the brotherhood that comes along with being on a football team. There are only a few things that parallel the camaraderie of a football team as it gives you the ability to make friends that can last a lifetime. I also love the challenges the game presents but at the same time giving you the chance to defeat those challenges and succeed whether it be in the weight room or on the field. Football presents people with the opportunity to unite a community and create connections with people that all share a common interest. On the field, I love the feeling of making a tackle, deflecting a pass or getting an interception. I also love having to put in a lot of hard work and seeing it payoff in the long run. 

  • Nominee Photo

    James Errante

    Linebacker
    Chaminade H.S.
    Wantagh, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    James Errante

    Linebacker
    Chaminade H.S.
    Wantagh, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the offseason, I lift weights at the Chaminade High School gym. Mr. Stephen Boyd, our strength and conditioning coach, organizes team lifting programs based on previous weight testing. I lift weights 4-5 times per week in the winter and spring along with 2-3 days of independent conditioning. During the summer, I work out twice a day every day. I wake up around 8 a.m., lift weights at my local gym, then go to my public high school and do field work for about an hour and a half. I do this routine until tryouts start the second to last week of August. During the season, the team prepares for games by practicing every day for about two hours. Practice consists mainly of team scrimmages, film, and lifting. The coaches prepare the defense well for all of the formations and plays that our opponents plan to run. The team's pregame rituals are mostly of a lot of yelling and playing loud music in the locker room. The team and I sacrifice our time and energy in order to be the most dominating force in our league.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I believe that WILL defines having me as having the "Heart of a Giant." I try my hardest to be the best student-athlete I can be both on and off the field. Chaminade High School offers one of the most competitive learning environments on Long Island and I maintained a 94 average throughout my junior year. I challenge my teammates to do the best they can in the classroom by saying "it may not be fun now, but when you get a scholarship, it'll be worth it." On the field, I'm the kid who will be running around the practice field screaming at everyone to hit hard and make plays. I push my teammates to be the best they can be by explaining what their responsibilities are in every formation and coverage. I try to motivate them to the best of my abilities by giving talks when the captains speak to the team. I tell them to make every play count and that they should play every game like it's their last. I lead by example by doing the best I can in the classroom and giving everything I have on the field.  

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of one and it is something that I must live with for the rest of my life. It was a challenge when I was little to control my blood sugar levels without activity and it became even more of a struggle when I started playing football. I constantly had to sit out during practices and games all throughout elementary and middle school. Even now as a high school student and potential college athlete, I sometimes struggle with finding the delicate balance of my blood sugars. Football taught me discipline in my diet and helped me learn that I must take care of myself if I want to be the best athlete and teammate I can be. Having teammates that can remind me to check my sugars and coaches that understand my disease helps me feel like it is not an overbearing force in my life.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing I enjoy most about football is being a part of something bigger than the individual. I love being a part of a team and working together with my teammates. I live to celebrate with my teammates after a big hit or a touchdown. The team is an extension of my family and we protect each other from the first whistle to the last. We go to school together, eat lunch together, practice together, play together and WIN together. Being part of a group of young men that are all just as hungry to get out on the field and get a win is my favorite part of playing football.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Angelo Golino

    Quarterback
    Carteret H.S.
    Carteret, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Angelo Golino

    Quarterback
    Carteret H.S.
    Carteret, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: This past offseason was dedicated solely to conditioning and preparation.  While still in school, I played basketball and baseball to help increase my strength and agility.  Once the school year was over, I would meet teammates at the local park where we would train, run plays and condition then afterwards I’d go directly to the gym.  My coaches and I developed a conditioning plan which I completed each and every day that focused on working on my upper body three days a week and my lower body and legs the other four days.  After the gym, I would get together with my teammates again to go over plays, watch games or just talk about games in general. I also realized that the mental approach to the game is important.  To prepare myself for different game situations during the season, I read scouting reports about opposing teams and watch a lot of game film.  I talk to other players and coaches about the upcoming game plan regularly.  I have discussions with my dad and other family members who follow the games to debate statistics and analyze plays.  Once practice started for this season, I requested to participate in plays on both sides of the line to increase my understanding of all aspects of the game.  I believe my hard work and dedication in the offseason has prepared me for a successful season in 2016.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: To me, the most important characteristic that defines having the "Heart of a Giant" is TEAMWORK.  This is a characteristic that is missing in a lot of individual players.  I believe that teamwork and good sportsmanship are key components of a successful team.  As a captain for the past 2 years, I work very hard to teach these values to my teammates.  This is not a game that has any room for personal egos or agendas.  As the quarterback, every play in every game is my responsibility.  Blaming another player when a play doesn't work instead of concentrating on how to make the play work the next time only brings everybody down.  Good teamwork is the most important part of a successful season. I believe it is my responsibility as a captain to work to develop younger players by teaching them this concept.  We win as a team and we lose as a team and each player has a responsibility regardless of the outcome.  When I am on the field it is my responsibility to direct my team.  I am strong without being loud, I am critical without being harsh and I am demanding without being demeaning.  Working together is the only way to win both on and off the field.  I have been taught that it is easy to be a good winner but I need to make sure to be a good loser.  While this is very, very hard to do when I am disappointed at the outcome of a game, poor sportsmanship is never the answer.  The only way to learn from our losses and turn them into wins is to work together.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: As a freshman in high school, I was excited about my new school, my love of football and the chance to play for the same high school as my parents did.  As a result, I was not giving my schoolwork the attention that the honors program required and my grades quickly began to fall.  This was completely unacceptable to my parents and my coaches.  My coaches had long talks with me about how important it was to keep up with my grades.  They sat me out of plays and arranged for a tutor for me but the rest was my responsibility.  Seeing my teammates run plays without me was very hard and to watch the game I love go on without me was just not acceptable so I set my mind to fix it. With the help of my coaches, my parents and my older sisters, I learned how to focus, to organize and to schedule myself the right way.  I worked very hard to get back on the field and I have started every game since then.   I have excelled in the honors program while playing sports year round.  I have earned my position in the honors program throughout my high school years and will graduate with a 3.5 GPA this June.  I believe that my love for the game of football and the possibility that I would lose the chance to play is what made me grow up and take responsibility.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: It is very hard for me to pick what I love most about this game because I love every part of it - except being sacked!  I love the mental challenges the game creates…seeing the field as a whole, deciding which play will work best and making split-second decisions.  I love instructing my teammates, teaching and developing younger players and learning and trying new plays.  I love the physical part of the game, throwing a long pass, a short screen or even just a one yard QB sneak and getting a first down.  Playing in the same stadium as my parents, making my grandparents proud as they watch me play, hearing all the compliments when I have a good game or make a good play, making my coaches proud, and winning - there are so many parts to this game that I love! I have to say my favorite part of football is the close friendships I have developed with my teammates.  We all come from different backgrounds, races and religions but none of that matters once we are on the field.  We always say that we are brothers and one big family and that continues off the field.  I have formed massive bonds with my teammates who have become my best friends.  Because of our different backgrounds, these are guys who I may have never even had a conversation with if it wasn't for football.  When we are in the locker room, on the field or at practice we are all the same.  It doesn't matter how much money your family has or doesn't have, whether you live in a house or an apartment or what kind of spikes you can afford to put on your feet - we are all equal.  I have learned about families that are different from mine and that you can't always judge a book by its cover.  I think I have learned to be open minded when I meet people and to give them a chance.   I will always remember the big plays, the big wins and the state championship we won a few years ago, but the best thing football has given me is my friends. 

  • Nominee Photo

    James Brackett

    Linebacker
    Bogota H.S.
    Bogota, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    James Brackett

    Linebacker
    Bogota H.S.
    Bogota, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: My offseason training officially started after the last game of the 2015 season. The grind begins with hitting the weight room often, but that's not the only thing I do to get ready for football. I also start conditioning right away in the winter through wrestling. When it starts to get warmer out, I begin looking at camps to go to for different things like speed, strength and position-specific camps for football. I try to make myself better in every way possible to help my team to get ready to win some games for the upcoming season.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: One of the best things about me is my commitment to the game of football. I am usually the first one in the weight room or to out on the field for practice and the last one to leave. I always work to the best of my ability no matter the what the situation is. Even during our weekly game walkthrough, I give one hundred and ten percent while allways taking the right steps to do even the little things correctly. These are just some of the things on the field that I do that reflect my commitment. Off the field, I pride myself in always doing the right thing, whether it’s eating right, focusing on my studies, or just being a good person. 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: During my junior year of high school my parents got divorced and it really broke my willingness to do anything. My mind was continually racing at the time but the one thing that I looked forward to through this tough time was football. Even though my home life was tough at the time, I came to practice and worked hard. I worked hard enough that I eventually landed a spot as starting linebacker. When I was on the field, I didn’t care about anything that was happening in my life that was bad. Without football, I really don't know what I would of done with my life.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing that I love the most about football is the bond created with my teammates from playing the game. The bond that my team has is unbreakable. We all have each other backs until the very end, whether its during a game, throughout our high school career, or beyond. That's why I love the game of football and why I continue to play the sport. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Keshon Farmer

    Running back
    Peddie School
    Hightstown, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Keshon Farmer

    Running back
    Peddie School
    Hightstown, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I spend four days a week in the weight room with my personal trainer who I have been training with for close to five years now. I spend three days a week conditioning, which consists of multiple sprints up and down the Philadelphia Art Museum steps as well as 50 and 100 yard shuttles on the field. I also spend one or two days working out in the pool. Throughout the week, I also mix in some quick feet drills, hand-eye coordination drills and other drills that work on my explosiveness.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: CHARACTER applies to me in many ways. Growing up I have always been in charge of my teammates. I started playing football at the age of seven and since that day, I was always the one who stood up and took the wheel of the ship. Leadership requires strong character to get people to appeal to you and have the power to impact someone in a minor or major way. Also, having character leaves a permanent mark on people and how they view you as a person as well as an athlete, painter, student, coach, doctor etc. I was raised by a single mother who always spent 6-7 hours a day working overtime, therefore I was home alone most times. I would carpool with my teammates parents to practice some days. I was forced to grow up fast due to the environment that I grew up in and the sacrifice my mom made. Growing up in Philadelphia, I have had some major setbacks because there are so many people being average and it is so easy to be average and a follower. I managed to develop my own tactics of becoming a leader and steering myself in the right direction. My character is important to me because it’ll leave a trail and huge impact on others. As a senior at the Peddie School, I was voted as a captain of the 2016 team by my fellow teammates. That shows a lot about my character and how I impact my team as a whole and how I give them a vibe and a bond that makes them sit back and think that Keshon is always the spark plug and is always pushing us in the right direction. Character is a key component to my life both on and off the field.  

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Prior to attending the Peddie school, I attended a mediocre school in West Philadelphia called West Catholic. I was not happy there due to the fact that I was overlooked by the football coach. I have the best work ethic you will ever find in a person, I invest everything this game and give all I have in every practice, rep and everything I do in life. However, in result to my season there ending with only 19 carries and 106 yards, I began to search for another school to transfer to. I started the process in November of 2014 and it continued through August of 2015. In those nine months I was turned down by eleven schools in Pennsylvania, Virginia and even all the way down in Florida. I was angry and mad at the world. I was told to my face by an admissions team and a headmaster at one of the schools that if I attended their school that I would fail out because I wouldn’t be able to handle the work based on my background and zip code. I was contemplating giving up, then I realized that’s not part of my who I am. I found Coach Chris Malleo who had recently taken the head coaching job for Peddie in February of 2015. Coach Malleo managed to get me into the Peddie School with a great financial aid package and that changed my life in a tremendous way. Now I am an Ivy League-bound running back and I decided to what career path i want to pursue. Coach Malleo changed my life.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy the most about football is the opportunity to play this great sport. It's not about the obligation to workout, train, condition and all of those other things we don't like to do, it's the opportunity, will and courage to. Average people get motivated by media and what someone reveals to them, however, motivation is temporary. It’s gone by the time they walk to the door, but when your inspired by something or someone, it becomess a long term goal. Basically, you have a divine guidance to what you want to and how to execute it. Football isn't just a sport, it’s a lifestyle and how you live everyday life is represented through football. Football carries off the field in many different ways. For example, it builds communication skills and teaches you to be open to work with others from many different shapes, sizes, colors and even backgrounds. Football is unique and has changed many lives including my own. 

  • USA Football
  • Nominee Photo

    Karan Thadhani

    Linebacker
    Great Neck South H.S.
    Lake Success, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Karan Thadhani

    Linebacker
    Great Neck South H.S.
    Lake Success, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I am very involved in athletics in my school as I participate in football, basketball and lacrosse throughout the year. Each season, I display the extent of my athletic discipline by altering my workouts to achieve the different types of training shape required by each sport. However, what remains constant is the determination I show to be the best player I can be while attempting to provide my team with the best opportunity to win. To get in shape for football, my primary objective is to gain strength and quickness after lacrosse season. Thus, my spring and summer workouts are tailored towards max-interval training in order to cater towards the “all-out” mentality of a football game. I work out six days each week. My constant workouts throughout the year are the bench press, squat, power clean, deadlift, push-ups, and sit-ups; these lifts are the primary way that I gain strength and endurance for each sport. When beginning my football workouts in the spring, I alternate running days―Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays being sprint days (consisting of quarter miles and 40-100 yarders), and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays being distance days (often from 3-5 miles). I carry on this workout plan, along with several auxiliary lifts throughout the summer, followed by two to three hours of field work. Before going to bed, I finish each night with thirty minutes of film, studying techniques from college and professional players as well as analyzing positioning and tendencies of other teams. While, I demonstrate a strenuous dedication towards athletics, I am still able to make time for a job, ACT/SAT prep, and most importantly, my family throughout the summer.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Will is the characteristic that I feel best defines having the “Heart of a Giant.” From an early age, I have always had the highest of expectations for myself; this way of thinking has thus caused me to identify myself as a perfectionist. In everything I do―no matter the significance of the task at hand―I strive to be the best. Vince Lombardi once said that “perfection is unattainable.” While I realize this to be true, it is my chase of perfection that, no matter whether I succeed or fail, drives me forward. Whether I am studying for a test or working out in the weight room, I consume much more time towards each task than the average person. I take pride in putting forth my absolute effort in everything I do. Throughout my high school career, I have maintained a grade-point average of approximately 95 percent. In addition, I have won several awards from playing on my school teams. I have also been heavily involved in several other aspects of my high school culture. I play several instruments with the school’s band and orchestra, I am the president of three clubs, I co-organize head-shaving fundraisers for St. Baldrick’s (an organization that raises awareness and funding for pediatric cancer research), and I help my coaches run youth football clinics throughout the year. Playing football has taught me the true meaning of teamwork and the importance of helping others. While I have high standards for myself, I also seek to help my teammates be the best they can be in my attempt to lead by example. In doing so, I always remember that even though Lombardi defines perfection as unattainable, he claims that “if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Over the summer prior to my sophomore year, I was determined to make every effort possible to be the only underclassman to make the varsity football team in 2014. I worked out with the varsity captains and coaches throughout the entirety of the summer. By August, I had grown in size and strength, in addition to significantly increasing my speed and athleticism. However, it would only be a few weeks until I suffered a significant knee injury in September. My own intrinsic motivation prevented me from recognizing the extent of my injury. It was not until the end of basketball season that I had done so much damage to my leg that I had no choice but to opt for surgery and miss my first varsity lacrosse season. The recovery process was devastating. Throughout my life, sports had always served as the ultimate form of stress relief. The field and the court had always been the only place where I could clear my head—where everything ceased to exist for a few hours. Suddenly, I had lost that. Being sidelined and not knowing if I could ever play at a high level again made me learn just how much I appreciated the game, and how quickly it can end. Lying on the sideline with an elevated leg and crutches during spring and summer workouts was awful. Lying on a table during several months of physical therapy was awful. But throughout the entire process, I was driven by my desire to get back on the field and make the most of the two years of football I had left. Over the past few years, my head coach had become a mentor to me. He has done so much for my teammates and me all throughout my football career. But the one moment I'll remember the most was during my sophomore season. We were pushing the 7-man sled; Coach then said to us that pushing the sled is like living your life: you have to “look your problems in the eye, and face them like a man.” During my junior year, I returned to my sport and proceeded to lead my team in tackles, sacks, and forced fumbles.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing I love most about football is simple: the opportunity to play. Before my injury, I had tunnel vision in my pursuit to win. When I returned to my team in August of 2015, I was the third-string middle linebacker. Missing time and being injured had cost me the chance to win the position battle for my junior season. During August and September, I had received quite limited time during practice and scrimmages. It was the day before our first game—September 11th to be exact. We were walking through our game day assignments in a no-pads practice. We were approaching the end of the day when Coach put me in at linebacker. Despite it being a non-contact, pre-game walkthrough, I gave it everything I had, calling out every formation and audible before filling the gaps. The next day before our game, Coach informed me that he was impressed by my effort and was intent on starting me for the first game. Moments like that are why I love playing football for my team—because if you work hard, you can get the opportunity to play.

  • Nominee Photo

    Connor Brown

    Running back
    Jefferson Township H.S.
    Jefferson Township, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Connor Brown

    Running back
    Jefferson Township H.S.
    Jefferson Township, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: My training in the offseason revolves around what I need to do to continue to develop my skills for football. Each time I train, I have the mindset that by doing these exercises and by putting in this extra work and time, that I will be bettering myself for the game of football. My motivation for doing this work is my desire to do well this year and continue to play in college.  Many of the guys that I know that have done the extra work, have done well in high school and have been able to play at some level in college. It is my desire is to get a scholarship to college for both academics and football. I want to work hard now so that later I can look back and feel satisfied knowing that I have done my best. This offseason I trained hard because this going to be my senior season and I want to leave it all out on the field. From one hundred push-ups and sit-ups before bed, to stretching on my own time, to speed work outs, I feel I have spent a quality amount of time training in the offseason.  The many hours of work that I have put in for football and how hard I work during it, is the reason for who I am today. I even participated in track both my freshman and sophomore years, not because I loved to run, but because it would force me to work on my speed every single day. All of these reasons prepared me for this season not just physically, but mentally as well. When I was participating in track I wasn't always at the top of the heap and I needed to stay focused mentally and keep working hard and have a good attitude no matter the outcome of the race.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: To have the "Heart of a Giant" you have to have multiple qualities that make you a hard worker, as well as, someone who demonstrates good character. This reminds me of the quote, "Character is what you are when no one is watching." Everywhere that I go, I try to lead by example. That means, working the hardest, being kind to everyone, and wishing the best for everyone, even when you don't feel like it. I feel that through encouragement and having relationships with your teammates that they gain respect for you, and that is what helps you get the best out of them. Typically, seniors have too much pride to form relationships or talk with the freshman players. That happened to me and I did not want that to continue past my time in high school. When I am on the field I encourage my teammates often telling them "Good hit,” or "That's how you do it!" When you're a senior captain, everyone looks up to you. That means that whatever you do, all your teammates are going to think that it’s okay that they do it too, good or bad. To make my team better, I go hard in sprints and in the weight room, I treat everyone nicely, and I always have a positive attitude. Through my character, I hope that my younger teammates will learn something from me and pay it forward for years to come.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: There are times in life when you face adversity, everyone goes through it in different degrees and different times in their lives. Some friends have had a really difficult childhood while others have struggled throughout high school and still others have not met their adversity, the one that is going to challenge their character. Through the game of football, you learn to work through and deal with issues and hopefully overcome adversity each week, as things do not always go right in the game… but you need to keep playing and keep your team working together to the end goal. Whether you fumbled the ball on offense or gave up a touchdown on defense, you have to remain calm and positive and get right back in the game on the next play. My coach this year has a phrase that can help any player get back on their feet. He says, "The best play is the next play." If you had a bad play, acknowledge it, and put it behind you because being upset about it won't change the outcome. You need to bounce back and do everything you can to help your team. Compared to many, I have been fortunate and haven't had to deal with any real difficult adversity, but just going through each day, I find I face things that challenge my character, but I have been able to work through much of it because football has taught me that when you think you can't do it, you find out, you can. When you have run ten 100-yard sprints in the middle of August and you don't think you can move your legs, you let the mind control the body and you run an eleventh. When you feel overwhelmed with the amount of homework that needs to be done, you stop whining about it and just sit down and get it done. Football has taught me that hard work pays off, and when trials in life come, you keep working hard with a positive attitude and you can do anything you put your mind to. "You don't lose until you quit."

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy most about playing football is the relationships that you build with your teammates. Football is a game that teaches you a lot about life. It teaches you how to form relationships, how to work together to achieve a common goal, and how to face adversity. I love the game of football for the brotherhood that you and your teammates develop. Going to war every Friday night against another town is something that you work towards throughout the week. Every week you are giving your all to prove which team can work together the best. Going through practice in August and suffering with your teammates through the intense heat and constant sprints, that is the game of football. There is no better feeling in the world than when you and your friends work hard in practice all week, and all your hard work pays off when you look at the scoreboard at 9:00 p.m. on Friday nights. That is why I enjoy the game of football. Every day and every play are things that will last a lifetime.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Maxwell Sullivan

    Running back
    North Haven H.S.
    North Haven, CT

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Maxwell Sullivan

    Running back
    North Haven H.S.
    North Haven, CT

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: There are several ways that my teammates and I train in the offseason in order to prepare for the season. It all starts the day the seniors from the year prior leave the program and graduate as high school football players. The week after our season ends we are in the weight room four days every school week training for the next season. This carries on year round until the summer. During the school year myself along with the rest of the team takes part in passing leagues, lifting competitions and an annual spring brawl game where we practice for two weeks along with raising money for a cause. When the summer comes along, my training increases. Every weekday, I go through my strength and conditioning program for two hours starting at six a.m. with my team. Along with this, I go to passing league practices and games against other towns in the area each week. This all leads up to the preseason and eventually our regular season.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: One criteria that defines having the "Heart of a Giant" that applies to me is "Will." Whether it is on the field or in the classroom, my will to succeed is one of my strongest traits. My will is what gives me purpose in many of the things that I take part in. If I'm striving to do anything less than the best of my ability, then I am failing. One thing that keeps my will strong is the fact that I have such high standards on the field but most importantly in the classroom. I'm aware that I have been blessed with a smart mind and intellectual strength along with physical ability. If I lowered my standards to others around me then I would be doing an injustice to others who would love to have what I'm lucky to possess. This is why when it comes to the classroom I make sure to not only take honors and A.P. classes but to do well in them. All assignments are important to me because I know the impact they'll have on my future as well as my image as a student-athlete in the school. I know that as a captain and a senior on the team that I have to represent my team in a positive light. When it comes to the field my will is the same as the classroom. I go to each practice and game wanting to succeed and be the best player I can physically be. Whether that is knowing the fundamentals and executing them at my best or knowledge of formations and teams we play against, I want to perform at my best. I do this not just for myself but my teammates and coaches as well. As a leader it's my job to lead by example for other players. I put all I have into each practice, game and rep because I have a strong desire to succeed. As for my coaches, I owe it to them. They put in too much time and effort into scouting, practice, film, games, etc. for me not to reciprocate. This is how "Will" applies to my daily life. It drives me in what I do and pushes me to be the best version of myself possible.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Over this past preseason I had my appendix removed. Luckily there was no fatal complications and that nothing too harmful happened inside of my body. I had to have surgery and ended up missing three weeks of football. I may not realize it at times, but I have a whole family behind me that has my back. Before I was even out of surgery I had lots of teammates reaching out to me and wishing me well. They were there supporting me when I needed it most.  When I was weak, they were able to give me strength. I saw how much I was missed when they welcomed me the first day I came back to practice to watch. Seeing my coaches and teammates joy when I returned brightened my morale. Watching practice day after day also made me hungry. Hungry to play again and join the team at practice. The long days of watching for hours and seeing someone in my spot helped me get through it all. It pushed me to fight back into practice. It drove me to get back into shape and regain my strength again. I discovered that when things got tough and weren't going so well that football was the one thing I could go to and find a tremendous amount of support.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The aspect that I enjoy most about playing football is being around all the people that I'm regularly surrounded with by. I'm surrounded by some of the hardest working men I know and because of that I have benefited. They have pushed me to new limits physically, mentally and as a person. Some of my strongest traits and wisest lessons that I've learned have been due to the people I'm with during football. Other sports don't stress you like football does and I owe that to the people that push me past what I thought were my limits. The people I'm with daily at football have a strong sense of integrity that many people in the community lack. Along with this, I've gained many new friends due to football. The bonds that I have with my teammates and coaches are going to last a lifetime. I not only have teammates because if football but I have a whole band of brothers. Football has given me a second family that can't be found anywhere else. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Tyler Layton

    Quarterback
    Colonia H.S.
    Colonia, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Tyler Layton

    Quarterback
    Colonia H.S.
    Colonia, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I've always said that in football there is no offseason. That's because I work and train all year round. Take this past offseason for example. I kept lifting and watching film from the day after my team lost in the playoffs last year and up until this very moment. I didn't take a single day off, and I never do. I never even let the weather stop me. I am out there in the winter running and working on my footwork, working on my technique, and working on my endurance and speed. I even trained during the holidays. I maintained my work ethic while I played baseball for my school team. Every day after baseball practice I went to the gym, I lifted and then ran on the treadmill every day. I would then go home, do my homework, go to sleep then wake up and do it all over again. Not to be conceited, but my teammates were inspired by my work ethic as well, and they joined me on most days. We ran, threw routes and did speed work all year long. The reason I did this is because I'm well aware that if I want to be successful in anything in life, I have to work my hardest for it, and I'm grateful that I learned that lesson from my family and coaches.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: TEAMWORK. I believe this characteristic is needed to succeed in every aspect of life. If you and your “co-workers” have a job to do, you must collaborate with each other in order to get that job done. The same concept is used on the football field…if you want to win you have to have eleven players working as one and no single player can be selfish or above everyone else. Developing teamwork starts in the offseason. I believe that I'm a great advocate of teamwork for many reasons, one being that I believe that I brought my teammates together this offseason and continue to do that every day. On equipment hand-in day last year, I arranged for my team to bring their cleats and gloves, and we started working on our routes that very day and with each passing day we got better. Also, some other skill position players and I would go to the gym with our lineman, lift and then run with them. As time went on, we developed better chemistry both on and off the field as a team, and that is what I'm most proud of. The relationships that my teammates and I have made this past year are plentiful and unbreakable, and I'm thankful for that. That is why we have such good teamwork this year and I'm proud that I had a big part in installing that teamwork into our program.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: During my sophomore year of high school, I got the flu in the winter. I couldn't have gotten it at a worse time because it was during my final exams. I was out of school for about a week and a half and during that time I missed all four of my final exams and I missed the start of my new classes. When I came back to school, I was given a few more days until I had to take my final exams, however I was simultaneously getting more work from my new classes. That was a really overwhelming time for me, but using what I learned from football I was able to push through it. What my coaches and the game of football has taught me is mental toughness. During the course of workouts in the offseason, my coaches pushed my team and I through grueling conditioning, weight lifting and plyometrics. While doing so, they preached having mental toughness - having the ability to be exhausted and in pain but being able to keep going and put it in your mind that you can't stop and won't stop! The game of football also taught me mental toughness because if you want to win you're going to have to perform when you're tired and want to quit. Anyway, this mental toughness that I was taught helped me calm down and slowly catch up on my classes and ultimately succeed in my final exams.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I don't even know where to start, football is my life plain and simple. Since birth I've been around the game of football. I was even tossing a football around by the age of 3, not very well but still would toss it. When I'm on that field with the lights on, band playing, fans cheering and teammates right next to me, I feel like I'm where I was meant to be my whole life. It is really hard for me to put a finger on the one thing I enjoy most about football, but I'll start with scoring a touchdown and then celebrating with all of your teammates and feeling like you're on top of the world. Then there's the crazy bus rides after a win with your teammates and celebrating like there's no tomorrow in the locker room afterwards. Another thing I enjoy about the game is that you get out what you put in to it, so if you work hard all year long you will see the results on the field every time. There's so many other things that I love about the game, but overall I would say that my teammates and friendships that I've made is what I enjoy most about the game. Without the game of football, I wouldn't be the person I am today and I'm grateful that it is such a big part of my life.

  • Nominee Photo

    Messiah Divine

    Running back
    Montgomery H.S.
    Skillman, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Messiah Divine

    Running back
    Montgomery H.S.
    Skillman, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the offseason I usually run track and try to condition my mind by maintaining a good GPA.  By remaining active and setting academic goals it helps me stay focused during the season. Football is my favorite thing on the planet so I try to stay healthy in mind and body so I am able to give it 100 percent of my effort. I also study plays and watch a lot of film to help me develop strategy for my upcoming season. Playing another sport also works muscle groups that I don't use in football so my body can be stronger. Offseason is a time to focus on goals and hit the markers I need to become a student athlete.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Having the "Heart of a Giant" means demonstrating commitment, dedication, will, character, and teamwork. I try to embody all of these attributes as a student athlete. My personal goal is to demonstrate my commitment to this sport and my team. I've played football my entire life and above all I want my teammates and family to know it's taught me that I have an obligation to them and myself to be my best. Commitment goes beyond Friday night lights and into the practice and preparation both on and off the field. I strive to put in the preparation and work it takes to be a football player and student. On Friday, my team depends on me to help win the game and I strive to not let them down. When in the classroom I know that my commitment to school is an example to my peers and team. I know I'm a stronger person because of my commitment to stick with football even when it was rough. Growing up I faced a lot of issues with self-esteem and confidence but I knew if I stuck with football it would make me a better person. Practice is not always easy but it shows me that I'm not limited by excuses and self-doubt. Commitment teaches me that perseverance and patience usually yield positive outcomes. Having a Heart of a Giant is not just about the success but the work. Working builds the heart, success is just the outcome. I look forward to the work both on and off the field to be successful in life. 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I grew up in a single parent home. My mother worked multiple jobs to provide for me and my sister. I wanted to play football to be "one of the guys.” I used football to get exposure into a part of my life I thought I was missing. I wanted to impress my coaches so bad. I often felt that I didn't belong in the world of father and son, because I was missing my dad on the sideline. However, football taught me the concept of family. Football taught me I wasn't missing anything and that by being a part of a team, no one cared where you came from or what you had. Being on a team meant that you had each other's back and you worked hard to be successful as a team, together. Football helped me see beyond my condition and to be a warrior. My team is my family and they taught me about love and honor. I'm thankful to be a part of my current team and as a senior I strive to encourage the younger members of my team to see that who we are is not defined by what we have but our definition of self comes from our choices. Success comes with work but you go further with family. I'm thankful for the development and growth I’ve experienced by being a student athlete.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: There’s nothing quite like game day—the warm-up music blaring from the stadium, the freshly painted field, the team colors, and the anticipation of the battle that will soon commence. There’s something wonderful about the game itself—whether it’s pee-wee, high school, intramural, college, pro, arena, fantasy, touch, flag, or tackle football. I’m sure my competitive personality contributes a lot, but I can’t help but get excited about the match-up between two teams of competent players and coaches doing what we love. It’s a competition filled with principles of strategy, play-making, improvisation, agility, and endurance. I just love playing the game!

  • Nominee Photo

    Vito Aleo

    Running back
    Raritan H.S.
    Hazlet, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Vito Aleo

    Running back
    Raritan H.S.
    Hazlet, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: For me, training and preparing for football season is something I never stop doing. During football season, I train everyday with my team at school and on my own at the gym. In the offseason, I am a varsity wrestler and I also run track at the varsity level. I compete in both the long and high jump events, and also run in the 100 and 200-meter races. I always try my best to eat as healthy as possible during and after football season. The night before a game I HYDRATE…this is most important! To boost morale, I get together with my teammates the night before a game and we relax, watch football, and plan our course of action for the game the next day. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: COMMITMENT. It has always been engrained in me that when you make a commitment, you stick to it. In every sport I've ever played, I never missed a practice or game. My teammates depend on me and I would never let them down. I believe there is no excuse to give less than 100%. My hard work has paid off by becoming a starter at safety during my sophomore year. What I am most proud of and what I feel is a direct result of all my hard work, dedication, and commitment is being voted team captain by the graduating seniors. I was truly humbled and I take this extremely seriously. It is my job to motivate my teammates and lead through example…especially my younger teammates. I want to leave them remembering who I was and how much I cared about this game. 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: My grandfather passed away 3 weeks ago. He was my biggest fan. He believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. He taught me how to be a man and how to always do the right thing. The day after he died, I had my first scrimmage. I thought hard about not going. I laid in bed, and I didn't want to get up, but then I realized that he would want me to go. He would never want me to miss a game no matter the reason. He loved football as much as I do. This season is going to be tough without him and although he had been too sick to go to my games over the past year, he loved hearing about how I did, win or lose, and he couldn't wait to get the paper the next day to read my name. I am dedicating this season to him.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: EVERYTHING! The competition, the bonding with my teammates. Pushing my body to it's limits. Increasing my speed and becoming more agile. Football is not for everyone, but it is for me. It has taught me discipline, respect and patience. Even when we lose, I know I gave it everything that I have. It has taught me that everything is within my reach. I can be whatever I choose to be. I am proud to play football. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Angel Tello

    Kicker
    Northern Highlands H.S.
    Allendale, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Angel Tello

    Kicker
    Northern Highlands H.S.
    Allendale, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: With wrestling and track I don't really have much of an offseason, but luckily with both of these sports I get to lift regularly so I am able to stay in shape. All of the school teams share the same weight room year round so I can still spend time with the new additions to the football team year round. Also during most days in the offseason, I arrange for a few of my teammates to meet up with me after lifts to help me work on my kicking by returning punts, snapping me the ball and holding down the ball for field goals. In exchange, I would work out and run drills with them. I love the weight room and always feel comfortable there. There’s something about exercising that makes me feel like I’m working towards a significant goal. When I was In Nicaragua for a mission trip with my church, I would do as many push-ups as I could every night because there were no gyms around. As nights passed, I would exceed the amount of pushups I did the night before, and on the last day I did 1,026 pushups total. That’s how I like to train…to push myself and get better every single day. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: DEDICATION. When I was a sophomore I would get sick constantly and be in and out of doctor’s offices. No one seemed to be able find out what was wrong with me. I lost a lot of blood, weight and more importantly, muscle. I was eventually diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a disease that irritates the colon and small intestines. I would have to deal with flare ups every so often that would set me back 30-40 pounds in weight each time. I learned to train effectively and gain the weight back fast, but after every flare up I would essentially be back at square one. I wanted to quit as it seemed like too much work to start from scratch every 8 months, but football became such a big part of my life that it was worth the hassle. I persevered and now continue to play football every year. 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: My freshman year, I was cut from my school’s soccer team. One of my best friends took me over to the football locker room and introduced me to everyone. They needed a kicker so the next day I joined the team. To be cut from the soccer team was a big blow. I didn’t want to do anything after that, let alone play another sport, but the football team took me in and made me feel like family. Playing football helped me get over soccer and develop a newfound love for the sport.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I love the sense of family that a football team provides. Some of my best friends are a part of this team and I love each and every one of them. We all push each other to become better, whether it’s in the weight room or on the field. I know I can count on my teammates to tell me when I’m slacking off and they can expect the same from me. That doesn’t mean we bash on each other constantly though. One time early in camp, I was given the opportunity to kick a field goal for no conditioning. I missed but no one gave me a hard time, they carried on saying things like “we needed to condition anyways.” I still felt bad for letting them down, but they showed no animosity towards me and they still treated me like family. The next week I was given the same opportunity, but this time I made it. My teammates rejoiced and picked me up, chanting my name. It was one of the best experiences of my life and made me realize how much I love my team. That doesn’t mean football is always fun. There are times when it gets tough and I make mistakes and I just want to quit, but the thing about football is that there’s always the next day where I can get better and train harder and overcome any challenges that I may face. Football gives me the advantage that I know in the long run will make me a better person. I love football for more than just its happy moments…I love all the moments it creates! 

  • Nominee Photo

    DeVante Reid

    Wide receiver
    Archbishop Stepinac H.S.
    White Plains, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    DeVante Reid

    Wide receiver
    Archbishop Stepinac H.S.
    White Plains, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: The way I prepare my body both mentally and physically in the offseason is by seeing where my body is lacking and how I can become a complete player. Before I start any workouts with my trainer, I sit down with him to talk through and and set my personal goals. The goals will include what I want my personal records to be for certain lifts, how fast I would like to become, and how much muscle I want to build. After I set my goals, I begin to put my body though recovery mode. Each football takes it’s toll on my body so I have to let the body recover before I am able to lift or train to become that “all-around” player that I want to be. After I am fully recovered, I try and begin to gain full range of motion. I do this to begin working on becoming more explosive but do it without weights. Here comes the fun part. I love playing football fast so I spend a lot of time working on my speed and agility. A few tools that I love to use while working on speed and agility is a speed ladder, sled drags, and I also run up and down hills. Since speed is really something that I use to get an upper hand on an opposing defensive back with, I work on that about 3-to-4 times per week. I also love the weight room. I'm not just a fast wide receiver but I love being physical with opposing defensive backs. This is when I start to put on all the muscle that I had lost over the course of the previous season. I'm in the weight room 4-5 times a week. Lastly, I eat the right foods and digest the right amount of protein that my body needs to maintain my achievements in my training.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: The criteria that describes me having the Heart of a Giant is CHARACTER. I say Character because over the summer I had gone through one of the worst injuries an athlete could have. I had torn my ACL, PCL, and my lateral meniscus. After that injury, I had not given up on my team as I had been there for them every step of the way. I was set to start at wide receiver and defensive back prior to this injury, but I didn't let that stop me from being there for my teammates. We had set team goals and even if I'm injured and can't play this year with my family, I am going to help every way I can to get back to the New York State championship game. I know that since I was there for them every day they will be there for me when I get my surgery. We aren't just any regular team…we are all family and no matter what happens I will be there for them and they will be there for me. 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I used to get into a lot of trouble when I was younger because I had a bad attitude and playing football would help me take out my frustrations on people and get away with it. One week when I was in school I had talked back to my teacher and I was sent to the office, resulting in my coach making me sit out the game that week which had happened to be the biggest game of the season. We lost that game. My coaches came up to me and said, “See what happens when you don't act right in the classroom?” Ever since that day, my mindset changed. I realized that it all starts in the classroom and if I don't behave then I won't be able to play the sport that I love. I made sure that I stayed out of trouble, stayed away from the people that want to get in trouble and made sure that I get good grades because without good grades I won't be able to have the chance to play football at the next level.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I can go on and on about what I enjoy about football, but the competition is what I love most. You might say there is competition in every sport, but I am a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and track) and I find that football competition is way more enjoyable. I feel that playing football makes me a competitor in anything I do. I hate to lose in anything… could be bowling or it could be a board game… but this is what football has brought to me and I absolutely love it. I love to compete and and I love the family that football has created for me with my teammates. When you play football, you’re not just playing the game…it teaches you a lot about the real world and helps you to become a better man. I have also learned that a lot of businesses employ athletes because they are. Competition in football helps you in a lot of other places outside of the football field.

  • Nominee Photo

    Robert Radlove

    Running back
    Wallington H.S.
    Wallington, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Robert Radlove

    Running back
    Wallington H.S.
    Wallington, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: My offseason training is something I love. This year is the first year we (Wallington High School) have had a weight room since my freshman year. My co-captains and I have taken the initiative to get our team in the weight room regularly. I have trained with a few of my other teammates during both my sophomore and junior years at local gyms and at ETS (Explosive Training System). To prepare for a game, the night before we have a film session and team dinner. On gameday, I eat a hearty breakfast consisting of oatmeal, eggs, and fruit. For lunch I usually have plain pasta and a protein bar, then pregame I eat a banana. Before the game, I prepare myself by watching film and going through my reads and the way the defense is aligned versus our offense. I also talk to my co-captains about what we are going to do and how we are going to counter certain things on defense.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Teamwork is most important. I talk to all my teammates about team goals and personal goals and how we can achieve them. I am a strong believer in accountability. For example, when our coach is explaining something to a certain person I expect everyone to be listening so they know what to do if they are ever in that same situation. Another example of accountability is when practice is scheduled. I expect everyone to be there on time and ready to go and they hold me to the same standard. 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I started playing football in eighth grade and my parents who had recently divorced were both not huge fans of the idea. I told them that I was frustrated with the situation that I was dealt with and needed an escape… football was that escape. Football has taught me very much about life. Something my coach to this day still says is "bend but do not break." This quote spoke to me and meant something more than just defense to me… it taught me to take the emotions you are feeling and understand them and do not let it affect who you are and change you in any way.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy most about football is that this is the only sport where you take a whole week to prepare for in order to play a single game. You have to be mentally tough to stay focused and have a good practice every day. Another thing I love about football is the intensity, whether it’s a close game or not you have to play hard until the whistle blows. Football has brought me so many great friends who I have had the pleasure of battling with every day in practice and working alongside with towards a common goal.  These friendships and lessons of never quitting and bettering yourself every day and every play are things that will last a lifetime. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Michael Newman

    Linebacker
    Lindenhurst Sr. H.S.
    Lindenhurst, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Michael Newman

    Linebacker
    Lindenhurst Sr. H.S.
    Lindenhurst, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: To me, football is a year-long sport. The day after my team lost the Suffolk County championship, I was back in my high school's weight room preparing for the 2016 season. This offseason I fully dedicated myself to becoming stronger and getting myself in the best shape possible. I worked with a trainer who played and coached at the NCAA Division-I level and he specifically put together a program to suit me. I can honestly say I have never pushed myself so far both mentally and physically as I have this offseason. Not only did I improve my strength, but I made sure my teammates were in the weight room after school as well. I also held captain’s practices in May and early June. This was the best offseason I've ever had. Game day preparation is extremely important to me. Every time I step on the practice field I am a perfectionist. I make sure I am always focused and that I am executing my assignments. Teammates will often get frustrated at the intensity in which I practice, but you play the way you practice, so going hard is the only way I know. My preparation doesn't end there. It continues into the weight room after practice. Maintaining strength is vital during the season. From there I head home to watch film and dissect the opposing teams every move. Many people don't realize it, but film study is huge and preparation is vital in order to have a winning season.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Commitment is a very serious aspect of not just football, but everything in life. When you commit to something, you're doing more than just signing up to participate in the specified activity. When I committed to playing football, I made sacrifices with family and friends. I had constant late nights and early mornings and I strove to make every possible team workout. When you're committed, you don't mind working hard when the camera is off, the doors are closed and nobody's watching. In fact, you should love it, so that when your time comes, everyone asks, "Hey where did this kid come from?" When you have the Heart of a Giant, your intensity level is always as high as can be. You should never have to "turn it on" when the cameras show up, and people start screaming your name. When your committed, intensity is just naturally there, and when your committed, nothing else matters.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: When I was entering my freshman year of high school I wanted nothing more than to represent and play football for my school. Unfortunately, two months before the season started I suffered a broken foot. When I went to the orthopedic doctor the next day, I became distraught when he told me he didn't know if I'd be ready for the start of the season. I had dreamed of playing high school football since I began playing at 4 years of age, so to hear that it may not happen was devastating to me. I could have decided to take the year off and skip the season completely, but I had come too far to let my dream wait another year. So my summer shifted from working out and learning plays, to taking care of my body and going to physical therapy several times a week. It was a long stretch of days in a boot but the constant reminder of how I needed to get back on the field kept me going. I literally got cleared to play the day before practice started. Now my next journey was proving myself worthy as a starter. If it wasn't for football I don't know how that summer would have gone. I just couldn't let the game go because I love the game of football so much.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: To me, football is the greatest sport on the face of the Earth. There's truly nothing like it. I've played other sports like volleyball and baseball and nothing even comes close to comparing to football. There's no greater bond than the bond you have with your brothers that you've been through war with. I've made memories that I'll never forget with some of my best friends. The camaraderie among the guys is truly something special. I also love the atmosphere of a football game. It's so electric and intense that it gets me excited just thinking about it. I'm so grateful to be able to lead my team into battle. Game day is truly something special. My favorite part of football is the preparation. I love going to practice. It's where you get better and where you get to improve yourself along with your teammates. I love dissecting film, late night lifts at the gym, and the conditioning. I love it all because every day I know that when I push myself, I am getting better. Football has impacted me in so many ways that I couldn't describe. There's no doubt that I'll miss it when it's gone, but I will always give 110% and leave it all out on the field.

  • USA Football
  • Nominee Photo

    Rashod McNulty Jr

    Running back
    Gorton H.S.
    Yonkers, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Rashod McNulty Jr

    Running back
    Gorton H.S.
    Yonkers, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: How I train during the off-season isn’t just by working out physically, I work out mentally by reading books like “The Golden Rule” by Bob Bowman, studying for my classes and learning my plays. Making sure I maintain a good sleep routine and eating properly by not filling my body with junk food is vital. I prepare myself for my goals that I want to accomplish by being motivated, tenacious and having a “will do” spirit. Always representing my team and doing what’s not just right for me but also for them is key. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I was born to a teenage mother went back and forth between two VERY different worlds that took a tremendous toll on my personal development. With every life changing experience, I grew and tried to take a lesson from each situation.  Despite having my circumstances, I was always highly intelligent and flourished despite my chaotic home life thanks to football. People say that I am a “natural athlete”  and I love the characterization, but what I enjoy the most is the commitment and connectivity with my team.  Teachers, coaches and even my family have praised me for my motivation, tenacity and “can do,” not “will do,” spirit.  In one academic year, I’ve shown what hard work, commitment and having a GIANT desire to never give up can accomplish.  My life through football is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and exhibits the “Heart of a Giant” because of my commitment and dedication.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Football helped me control my anger and maintain perspective in this crazy world.  With the untimely death of my father, football was my pathway to recovering.  It was the key to that that unlocked my heart.  I needed something to be my future motivation.  I think football saved me in multiple ways. Keeping me out of the streets, not doing drugs, nor smoking, and most importantly focused on my school work and graduating.  Football has made it so that I am not a high school dropout and have a bright future in spite of my circumstances.  Football is my platform for my success.  

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The camaraderie that a team provides is invaluable. My internal fortitude and determination never waived with the support of my teammates.  Being a leader on and off the field is extremely important to me because I know that I am always representing my team and doing what’s not just right for me but also for them.  Having their respect and support is what pumps me up.  Standing man to man, together, we are unstoppable.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Tucker Voelbel

    Running back
    Roxbury H.S.
    Roxbury, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Tucker Voelbel

    Running back
    Roxbury H.S.
    Roxbury, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: As soon as the season ends I begin training for next season.  There is no off-season in football for me. Throughout the winter I lift weights four days a week with my team, and lift two other days on my own. Our coach, Cosmo Lorusso, really pushes us in the weight room to get as strong as we can possibly be, obviously because football is a very physical game.  Along with lifting, I keep my body conditioned and fresh.  I work out doing cardio four times a week throughout the winter.  While I do all of this to prepare for football, I also train for my upcoming baseball season in the spring.  During the spring, I balance baseball season and also training for football.  As a baseball team we lift twice a week.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get in the weight room at 6:00 am before school to lift for football.  Football never stops.   Once summer comes around my focus goes to football.  I still continue to play baseball in the summer, but football is my number one priority.  At the end of June, we have our team offensive camp, and that is when the season really begins.  From there, all throughout July and the first week in August, we lift and condition as a team four times a week.  Added on to that, our team competes in multiple 7on7 tournaments to add in some competition.  In the third week of August, preseason camp begins.  We are on the football field from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 6 six days a week until school starts in September.  This is when practice really begins.  We also continue to lift, condition, and watch film throughout camp.  We really come together as a team at this time as the season is quickly approaching.  To prepare for games, we practice Monday-Thursday for our Friday games.  Outside of practice, my biggest key to preparation is watching film on my opponent.  That takes place at home, in free periods at school, with the team, etc.  Success on Friday nights comes with confidence.  The only way to be confident in my abilities and my knowledge is through watching film and preparing myself physically at practice.  There is no down time during football season.  I am all in.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: WILL. There has always been something in me that makes me strive for greatness in everything that I do.  Failure is not an option for me, and success is what I shoot for.  In anything I do, I set tremendous standards for myself, which makes me the successful person that I am today.  On the field, I am an aggressive competitor.  I want to win no matter what I am playing.  It could be a board game with my family, a pickup basketball game, a wiffle ball game in the backyard, or most importantly - a football game.  I will do whatever it takes to win, simply because I am a fierce competitor.  I want to be the best.  Football really is a game of will.  The team or player that is more mentally tough and wants it more will come out on top.  I always use my mental toughness to be successful on the field.  When I am tired in the fourth quarter of a game, I always seem to find that extra ounce of energy to get me through another play.  That isn't physical.  That is all mental.  I will myself to success. In the classroom, my desire to succeed is just as strong.  I have a 4.44 GPA and am ranked 9 in my class of 320 students.  I have gotten straight-A’s on every report card and never missed an assignment in my entire life.  I am definitely a smart person, but I wouldn't say I am necessarily the smartest student in my class.  My drive to succeed has gotten me where I am academically.  I take pride in what I do in the classroom and in what I do academically at home.  I work incredibly hard to be as successful as I am academically.  Being an athlete and an honors student is very difficult to juggle.  My time is often consumed by athletics and extracurricular activities, but that does not give me an excuse to slack off on my academics.  I want to be the best at everything that I do.  If that means I have to stay up until midnight after getting home from practice late to study for a test or complete homework for the next day, I do it.  Success is the only option for me.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Luckily, I have been fortunate enough not to have faced tremendous adversity so far in my life, but what comes to mind is a difficult experience I faced this summer.  My nine best friends are a grade older than me.  I've been friends with most of them for more than ten years.  This summer while I was heading into my senior year of high school, all of them were leaving for college.  Five of the nine friends played varsity football with me for the previous three years.  We spent so much time together at football over the last three years that we were basically inseparable.  We went through it all on the football field. We experienced wins, losses, injuries, adversity and everything else that comes along with the game of football.  Even in the time outside of football, we were still together.  Obviously, watching all of my friends leave me was upsetting.  It was a tough time for me.  I had spent so much time with them over so many years that it was difficult for me to watch them leave.  I had been sadly anticipating dealing with this time in my life for years. During the time my friends were leaving, I was fortunate to be in the middle of preseason football.  Thankfully when someone left each day, I could go to football and take my mind off things.  At practice, I had one focus and that was making this season a successful one.  There wasn't a second of time I could spend thinking about my friends leaving when I was at practice.  I was too focused on the upcoming season.  With all of the time, effort, and dedication I put into this team this summer, I really didn't feel as sad as I thought I would when my friends left.  I owe that all to football.  It eased the pain and got me through this time smoothly.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: My favorite thing about football is playing under the Friday night lights in my hometown of Roxbury.  It is truly like nothing else I have experienced athletically.  Roxbury has a love for its high school football.  The whole town comes out to watch us on Friday nights and the stadium is packed.  There is never an open seat in the stands.  Our student section does an amazing job of making it intimidating for opponents to play in Roxbury.  Playing at home doesn't compare to anywhere else I have played in my four years of high school football.  When I think about playing at home on a Friday night, I get the chills almost every time. Playing in front of that crowd brings out the best in me on the field.  I love to perform in front of crowds.  It’s something I've always liked to do.  There is no greater feeling than hearing my name being chanted in the crowd after scoring a big touchdown.  Being out on the field and playing the game I love with my best friends is an experience I will never forget.  Battling on the field and giving everything I have for the guys beside me is what football is all about.  It is the ultimate team game.  Playing with the people I've grown up with in front of the people I've known my whole life is awesome.  Friday night lights in Roxbury are something I will truly miss and always remember long after my high school football career is over.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Danny Dollard

    Quarterback
    Eastport-South Manor H.S.
    Manorville, NY

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    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Danny Dollard

    Quarterback
    Eastport-South Manor H.S.
    Manorville, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Russ Taveras from Infiniti and James Brady are two very important trainers that I work with as part of my offseason program. I work not only on strength and conditioning, but also agility and my form when throwing the ball. At Infiniti Performance there is always a great workout waiting for me. The great thing about Infiniti is that it is a full body workout every time and I never leave the facility without my shirt being drenched in sweat. Russ and the entire staff at Infiniti go through a series of strength, agility and conditioning circuits that put me in great physical condition prior to the season. With my quarterback coach, I work on a ton of footwork drills using ladders and high repetitions of throwing the football. James Brady does not just teach me how to throw the football though, he also teaches me about the mindset of a quarterback. It is key as a quarterback to always have a level head when playing the game of football. You can never get too high or too low. I work on this all offseason and practice staying positive even after a bad day of training and never get too happy with myself after a good day of training. It is also important to know that greatness will not come to you without thousands of repetitions. With that being said, I take what I learn each week with James Brady and Russ Taveras and use it at the field every day. It does not matter the weather, work needs to be done. I have no problem taking it upon myself to throw through tires in the snow or conditioning in the middle of a rainy day. In preparation for game day I watch a lot of film with my teammates. It is key to see what kind of defense(s) you will be going against and also to see what kind of personnel you will be facing. After spending time watching film with my coaches, plays will be added or taken out for the particular week. I make sure I have all the plays memorized before game day and make sure to keep myself healthy during the week by icing and heating aches and pains. Right before the game, my team and I will all focus on what is ahead while listening to pump-up music in the locker room. We also talk about last minute adjustments that will be made before the game begins. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Having the heart of a giant means you are willing to do anything for your teammates and anything in order to get the win on Friday night. Teamwork is key to all great teams. From pushing each other in the weight room to get that extra rep or bringing my receivers up to the turf during the offseason to gain chemistry throwing the football, teamwork is needed. In order to be great it cannot just be one player giving it his all, it has to be the entire team. Having teamwork and enforcing it amongst the players on the team is essential to a successful season.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: For me football is not just a sport, it is a lifestlye. I spend countless hours on the football field not only during the season, but also all offseason. I truly haven't faced an adversity worth telling, but football has always been there for me. Whether I’m happy, sad, or angry, football will always put me in the best of moods. There is not a greater feeling than being on the football field and giving it my all. Football is the greatest sport in the world and there is truly nothing better than being out on the field with my brothers. 

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The best part about football is the brotherhood that is created throughout the season with my teammates. During every game we are all fighting together for the common goal of getting a win. Going to war with a certain group of men who will always have your back is a special feeling. The bond I have with the men on my team is one that will never be forgotten and I know that we will always have each other’s backs. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Hunter Verdi

    Offensive lineman
    Cheshire Academy
    Cheshire, CT

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Hunter Verdi

    Offensive lineman
    Cheshire Academy
    Cheshire, CT

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the offseason, I stay on my diet and workout 6 out of 7 days a week. I do my regular lifting and then I do my conditioning, agility and positional workouts. I spend a lot of time working on my technique and trying to improve myself to the best of my ability. To prepare for games, I watch film on the other team to see who I will go up against. I always want to make sure I know what moves my opponent likes to use and how aggressive he is. I make sure I know my opponent when I step on the field.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: WILL. I don't quit unless I 100% know I did the best I could. I don't quit unless I am satisfied with my performance. I try my best in everything I do, both on and off the football field. I encourage myself to be a better person each and every day so that I can improve my level of character. By doing this, I earn respect from my peers and the people that are helping me along this crazy journey. I have the desire to be the best and achieve my goals. I have the desire to impact not only my life but somebody else's life. I make sure to put myself out there for other people and be as helpful as I can be.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: When I was young I was very shy. I wasn't the best at socializing and communicating with the other children. I was too nervous to ask if I could play with them or hangout with them, but that all changed when I started playing football. I figured out what it meant to be a part of a puzzle. That without me, the puzzle wouldn't be completed. That the puzzle wasn't whole without all of its pieces. Football gave me the mindset to put myself out there and try my best at everything I do. In life, you will make mistakes, but it's how you rebound and learn from those mistakes that matters.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing I mostly enjoy about football is how we all come together as a big family…me and my brothers on the battlefield together…not letting anyone stand in our way of victory. With football, it's not just a brotherhood on the field, it’s off the field as well. We always have each other's backs in difficult situations and we can all rely on each other. Yes, I do love to win in football, but what comes with it is so important to me. I learn things in football that isn't taught in a classroom. You are taught how to trust someone, how to rely on them, and how to become a better person. Football taught me to push myself beyond my limits and become the best I can be. This sport has taught me a lot…not just about the sport, but about life in general and how I can always improve myself. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Nicolas Stagnitta

    Running back
    Patchogue-Medford H.S.
    Patchogue, NY

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    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Nicolas Stagnitta

    Running back
    Patchogue-Medford H.S.
    Patchogue, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the off-season, I train in the weight room by lifting 4-5 days a week. Weightlifting helps me focus on the parts of my body that need to be stronger. My lifting partners are always my teammates. Lifting with your teammates is important as it helps build character and chemistry for the upcoming season. In addition to weightlifting, I would go to speed and endurance training 2-3 times a week. This helped me increase my stamina so I will not have to worry about being tired in the 4th quarter. Preparing for games is a different story. During the week leading up to the game, I stay well rested and hydrated. Being well rested helps me focus when game day comes. Shortly before the game I try to zone out and think about what I have to do and how I’m going to do it. Football is not an individual sport. It takes the whole team to do their job and work together to come out with the win. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Being on a football team is unlike any other sports team. To be not only a player but a leader, you must exhibit great WILL. When the team is down or tired, I tell them to hold their heads up. I also try talking about the team we are going up against by discussing what they have done to us in the past and whether or not we’re going to let them do it again. This usually motivates my teammates to work hard in practice so it pays off on game day. Being prepared for a game is important and that’s why it is crucial that you practice how you play. While being on a football team comes with many extra responsibilities, you still need to focus and get your school work done. In the classroom, I can’t help but think about football all the time and it drives me to get my work done so I can get out on the football field later that afternoon. I get most of my work done in school so after practice I can get my much needed rest.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Everyone loves to win, but there are always going to be times when you lose. In football, there is no such thing as a perfect team, but you can always get better. Playing football teaches you how to get by in life even in the hardest times. During my freshman year, I broke my leg and I thought the doctors were just going to throw a cast on my leg and send me home. That wasn’t the case. I fractured my tibia/fibula and tore multiple ligaments in my ankle and leg. I had to have two surgeries and I could not put any pressure on my leg for 3 months. This was one of the most difficult times of my life. Being a football player helped me through this time though. I didn’t know it at the time but I was prepared for this adversity. When something bad happens there are two ways you can handle it, you can curl up in a ball the like world has ended or you can bounce right back better than ever. By being a football player you learn how to jump right back up after losing. When I broke my leg, I worked hard every day to get better and looked forward to getting back on my feet. If I didn’t play football then I never would have known how to deal with this.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy most about playing football is having a second family to stand by me. Like I said earlier, football is not an individual sport. The whole team has to be on the same page. I like having brothers that I don’t have to question whether or not they have my back. When I’m out on the field I know that the whole team is there for me. When teammates are down, we lift them back up. Whatever happened in the past is over and together we play the next play. The Raiders play as a unit, not as an individual, and we always hold the ropes for each other. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Michael Carrino

    Running back
    Lyndhurst H.S.
    Lyndhurst, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Michael Carrino

    Running back
    Lyndhurst H.S.
    Lyndhurst, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: In the off-season, I look forward to working out every day.  Working out is not just a training session for me, it is a lifestyle.  I do my best to train hard, focus on my academics, eat well and enjoy a balanced lifestyle.  Part of my off-season as well as in-season routine is that I attend the local gym, Retro Fitness where I strength train by lifting weights, build up cardio strength and endurance, and increase my flexibility.  For my overall fitness I believe in stretching exercises and use our trainer for stretching for both in-season and off-season workouts.   I have encouraged my teammates to work out with me and bring them as my guests.  I firmly believe in teambuilding on the field and off the field.  I try my best to lead by example.  A good football player has solid character and leads by example and always displays good sportsmanship no matter where he is.  As I build my body on the exterior, I am always building on the inside.   A strong foundation starts from your inner core.  To keep fit, I also have run track the last two years as a sprinter which has helped enhance my speed.  We train every day, twice a day and again we weight lift as well. In addition to the gym, I am a member of FASST which is a workout program that enhances strength, agility, speed, and overall wellness of student athletes.  I am the first to arrive and almost always the last to leave.  This program is so invigorating and vital to core training.   FASST is a program that I have been doing in addition to the gym. It incorporates lifting, endurance, strength, conditioning and well-being. Running hills is also part of my workout routine for off-season training.   During the season, I work out as hard as I can and we train for several hours a day six days a week.  Prior to the game, we do a walk thru and film study where I watch film and can focus on my achievements and any omissions and areas of improvement for the next game.  Our team gets pumped up at weekly team dinners and film study post-training. As a team captain and mentor, it is partly my responsibility to lead my team to a victory on the field but above all to be a winner in life! You can't win until you know how to lose and once you know how to lose, you will always win.  Winning is not the amount of points on the scoreboard, winning is being the best "you" that you can be and winning is knowing that you have touched someone else's life and made it better.  

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: For as long as I can remember, I have loved the game of football - on the field, off the field, watching the game live or on television.  I remember the feeling of accomplishment it gave me not because of a win but because working hard for something and loving what you are working for in the end is a win-win!  For many years, I have helped coach the Special Angels Flag Football league for children and young adults.  I wanted them to have the experience and love of the thrill of the game.  I have spent many years bonding with these children of which most are now young adults.  I have worked with this group of kids and have followed them through basketball and other fun events, just being there for them in any way I can.  Every year, I enjoy being their coach but best of all I enjoy being the Easter Bunny and Christmas Elf at their annual parties.  This organization is a great group of young children and adolescents who have to work so hard in life to accomplish just a small task that we routinely perform.  On the field and off the field, I am always there to "coach" them.  One of my Special Angels was plagued with a very severe cancer and I would go to the hospital and encourage him to keep the fight going.  I was able to secure a game jersey for him and a game ball and told him "you are my teammate -- you are a golden bear -- keep fighting…we are all here for you." This is kid is my hero.  Every day he faces general life adversities and now the illness of cancer.  He is a true fighter.  I am inspired by his courage and it’s kids like him that drive me to keep motivating these kids to be the best they can be.  In addition, I have also taken on coaching the junior cub division of football this year for our town recreation league as an assistant coach.   We practice the principles of the game and work together as a team to assist this younger division to thrive and build for their future on the field and in the classroom. I am not loud or boisterous by nature.  I lead by quiet but strong intention and I know when to step in and make something right.  Not too long ago, vandals made awful graffiti on our local chapter of the VFW…our heroes, our war veterans, disgracing all they stand for.  I could not imagine that and would not tolerate it to be displayed to the public.  I went to the VFW and spent an entire day scrubbing that graffiti off that building not because anyone asked me to, I went and did it because it was the right thing to do from my heart.  I knew that the veterans would be so gravely disappointed in the lack of respect displayed by the vandalism. I was compelled to show our veterans that the public is grateful for all that they have done for us, for our country and I stayed there all day and all night until every last marking of graffiti was gone.  Actions are truly worth a thousand words.  Anyone can talk a big game but actions are what true leaders are made of.  Because I chose this action to correct the wrongdoing of someone else, my actions were noticed by some of my fellow players that drove by that day.  They were inspired to join me the next day to volunteer to re-paint the flagpoles of that VFW and restore its façade.   Football builds character, having a strong body for on the field performance is great but using that strong body and mind to help others is just awesome!

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Working with the Special Angels organization since I was a young kid has shown me what true adversity is; true adversity is when you can't perform a simple task, or you want to do something physical but can't because your motor skills won't allow it.   These “Angels” have overcome so many adversities from a wide range of physical disorders, severe illnesses, emotional issues, and mental disorders.  In working with the Angels, I have learned to deal with any adversity by overcoming it with true perseverance. Perseverance is the ability to work beyond your limitations; to put your mind to something and to conquer it.  Some of these Angels could not even perform the task of holding and throwing a ball which to most of us seems so simple.  I have made it my personal mission to help each one of these Athletes reach their potential while having a great time doing it.  Playing the game of football and using the sport of football as a teaching tool with my Angels and Junior Cubs has taught me to never ever stop trying even though you may have limitations; limitations are just meant to be guidelines, they do not define who we are but they do challenge us to expand our personal boundaries in life.  I am their coach, their biggest fan, and they have made me their student.  I have learned so much from them -- they are all heart.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: There are so many components of playing football that I enjoy.  Being part of a team is probably the most memorable part of playing football.  We are a group of student athletes who work together for one common goal but when you group us together on a field, we truly are one.  When I put on my game jersey I represent our school and our community and everyone can see that.  Even when I don't have that jersey on I still represent Lyndhurst school and the Lyndhurst community.  People see you for who you are even when you know that no one is watching.  I am that same guy whether eyes are on me or not.  I am a student athlete and I am always proud to be part of my team and I am proud to represent Lyndhurst Golden Bears on the field and off.   Lyndhurst is a small town and our squad may not be large in numbers but we are large in spirit. Playing football gives me a feeling of accomplishment.  I feel that the competition of the sport motivates me to push even harder, to accept when I make errors, to learn to adapt to changes, to always work to improve and most of all to put my heart into something.  All of these things are not just for football but for life.  I enjoy competing against athletes and working with athletes.  The sport itself is fun but all the components of the game like discipline, self-respect, respecting others and sheer drive are things that will help me lead a better life and be a better leader.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Anthony Cagno

    Running back
    Kittatinny H.S.
    Newton, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Anthony Cagno

    Running back
    Kittatinny H.S.
    Newton, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: In the offseason I play high school lacrosse and I am also part of a club lacrosse team in the summer. In addition to lacrosse, I weightlift to build strength and I try to condition myself by running. I prepare for the season by going to summer practices and always working my hardest. In season, the night before a game my team and I have a pre-game dinner. I also know that all the hard work I put in on the practice field that week will translate onto the game field. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Having the heart of a giant applies to me because I have the will to get better both on and off the football field. In school, I always strive to get good grades because I know down the road that will be important. On the field if I make a mistake, I'm the type of person that will get back up and fix it.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A:I recently tragically lost my older brother who passed away at age 17. Going through this was and still is a very tough time in my life. My football team plays a great part in supporting me, whether it is emotionally, mentally or physically, I know I can rely heavily on their friendship. Football is helping me get through this because it’s an outlet for me. When I'm in practice or in a game, everything outside of football is not part of my focus. Football also allows me vent any of my anger and frustrations. 

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing that I enjoy most about playing football is being a part of a team and the all-around fun of when you either break a tackle or are on the other side of the ball making the tackle. Making a good play has to be one of the best feelings in football because you then know and realize the hard work you put in really pays off.  

  • Nominee Photo

    Deonte Freeman

    Linebacker
    Perth Amboy H.S.
    Perth Amboy, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Deonte Freeman

    Linebacker
    Perth Amboy H.S.
    Perth Amboy, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Training in the off-season is very important to me. My training consists of a few things but mostly involves staying in shape and working to be better than I was last year. Every Saturday and Sunday, a few teammates and I will go up to the field or the sand (depending on the weather) to workout. The off-season is so important because it determines how you will play during the season. Preparing for the season starts with summer camp. Summer camp is probably the toughest and most competitive part of football before the season. Two long weeks of hard work and dedication and two-a-days can really take its toll on you but it will test your limits to see what kind of football player you really are. Now games are where it all counts. When it's game day I get into a zone as soon as I wake up and I envision myself making plays in the game. When it's time to play I get my teammates pumped up so each and every one of them can be in the same zone that I'm in. If every player is on the same page, I believe we can't be defeated and that's what I preach to my team. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I've always been undersized my whole life no matter what sport I’ve played. People have always told me that I am too small, too short or not fast enough, but that only lights the fire inside of me to work harder than everyone in the weight room and on the field. My goal is to be remembered, to leave a lasting impression on every team we play so that they can say after the game that I played bigger than my size and that I was the hardest working man out there. That's what having a heart of a giant means to me, being able to prevail and have the willpower to still be a leader on and off the field through the adversity and doubts.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: A year and half ago when I lived in Cleveland, Ohio, I used to witness domestic violence in my home.  This was going on for about 3 years, but my mother always told me to go to school and be the greatest student and athlete that I could be. She told me this because of how helpless she was for years and that motivates me still to this day to be the best person I can be to the world. Football is so important to me because it's my escape. I look forward to going to school, getting an education and coming to practice and playing in games so that I can increase my chances of being successful so that she won't have to worry about anything anymore. My motivation is my mother so when adversity is hitting me and my family, that gives me that extra push to study for a test and to make a play on the field.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: Football is what I call my "first love." I breathe, eat and sleep football because it's my ticket to success. I love watching film, working out and just being a captain to my team. I love the Friday nights because that's where I can be myself. I live for the adrenaline rush you feel walking up to the field, stretching and hearing the band play. I live for the pressure and the challenges, and for the game winning tackles or touchdowns, I believe it's the greatest sport on earth. Football is amazing and I will always remember every moment I have on the field with my teammates. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Dustin DeRado

    Wide receiver
    Becton Regional H.S.
    East Rutherford, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Dustin DeRado

    Wide receiver
    Becton Regional H.S.
    East Rutherford, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Football for me is a year-round sport. I have been playing football ever since I was little. I don't play any other sport in the winter or spring so I took that advantage to prepare for football. After my junior year season, I have spent a lot of my time in the weight room working hard and getting stronger. I still hit the weight room to this day working hard. I also go down to the track and run a couple miles as well as run up and down the bleachers. In between running I have my own calisthenics workout that varies from burst of core exercises to full body workouts using no weights.   

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: WILL. Over the summer going into my junior season I went to get blood work done for a yearly checkup. The results came in weeks later and my doctor noticed that my liver enzymes were higher than the normal limit. She sent me off to take a sonogram of my chest and stomach in which I later found out that I had an inflamed spleen. My doctor had said that I am not allowed to play football for a minimum of two weeks until I get another sonogram to see if my spleen had healed. I was also not allowed to do any running or workout during this time. Knowing this, it drove me to focus more on school and my grades than playing football. I worked hard in school for those two weeks and got good grades that I could work with for the rest of the year. I missed my first game but then came back the following week healthy and ready to play. Now I am here in present day, senior year, playing my first game of the season. During the 3rd quarter, our team was backed up to our end zone on defense. The running back ran the ball to my side and I tackled him pretty hard, then found myself on the ground facing the sky. I was very shaken up from the hit and was very unaware of my surroundings. The athletic trainers, some of my senior teammates, and head coach were surrounding me. They helped me up and walked me to the bench. The paramedics came and took me in the ambulance to the emergency room. Still unaware of what’s going on and scared, I found out I sustained a concussion. The next day at home, I woke up in my own bed thinking the previous night was a dream. My mom tells me I had a concussion and that I am required to sit out of football for 1 week. After hearing those words, no matter how short of time I am out for, my heart dropped. The second week of school I have been trying my hardest in my classes in school to do well. Even though it was hard paying attention because of the concussion I sustained, I still tried my hardest to get good grades.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: After coming out of middle school and going into high school, I unfortunately decided not to play football my freshman year. The true and honest reason was that I was not committed enough to the focus and time that football demands of an athlete. During that time, I found the wrong group of friends and started getting into trouble. My grades were low and I started getting introduced to certain drugs and alcohol. Getting through a tough year, I finally found myself and took a good look in the mirror. I came back to football my sophomore year and worked hard while striving for greatness both on the field and in the classroom.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy most about football is that the sport we play is not for everyone. Not anyone can just join, learn and understand the true meaning of dedication, commitment, and family in their heart. It takes a certain human being to understand that. All of my years of playing, I have learned more about myself and being part of a family than any other situation I have ever been in. There is no place I'd rather be than on that football field in that moment with my brothers. The type of feeling I get while playing football is phenomenal. I can never be able to compare it to any other experience in my life. 

  • Nominee Photo

    Ean Craig

    Wide receiver
    Howell H.S.
    Howell, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Ean Craig

    Wide receiver
    Howell H.S.
    Howell, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I train in the offseason by doing my usual workouts at the gym along with going to football and baseball workouts. I, along with other teammates, try to go to the high school on weekends and run to stay in shape. I pride myself on working as hard as possible in the offseason to be a bigger and better part of the team the next season. The harder you work in the offseason, the more it shows in preseason, and the more results you will see on the field on game day. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Dedication defines having the "heart of a giant" because without it you have no driving force behind you to push you to better yourself. The more dedicated you are, the more you are in the weight room, on the field running, or studying film another time, and that will make you a better football player and a better person. This applies to me because being a shorter athlete, I have had to work past a lot of adversity and the only way I was able to be in the position I am today was through hard work and being dedicated to my goal of doing big things at the varsity level. Dedication drove me to where I am today.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I feel that I have faced adversity in sports quite a bit. I have always been one of the shorter athletes participating and what football helped me find is a way to combat this obstacle. Wanting to play football well despite being short drove me into the weight room, drove me to make myself a big-time competitor, and drove me to work hard in everything I do. This not only made me a better person, but just made life easier because it gave me a new way to combat my issues. Instead of rolling over to obstacles, I wanted to work hard and overcome them head on.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy most about football is two things. The brotherhood the game creates and the feeling you get when everything you've done pays off. You and your teammates work together for endless months towards a common goal and not only does it make you better, it makes you closer. Everyone becomes brothers and it’s a great feeling knowing you have 40+ brothers that always have your back. The feeling you get when everything pays off is great for the same reasons in that, you and your teammates work so hard and it pays off during the season with wins, touchdowns and your names in the paper. No sport brings you what football does. 

  • USA Football
  • Nominee Photo

    Constantine George

    Defensive lineman
    Putnam Valley H.S.
    Putnam Valley, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Constantine George

    Defensive lineman
    Putnam Valley H.S.
    Putnam Valley, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the offseason I train with my personal trainer (who also happens to be my teams’ strength and conditioning coach) for an hour each day. I also trained with Parisi Speed Training. After training, I’d go to the gym on my own and continue with weight lifting. I have been to many offseason football combines and camps. Some of these include the University of Maine Big-Man Academy, New England Elite Football Camp, LSU lineman camp, NUC combine and USA Football Regional Development Camps and National Team Development Games. I will be attending 2 NUC games this December and February. During the season I continue to work out and work on my speed.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Will describes having the Heart of a Giant and applies to me because I am driven by my goals and have the will to achieve them. Anyone can be inspired to play football, however it takes the Heart of a Giant to work to achieve them. For example, I am aware of the sacrifices that players make to play on a college team. That is the easy part. However, I worked to improve myself by getting better grades and making myself stronger, faster and a better leader for my team. That is something that only someone with the Heart of a Giant can do. Furthermore, my speed was not up to par, however I worked relentlessly to increase my speed by training and working out. This is what sets me apart from any other football player. In conclusion, because I have the will to work hard in order to make my dreams achievable, I have the Heart of a Giant.  

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: A time that I faced adversity in my life was when my mother was in the hospital. It was the start of the football season and playing football allowed me to process what was going on. It is hard to see someone you love and someone that has been healthy and stable your whole life in a position where they are not well. Football, however, allowed me to channel all of these emotions into the game and working out. Without football I might have been more angry or sad and not have been able to be strong for my family during this difficult time. Therefore, football allowed me to deal with my emotions so that instead of turning to a negative path during this time, I was able to overcome and now I am stronger for it.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: The thing that I enjoy most about playing football is that it gives my life passion. Without football, I would be an average person… but football makes me great. Football has given me character and something to work for. Football has been a part of my life for 12 years and with it I have grown into a respectable young man. Therefore, my favorite thing about football is that it gives me a purpose and something to work for and look forward to every day. Football builds character, work ethic and leadership. I feel that because of football, I have been a better person in my community. Football teaches you that you have to work hard and fight for what you want.

  • Nominee Photo

    Alexander Domac

    Defensive lineman
    St. Mary H.S.
    Rutherford, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Alexander Domac

    Defensive lineman
    St. Mary H.S.
    Rutherford, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: During the offseason I prepare my body to be the most versatile. I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and go for a run in the morning. As I am preparing to join the United States Army after high school, I try to keep my cardio up as much as possible and eat a healthy diet. During the summer months I’ll go to a morning Jiu-Jitsu class as it enhances cardio and muscle endurance so I do not become tired. During the school year, I go to FASST (Functional Athletic Strength and Speed Training) after school, then I’ll go to an evening Jiu-Jitsu class. At FASST, I train by doing explosive movements for football, and I mix in speed days as well. My routine is daily, and it is rarely altered. In training I try to be an all-around athlete, so I can handle any situation thrown at me. Before the football season begins, I slow down on the muscle endurance, like running and Jiu-Jitsu, and strictly focus on explosive lifts to be able to generate power. I work on lifts that slowly progress towards maxing out on a set. I also coordinate team bonding events, like barbecues at my house the month before camp starts. I feel, as a captain, that team bonding is one of the keys to our success. When it comes to pre-game, I try to get everyone as motivated as possible to get their winning spirit up.  As it gets closer to game time, I like to clear my mind by putting my headphones on and relaxing by my locker. The calmness that comes over me allows my mind to focus only on the game and leading the team to victory. I walk around the field once before the game just to embrace the atmosphere and envision myself doing my job and making plays.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: My desire to succeed on the field can be seen through my preparation. During the offseason, my free time is consumed by working out. My will allows me to wake up at 5:00 a.m. and run even though my body is screaming for more sleep. My will allows me to do multiple weight lifts a day, even though my muscles get sore. My will allows me to do different styles of work outs that I do not like, just to be prepared for the season. I do this because I wanted to be successful when I put my pads on. I know I am an undersized lineman at five feet seven inches and 190 pounds, but I still manage to perform and strive for success. On the field, I have set up challenges for my fellow teammates. If they can beat me any way, then I will run a gasser. Ideas like these push me towards excellence. I do not want to run after practice, so I give 110% of my energy every play. When a player beats me, I do not make an excuse on why I was defeated; I get up and fix the issue. My “no excuse” mentality gives me the drive to actively address my fundamental issues. Since I own up to my mistakes, I can analyze myself better, and become an overall more efficient player. In the classroom, I maintain straight A’s and a 3.58 GPA. I do SAT prep almost every day, and my SAT scores are well above average. My school work is one of my main priorities, especially since I am striving for an appointment to West Point or an ROTC scholarship. My will gives me the diligence to work hard on and off the field. After a long practice, my day does not end; I write essays, complete homework, study, etc. I have developed a will power so strong that my goal for success will not be restricted by lacking grades. My night normally ends with a book in my hands, and I am passed out on the couch. I am not an inherent genius, but my will pushes me to be an excellent student.   

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: Before entering high school, I had never played a down of football. I was five feet, five inches tall and 230 pounds with absolutely no muscle on me. My mother was fighting breast cancer, my family experienced two devastating floods and my grandfather, the man that practically raised me, passed away. The start of freshman year, I decided to play football as an activity recommended to me by a guidance counselor. After playing for a few days I developed such a deep passion; I fell in love with the sport almost instantaneously. When I found my passion, football gave me the platform to get healthy, lose weight, gain confidence, make everlasting friendships and be competitive. Football revolutionized my mind and body. My adversity with my weight stopped me from pushing myself, making friends and I felt that it was a barrier I could not climb. This fantastic sport helped me not only physically lose the weight, but prompted me to become the man I am today.  Without football in my life, I would probably be an outlandishly overweight boy with no goals for my future. I am now the Student Ambassador for the Wounded Warrior Project at my school and work closely with our disabled veterans. My goal for the future is to continue my support of our veterans and be an officer in the United States Army. As an only child, football also gave me an outlet for my personal issues. Watching a mother battle cancer, being displaced by flooding and having a grandfather pass away, can be extremely difficult. The football field gave me a place to compartmentalize my issues. I did not have to focus on my personal life when I was playing football with my new found friends and brothers. This sport was a slingshot which projected me up past any boundary put in my way. The reason I love football so much is because it gave me hope and the courage to overcome anything. It provided the spark I needed to find the light at the end of the tunnel and be successful.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: What I enjoy most about playing football is mentoring the younger players. As a defensive and offensive lineman, I can teach a freshman or sophomore different techniques to make them take on a block or deliver a block with precision. I lead by example and expect them to rise to the occasion whether it is on and off the field. When I see them during a junior varsity game executing what I taught them, I can see their confidence building and the excitement on their faces. They become overjoyed by their accomplishment and make better teammates. I like to participate in the brotherhood that is my football team. If a player is making strides or I help make a teammate’s day by teaching them a new move, then that’s an accomplishment for me as well.   I enjoy instilling confidence in those who desperately need it, as I did when I was a freshman.  I enjoy being a part of the process of turning younger teammates into men and teaching them valuable lessons that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

  • Nominee Photo

    Stephen Gribben

    Quarterback
    Bernards H.S.
    Bernardsville, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Stephen Gribben

    Quarterback
    Bernards H.S.
    Bernardsville, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Since my freshman year, our coaches have strongly encouraged offseason weight lifting and I loved the feeling of working harder than everyone else in the school. Waking up every morning and heading over to the gym before school was something that became a habit. I'd also have team football workouts on Monday nights and in the spring I would work with a quarterback coach to perfect my job. I saw great results my sophomore year when I played on all special teams and was a trusted backup quarterback. Now, I had to prepare to be the starting quarterback and I didn't slack off one bit. I was driven for more success, especially because other sports wanted me to play on the varsity team because I was bigger, faster, stronger, and an all out-hustling athlete who wanted to win. I still worked hard on weekends and went to the gym in the mornings despite my important varsity status on other teams. There was nothing I wanted more than to be a successful quarterback and didn't let anything get in my way.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Character is something that speaks volume about a person. More than anything else, when something is not going right, there's that one person that everyone is going to look to, and I am proud to say that person is me. I am always the one person that also enjoys to set the tone for how a day is going to go. I can't attribute myself to being born with this mentality. These past few years, I've been inspired by LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the 2015 NBA Finals, he was faced with an issue that was impossible: Winning the NBA Finals with a Cavs roster that was beyond sub-par. However, that didn't stop him from trying to be the best he could be to put his team in the pest position to win. I've never seen so much effort go into something like I saw LeBron do in the NBA Finals that year. That was until he had a rematch with the Warriors the next season and demanded victory. Watching him lead his team, backs against the wall, was truly the most inspirational thing I've experienced in my life. So, I bring that mentality back to my team, and that is the reason I am the quarterback and captain for my team.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: This isn't directly about me, this is about my brother. My brother Robbie had been diagnosed with Asperger Autism at a young age, but that never stopped him from loving football. He always wanted to be the guy to score the touchdowns, make the big plays, getting all the high fives from his teammates, etc. He wanted to be that guy so bad, so he would ask me and my father to help him with his skills all the time. He is so motivated to be a good football player, despite being athletically challenged. So many times there have been screaming matches between all three of us in the process of completing his dream. He is such a big, strong kid for his age, and it was just about teaching him how to use his body. So, last game of the season last year, Robbie got his chance to play running back, the moment he was working for his whole career. The team lined up in the pistol, the quarterback handed the ball off to the left, and Robbie bursted around the end for a touchdown – a 63 yard run! He earned every last bit of it, too. It was such an accomplishing moment for me and my family as well, because it was such a team effort in having my brother achieve his dream and he got it.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: When I play football, it's not like other sports. Other sports will rely on one person to make plays, like basketball if one kid is really good he can score all game long. In baseball, a pitcher can be phenomenal and no one else needs to know how to catch a pop up, but football demands a team-wide work ethic that brings everyone together, and the best team will win. Whoever works the hardest wins. Being the quarterback, I see everything going on when we're on the field. Those kids that I know work so hard to get on the field, I love watching succeed. Mainly because I was one of those kids once, and I know how satisfied I was when I worked hard and it paid off, so it's really cool to see it work for someone else. I get the same reaction when I do something special. It's such a great family to be a part of and go to battle with every Friday night.

  • Nominee Photo

    Brett Bogdwicz

    Wide receiver
    Bunnell H.S.
    Stratford, CT

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Brett Bogdwicz

    Wide receiver
    Bunnell H.S.
    Stratford, CT

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: In the offseason, I work out with my team and on my own. We, as a team, wake up early in the mornings to get stronger and faster in the weight room and on the field. During my own time, I work on my speed and strength often. Speed training is key because as a wide receiver, and defensive back I rely on my speed to make plays to help my team win games. In practice I try my best to perfect my craft whether it is trying to master a new technique or just continuing to perfect what I do best, I am always working as hard as I can in practice so it will be easy in the games.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: I think commitment best applies to me. I am one to believe that work ethic and preparation are everything. Work ethic can show the true character of a person. I will never be out-worked by anyone. I don't care about height or weight, I care about heart. I work so hard because I know that the harder I work the more success I will have in the classroom and on the field. My work ethic and preparation also comes from my competitive nature to never be beat. I can't stand losing which is why I am always going to be the hardest worker and the most prepared. I also think my commitment to this sport helps my football team because they realize that I put all my heart into this sport and they want to do the same.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: As a freshman coming into my high school football program I was faced with the challenge of stepping into a varsity starting role on the defense at cornerback. Many people feared that my size and inexperience would be a problem. Many people doubted me and said I couldn't play here. I knew there were many doubters and I needed to prove them wrong. Early in the season I struggled and everyone continued to doubt me. At this point I was looking at adversity right in the face, but I kept my head down and continued to grind in practice. I began to understand that size doesn't matter, it's about how hard you work and how much heart you have. The last stretch of my season approached and I knew I had to step up…so that's what I did. I stepped up and played great, finishing the season as one of the top defensive players on the team. Football has really helped me fight adversity because I love this sport and I will die for it. My teammates and coaches pushed me so much, which is why I consider my football team family. When one person in your family is fighting adversity, you all come together and help push your brother through, which is why football has really helped me fight adversity.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I love football. Football is the ultimate team sport and I feel that I am a true team player. I love my coaches and my teammates…we are family. I love every aspect of the game. I love that everyone works together all year towards one goal. I thrive on the pressure, competition, commitment, discipline, accountability, preparation and mental toughness that is required. I am coachable and motivated. I never take plays off. I will never be outworked or outhustled, and I am always working to improve and lead any way I can to help my team. Playing football from a young age has helped me become a leader in the classroom and on the field. Football has helped me develop character, responsibility and confidence which will continue to help me in all aspects of my life. Throughout my years playing football on various teams, I have developed many positive relationships and bonds that I know will last forever. I plan to continue to play football in college on a team that can utilize my skills, my positive team first attitude and one that will enable me to compete with my teammates and establish relationships and friendships for life.

  • Nominee Photo

    Kenny Pickett

    Quarterback
    Ocean Township H.S.
    Ocean, NJ

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Kenny Pickett

    Quarterback
    Ocean Township H.S.
    Ocean, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I'm very fortunate to have supportive parents and coaches. My offseason consisted of many opportunities to train with some of the best coaches around the country. I have played for Team USA over multiple seasons, been selected to the International Bowl twice and was awarded the MVP of the U.S. Under-18 Select National Team this year. I have been chosen to attend and participate at multiple Elite-11 Regionals along with Rivals camps to compete against the very best high school athletes across the country. To prepare for these opportunities, I train 6 days a week - focusing 4 days on strength training with Joe Mcauliffe at JMPower; and 2 days a week at ESSA with Val Barnaby to work on maximizing my speed and agility. Coach Chris Malleo and Coach Tony Ballard have assisted in my development as a quarterback over the past several years, but I have trained with one quarterback coach since the 6th grade, Coach Jim Cantafio. Coach Jim guided me along the journey of how important film work is, and it’s just as important as on the field training. By the time the season approaches I'm ready to hit the field with my teammates. The biggest benefit for this type of training session is that I will bring my wide receivers with me to get timing down on routes and concepts. This has gone into my development in becoming a leader and someone the team can count on to push everyone to be the best they can be.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: The one criteria that describes Heart of a Giant would be commitment. I think if have you commitment it drives the other characteristics of dedication, will, character and teamwork. This has defined me as a person and an athlete. I'm committed no matter what task is that I take on. I want to be the best at whatever task or game I'm playing. My work ethic is tireless and I’ve strived to be the best I could be since I was young. My friends, my coaches and my family believe this has been my strongest trait since I have been playing sports at a young age. They will tell you if you want to see a person who leads by example, who dedicates himself both on and off the field, who will do what is necessary to achieve success to just look at my work habits. I take pride in this and my family has taught me these values since I was young. My father would tell me, “You will get out of sports and life, what you put into both.” “Don't settle to be average, work to be the best you can be and at the end of the day talent and hard work will take you as far as you dream.” I'm not sure where my dream will end but I have visions of playing after college so I know my commitment and dedication will be my driving force and why I have a Heart of a Giant.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: My biggest adversity in my life was when I lost my cousin Mya to cancer. She was diagnosed at the age of 5 years old and fought a hard battle for 5 years, going through multiple transplants, treatments and special protocols at St Jude Hospital. Mya earned her wings at the early age of 10. She has been my inspiration when playing the game of football. There is no tougher battle and when you saw my cousin go through this fight she never complained, always smiled and always enjoyed being around me and my sister. When I play football, no matter how tough it gets, no matter how tired I get, no matter what the score is, I lean on my cousin and admire how she faced adversity right in the face and beat it twice. This inspires me to be the best I can be and there is no way I can feel sorry for myself when she fought the most courageous battle while laughing, smiling and enjoying life. Mya has been a role model for me not just in sports but in life.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: Football is the best game in the world. I enjoy the camaraderie, teamwork and the relationships I have made over the 13 years that I have been playing. It not only teaches lessons on the field, but it teaches you valuable life lessons as well – hard work, dedication, resiliency when times are tough, and how a group of young men, when they apply the above, can achieve success. I can't imagine not playing and being part of a team focused on achieving a common goal. I think the thing I will miss most is not being in a locker room and sharing a brotherly bond with 40-50 other guys. Knowing that if I called any of them that they would be there for me including all my coaches I have played for. Like I said, I have been fortunate to play for Team USA and represent my country and be in a locker room with kids from all over the country, and during those weeks I'm there competing, it is the best feeling to know the relationships and bonds I have made over the years.

  • Nominee Photo

    Jakob Matteson

    Offensive lineman
    Wilcox Tech H.S.
    Meriden, CT

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Jakob Matteson

    Offensive lineman
    Wilcox Tech H.S.
    Meriden, CT

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Football is primarily a fall sport, however my conditioning continues year round.  It is very important to use the offseason as a time to focus on physical strength, mental strength, agility and endurance. I consider the offseason to be a time  where I focus on individual growth and supporting my teammates. Building strength in the offseason is the only way to be competitive in the upcoming season. I participate in our offseason weightlifting and CrossFit training.  Not only do I strive to exceed my coaches expectations, but I feel it is important to exceed my own personal goals. I track my progress as a way to push myself harder each time I train. I have noticed that this has had a positive effect on my teammates as well, and has proved to grow a stronger, faster and more confident team.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: There is no sick day from football. If I am unable to physically participate for some reason I am still at practice watching and learning. My attitude towards football is best defined as committed. For me it is important to stay loyal to myself, my coaches, and my teammates. I think it is important to lead by example and to put in one hundred percent effort every time. My dedication and commitment towards improvement sets an example for my teammates to follow. Being committed requires dedication, willpower, and sacrifice. It is important that I make healthy decision in everyday life in order to continue to be an optimal athlete. I demonstrate my commitment level in every aspect of my life to reflect the importance the sport has to me. Commitment is more than what happens in a game, it is showing up to practice when you are hurt, watching game film to see where you can improve, and training in the gym for countless hours. As Vince Lombardi once said, "Most people fail, not because of lack of desire, but because of lack of commitment."

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: When I was in middle school, I did not have many friends. I was often made fun of for being an awkward, anti-social, big kid. It really took its toll on my self-esteem. I found myself withdrawn and lacking interest in anything. This made me frightened as I was about to enter high school. I knew I wanted things to be different but couldn't imagine them changing. Freshman orientation at H.C. Wilcox Technical School came and I had made the decision to join the football team. Having never played football before I was very scared and not sure I could do it. After a few practices I finally found something that I enjoyed doing. I worked harder and harder every day striving to make the varsity team as a freshman. I focused on my strengths and learned from my weaknesses and three games before the end of the season I got to dress for varsity. Playing football has not only shown me how to become a leader and that I can overcome anything I put my mind to, but it has also connected me with friends that I will have for life and what being a part of something feels like.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: Aside from the hail mary tosses, the bogus penalty flags, helping an opposing player up from the ground, the battle of every play and the "good game" handshakes at the very end, the thing I enjoy most about playing football is the lifelong lessons that I have learned while playing. Lessons on how to commit to something as well as persevere. Lessons that cannot be taught anywhere but the football field. Knowing how it feels to be thoroughly exhausted but then remember giving up is not an acceptable option. Gaining and giving strength at your weakest moments. Depending on your team and being depended on.  These lessons are used in everyday life whether it be on the field, in the classroom, interacting with family, or in your place of work. The experience of being a part of something I have truly embraced plays a major part in me becoming a successful person in life. So what do I enjoy most about football? Everything!

  • Nominee Photo

    Dustin Rubenstein

    Fullback
    Staten Island Tech H.S.
    Staten Island, NY

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    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Dustin Rubenstein

    Fullback
    Staten Island Tech H.S.
    Staten Island, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: As a fullback, I have to find the balance between strength and speed training. During the offseason I was able to meet with my trainer three times a week, aside from regular football weightlifting. The drills we did were torture, ranging from bungee cord pull-ups to speed ladder footwork in a sand pit. I dreaded entering the facility, but would always walk away satisfied with the workout. I set several goals in the offseason and accomplished them all with consistent progress. Now that the season is in full swing, the focus for preparation has shifted from physical to mental. Every week I improve my technique and correct myself by watching my mistakes on film. As a safety, I also watch lots of film on the quarterback I am going against to find his tendencies. The night before a game, I have pasta and lots of water to prepare my body. On game day, I will listen to Kanye West and focus on the task I have to accomplish.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Before every practice, I am always the first one ready, putting on all my equipment on half an hour before practice. My teammates would ask me why I am ready so early, and some would call me "ironman" for acting like a machine and not taking breaks. The reason I don't take breaks is because I have a strong work ethic and am committed to the game. When practice starts, I would be at the front of every drill line, leading my teammates through example. Whenever I was hurt or injured, I would push through the pain instead of making excuses for myself. During the season, my friends, plans, and basically my whole social life go out the window because everybody knows I dedicate all my time to football and academics. Focus and commitment are what shape me as a football player. 

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: When I was young, I was a little more overweight than some of my friends. They would joke about my size and I would pretend to laugh but was actually very insecure about it. I was trying to lose weight and keep a healthy diet but nothing I would do was working.  My older brother played football and used his size to his advantage. I decided to play football and follow in my brother's footsteps. It only took a few games for my friends, and myself, to realize that I was capable of more than I appeared to be. I realized I had a talent for playing football and would find my true passion for the game. Football helped me transition my life from the kid who was mocked to the kid who was respected and accepted.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: While winning and scoring touchdowns are both nice, what I really enjoy most about playing football is the feelings the game brings out of you. Before a game I would look over to the other team's sideline and feel a combination of nervousness and burning anticipation. When the game enters the fourth quarter of a close game and I look to my teammates and feel the motivation to finish with my remaining energy. The game of football gives so many mixed emotions but it gives you a feeling nothing else ever could. Also, the memories you share with your teammates could never compare to any other sport or club. I will always remember the bus rides back after a win when we would sing and have rap battles; the camp stories and locker room jokes that I will hold with me throughout my life. I appreciate all that the game of football has to offer and has given me for the past ten years and have enjoyed every moment.

  • Nominee Photo

    Keenan Reid

    Defensive back
    Franklin H.S.
    Somerset, NJ

    Submit Vote
    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Keenan Reid

    Defensive back
    Franklin H.S.
    Somerset, NJ

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Training in the offseason is one of the most important keys for an athlete and a team. This past offseason, I worked harder than ever because I hate the feeling of losing. Having a losing record the previous season left a bad taste in my mouth. This makes me want to go hard in the weight room and on the field every day. I chose to go hard in the offseason because that is the difference between a bad athlete, an average athlete, and a GREAT athlete. I don't train to be average. My teammates and I train to be GREAT. It is really crucial to go hard and really believe in the saying, "No days off." You can take a day off or take a day lightly and somebody else you don't even know can be working harder than ever to earn that win or to earn a that scholarship. I credit my teammates for pushing me to higher limits that I can even imagine. This has helped me grow as an athlete and helps me to be even more of a leader. I really believe that all of the hard work that my teammates and I put in over the offseason WILL pay off. During the season I get ready for all my games the same way. My coaches give us the film of our game and our opponent. First we breakdown our own film and correct our mistakes. Then for the opponent, my coaches breakdown the film for us - explaining tendencies, key players, favorite plays and anything else we need to beat that opponent for the week. After watching all of the film, we go into practice remembering everything we saw on film and go hard every day that week against each other to gear up for the upcoming game. I give a lot of credit to my coaching staff. They are the best coaches in the nation. Then when game day comes, we simply execute the game plan and play football! 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Having the Heart of a Giant means being a leader that people can follow. I have the heart of a Giant because I demonstrate many great qualities that come with being a successful athlete and captain - dedication, commitment, teamwork, a DESIRE to be successful every day, and determination when everyone counts you out. These are all great points but you must be disciplined under them. As a team you must be disciplined. This is where leadership comes in. Somebody must take over and create the path for the team. The coaches can't do everything. I am blessed to be a captain for a great group of guys that respect me. The most important quality my coaches preach to us is TRUST. Trust that the man next to you will do his job. Trust that the man next to you has your back. These are all qualities I live by and believe are necessary to be successful in football and as a man in life. I have all of the qualities and more to have the “Heart of a GIANT.”

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: I face adversity every day when it comes to football. With us having a slow start to the season and bad seasons prior to this one, people try to bring you down. People in school will try and tell you that you aren't anything special. Now they obviously don't understand the blood, sweat, tears and extra hours required that my teammates and I put in, but that's the adversity. Let me tell you how to overcome the adversity and how to not get easily distracted. Every day my brothers and I buckle up our helmet and find it as another opportunity to get better. We have a goal. As a captain I must lead my team in a positive direction and keep everyone focused. The goal every week is to “win the week, every week!” That includes winning in the classroom, winning with your behavior in school, winning in practice, winning in the weight room, and finally, winning in the game. That's how we overcome adversity. We go through this everyday but we don't get easily distracted because there is not a bond stronger than amongst me, my teammates and my coaches…my brothers. I've been involved with Franklin Football my entire life, from pop warner until now in high school. From sitting in the stands at varsity games as a young kid, to hearing my name called on the tackle in varsity games. This town has come a very long way. I must say that I am proud to put on that blue and gold every day with my brothers and represent my town. 

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: There are a lot of things that I enjoy about playing football. I love playing football because I represent the ones I love and the ones who sacrifice so I can be who I am today. I enjoy playing hard and working to earn a Division-I scholarship. All great, but the one thing I enjoy most is playing alongside my brothers. Back when I was in Pop Warner for about an amazing 6 or 7 years, we won championships back-to-back-to-back with each other. We are all still good friends for the most part, but once high school came, a few of us split apart and left to go to different schools. Why? I don't know, they must have thought the opportunity was better somewhere else, but this is why I enjoy playing football. I play every day for MY TOWN. I never left my hometown. I represent Franklin loud and proud. I enjoy playing with my brothers most! The guys I've been in the classroom with since elementary school! The guys I grew up with! At a private school or any other high school, you either don't know many people at all or you're getting to know new faces that you have to play with just for football. But me, I stayed home with my brothers. We are with each other before, during, and after school. We hang out after practice as well. These are the guys I go to war for and put my body on the line for. I know they have my back at all times and they know I have theirs. Whether we win or lose, I'd rather win or lose with my brothers, FOR LIFE! 

  • Nominee Photo

    Avery Hoffman

    Running back
    Riverdale Country School
    Bronx, NY

    Submit Vote
    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Avery Hoffman

    Running back
    Riverdale Country School
    Bronx, NY

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: I prepare for each football season with a “be ready for anything” approach. The game of football is completely unpredictable. Blocks will be missed, defenses will blitz the play-side hole and teammates will suffer injuries during the game. In those situations I must be able to adapt and overcome. I mirror the concept of chaos into my offseason training regimen. When it comes to lifting, I don’t attempt a certain number of sets and a specific weight. First, I begin my workouts in a pre-fatigued state of muscular exhaustion in order to simulate how I would feel in the fourth quarter – when it counts. I am also constantly changing my exercises to train for endurance, strength and speed. When it comes to running, I employ the same strategy and alternate between speed drills, long distance running and power runs. Finally, I add football specific drills such as ladders, cones and bags to improve my footwork and timing. This approach not only helps me become bigger, stronger and faster, it also helps me focus on my mental training. Beginning a workout having already fatigued teaches me how to persevere. This kind of training gives me resilience when my teammates turn to me for leadership during a game. My approach makes me more confident in knowing my limits and my capabilities. This kind of program helps me put things in perspective and overcome all the setbacks thrown at me and our team during a game and helps us outperform our competition. After all, I have been preparing for the unexpected the whole offseason, putting myself at a disadvantage and then prevailing. 

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Teamwork has always defined me. After I finished my first pee-wee football season, I lay in the hospital as the doctors and nurses treated me for cancer as these teams of medical caregivers worked countless hours to cure my cancer. As the doctors and nurses coordinated with each other throughout my chemotherapy, I witnessed true teamwork. My family was another strong team that I had in my corner during my ordeal. Every day, my mom or dad would sit by my side – night and day – to make sure that they were there to comfort me through my pain. There was never a moment where they left me alone. My two sisters were also part of ‘Team Family’ as they would come by every day after school to cheer me up with the stories of their day. Finally, my friends made sure that they were always represented in my hospital room to brighten my day. These teams were instrumental to my full recovery from lymphoma. I’ve taken what I’ve learned from my experience with cancer and applied it to football. My success is our team’s success. If we score a touchdown, I understand that though I may have been holding the ball as I crossed the goal line, it was the efforts of all the players. The offensive line took care of their assignments; the receivers were hustling down the field blocking; the quarterback carried out his fake; and the coaches called the correct play for the situation. But that one touchdown doesn’t stop there. The players on the sideline who I practiced against all week leading up to the game deserve the same amount of credit. Practicing against them every day made me better, they pushed me to be even better. So when I score a touchdown in a game it’s not me but rather everyone in our program.

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: On my tenth birthday I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a very aggressive form of cancer. I remember when the doctor told me the words that nobody, adult or child, wants to hear, “You have cancer.” Through my tears I turned to my parents and asked the only question that came to my mind, “Mom… Dad… Will I be able to play football next year?” I am not sure I remember their answer but I know what my goal was – I would be back the next season to play the game I loved most – football. I lost all my hair and withered away to a fraction of my former weight. There were times when I could barely walk and sometimes slept for days at a time while the doctors pumped chemotherapy into my veins. I needed multiple spinal injections to make sure that the cancer in my spinal fluid was destroyed. Finally, when my treatment was complete and I was only a shadow of my former self – I began the long road to getting back into game shape. I started by walking, then jogging and finally running. I made sure that every day I ate only healthy food and did everything in my control to ensure that I would be ready for the next football season. I never once lost faith that I would be back on the field that August playing pee-wee football…and that season, when I was in fifth grade, I was back on the field for the very first game and won the award for team MVP.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: Most of my peers enjoy the physical aspect of football but my love for football transcends the hitting, running and catching. What I love most about football is the intellectual side of the game. When I was young, I loved playing chess and I think of football as if it were a chess game. The coach sets up the 11 players on his team, and like the pieces on a chess board, there are certain ways we are allowed to move. All of us have specific roles – as do the chess pieces. Similar to chess, in order to win a football game we need to have strategy and we need to practice. In many ways football is even more demanding than chess because it combines the intellectual rigor of chess with the physical brutality of a contact sport. To be good football players we all have to use our minds; we have to be smart and  understand the strategy. In addition to intelligence we need to master the art of improvisation. If every offensive play went exactly as planned – each play would result in a first down or touchdown. But as every player knows, nothing ever goes as planned. Like life - stuff just happens. But learning to adapt on the fly, at high speeds, while physically exhausted build character and takes courage and heart.

  • Nominee Photo

    Jesse Polansky

    Defensive lineman
    Suffield Academy
    Wallingford, CT

    Submit Vote
    Heart of a Giant

    Nominee

    Thomas Licata

    Jesse Polansky

    Defensive lineman
    Suffield Academy
    Wallingford, CT

     

    Q: Tell us about how you train in the off-season and how you prepare to get ready for your season and games.

    A: Relative to football, with only my freshman year under my belt, I was told that Wrestling (at a high level) would improve my footwork and handwork for football. Last year I wrestled for that reason (but thankfully I ended up having great success). The training was intense and constant! It entailed weightlifting, intense conditioning and mental preparation by watching film. On my own, I would also study those who were considered the best - to learn what I needed to know. With only 3 months of training and direction from great coaches, I qualified for Nationals. At Nationals, I earned the title of All-American by taking a 5th place overall as a freshman. After my wrestling season was over, I continued doing strength and conditioning workouts and lifting for football. I'm also a kid who has chores that are not the easiest tasks! I did a lot of log splitting and lifting and stacking wood. I also did a lot of cutting grass using a walk behind mower. It was always hard work (in intense heat) so in all honesty every time I did chores I considered that a workout too - because it was. My working out for football really never stops. It's constant in one way or another.

    Q: Choose one of the criteria listed below this field that defines having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you.

    A: Although I think I possess all of the criteria there was to choose from, I choose "commitment" because in being a person who is committed to achieving their goals and being a good, humble person while achieving them, the other attributes also come into play! In being committed, I am acting as a leader and dedicated to doing what it takes. In my case that does include overcoming adversity when playing in pain to help the team and preserving while fighting through it. Also in being committed, I possess the will to persevere and fight through all obstacles in the way. I also believe that I am able to be committed (to my goals) because I am a kid of strong character who knows right from wrong and does the right thing always. Team work comes into play as well, because I've always considered my team, and done what would benefit my team (even sometimes at my own expense with my injury). In saying I'm committed to myself and my team, I am saying that I give 100% of myself to achieve our common goals. I leave nothing on the field. When I'm in a game (or match) I am always working for my coaches and my team as well as myself! Also, I'm committed to being a standup kid both in the classroom and outside of it. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't party -- and I am never swayed to do so! I am committed to my goals and achieving success and making those around me (who I care about) proud.  

    Q: Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity.

    A: In all honesty, I've faced all kinds of challenges from dealing with peers and adults who have mistreated me, lied to me (or about me), and dealt with some who have been intentionally mean to me, but that's just life. I've also faced the challenge of wrestling at Nationals with an injury that would sideline most. But adversity is a strong word, and I am happy and healthy and fortunate so I don't want to minimize serious adversities that those around me have faced and gone through. I have one set of cousins that lost their (young) mom to a brain aneurism when they were young and needed her the most, and I have another set of cousins who lost their (young) dad to a heart attack when they were young as well. Growing up without a parent and seeing what they went through, that was seeing real adversity. Hearing stories of tremendous hardships from friends (and coaches) who grew up in poverty and in the most horrible circumstances, that was hearing about adversity and learning from their shared experiences. Also, me personally helping mentally challenged and disabled kids who face adversities daily with a smile on their face, that was learning true compassion for people. All of that (and more) has helped shape me into someone who I'm proud to be -- A kid of character who is a good person, with a big heart, and ready to go to battle for anyone facing adversity.

    Q: What do you enjoy most about playing football?

    A: I love everything about football! The memories that are already very meaningful that I know I'll remember for the rest of my life. The bonds and friendships that are formed that I know I'll have (and will matter) for the rest of my life. The discipline it takes to play the game in a manner that brings self-satisfaction and pride. The satisfaction that having a positive mindset, a serious work ethic, and a winning attitude towards the game and having all the positives attributes from playing spill positivity in other areas in my life. Also, I love that this game that I love can earn me a scholarship to play at a high level while furthering my education. This game has inspired me to dream big. God willing my dreams will come true.

Eligibility

Candidates must be located in the Tri-State area and exemplify what it means to have the Heart of a Giant by possessing the following characteristics:

  • Commitment

    Unshakable work ethic in training and preparation. Exhibits a "first in, last one out" mentality.

  • Teamwork

    Inspires and aligns others to work together to achieve a common goal.

  • Will

    Demonstrates the desire and drive to succeed both on the field and in the classroom.

  • Character

    Leads by example and motivates teammates to be the best they can be.

  • Dedication

    Overcomes adversity and perseveres.

Does your athlete have the Heart of a Giant?

Nominations for the 2017 Heart of a Giant award will open in Summer 2017. Stay tuned for more details.

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Prizes

  • Finalists

    Six finalists will receive:

    • $1,500 equipment grant for their high school football programs
    • USA Football Heart of a Giant gift bag
  • GRAND PRIZE

    In addition to being honored as the hardest working football player in the Tri-State area, the grand prize winner will receive:

    • Additional $3,500 equipment grant for his or her high school football program
    • 'On-field trophy presentation during the New York Giants Week 15 home game vs. Detroit on December 18'

Past WInners

  • Winner

    15
    • Chukwuma Ukwu

      Chukwuma Ukwu

      Roosevelt High School Roosevelt, NY

      Ukwu, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Long Island, has been a standout athlete for the Roosevelt football program for the past four years, but it is his commitment to his community that makes him who he is. He volunteers to serve others, including offering assistance to elderly neighbors with house repairs following Hurricane Sandy and supporting children at the United Cerebral Palsy Center of Nassau County. Chukwuma puts the needs of others before his own. Following an outstanding senior season, he turned down the honor of playing in the Nassau County high school football all-star game on Thanksgiving to serve dinner to the needy at his local church.

      Watch video
  • Winners

    14
    • Anthony Cortazzo

      Anthony Cortazzo

      Pascack Hills High School Montvale, NJ

      On March 19, 2014, Anthony Cortazzo collapsed on the high school track after his heart had stopped. With the help of his athletic trainer, Cortazzo was revived by an automated external defibrillator (AED) and later diagnosed with anomalous aortic origin of the coronary artery. After the incident and hours of extensive open-heart surgery, Anthony was told he would more than likely never be able to return to the football field, a notion that did not sit well with Anthony. After months of rehabilitation and hard work, Cortazzo returned to the gridiron in October of the 2014 season to finish up his dream of playing football for Pascack Hills High School.

      Watch video
    • Jeremiah Minyard

      Jeremiah Minyard

      Lincoln High School Yonkers, NY

      Minyard, a senior at Lincoln, has overcome challenges that many student-athletes will never face. Because of an illness at birth, Minyard is legally deaf in his right ear, requires highly specialized contact lenses to correct his vision and suffers from debilitating cognitive processing delays. Despite his disability, Minyard has excelled on and off the football field. He is co-captain of the Lincoln varsity football team, an honor roll student, Marine Corps JROTC staff sergeant, member of the school's PTSA and volunteer assistant coach for a community youth football team.

      Watch video
Hospital for special surgery

About Hospital for Special Surgery: Founded in 1863, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) is a world leader in orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation. HSS is nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics, No. 3 in rheumatology and No. 7 in geriatrics by U.S. News & World Report (2015-16), and is the first hospital in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center three consecutive times. HSS has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. HSS is a member of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College and as such all Hospital for Special Surgery medical staff are faculty of Weill Cornell. The hospital's research division is internationally recognized as a leader in the investigation of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Hospital for Special Surgery is located in New York City and online at www.hss.edu »

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Indianapolis-based USA Football is the sport's national governing body, leading the game's development for youth, high school and other amateur players. The independent nonprofit partners with leaders in medicine, child advocacy and sport to establish important standards rooted in education. USA Football advances coaching education and player skill development for safer play and a positive football experience.

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