A few things have changed with the Upstate-Downstate Football Classic since my last post, at least as far as the local players are concerned. John Jay-East Fishkill’s Mike Rudinsky, Iona Prep’s George Apostolopoulos and Sacred Heart’s Danny Linares all pulled out of the game for various reasons. One of the open spots went to New Rochelle’s Quinton Witherspoon, who will join his teammates and friends Lou DiRienzo and Lewis Edney at the Carrier Dome.
You can read thoughts from Lou, Lewis and other in my story that ran in today’s paper. Other than the New Ro players’ excitement for finishing their careers together, there are a few other benefits to the game I didn’t realize. I talked to a good chunk of the players and found what they had to share interesting.
1. They are pumped to play at the Dome. This one makes sense, sort of, but it sounds like the Long Island players, in particular, are fueled by this. Of course, Long Island schools don’t participate in the state championships. Those players never even had the chance to play in the Dome, no matter how strong their teams were. Jack Kelleher of Rye told me the Dome was all the rage at Sunday’s practice.
2. Players relish the opportunity to play trendsetters. This is the first Classic. Probably the first of many. DiRienzo and Edney both found that fact appealing, that they would be part of the first group to play in a game that — if organizers were smart — would last for decades.
3. It’s not just about the game. It’s about weeks of reps against the best. Every player mentioned this benefit. What will it mean for their games to practice here (and eventually for several days straight up at Syracuse) with and against the best players in the state? Everything. North Rockland’s Pete Lodini will play defensive end at Central Conn. He said the experience is priceless for him. He’ll have an opportunity to rush the passer against the best offensive tackle prospects from upstate during the Classic, but also against the best from downstate during weeks of practice. It’s invaluable experience just before they head to college.
— Here’s a quick note about why players have pulled out. I know Reuben Frank of Poughkeepsie was invited to play in the Northeast vs. New Jersey game. Apostolopoulos told me he wanted to concentrate on his offseason training to prepare for Fordham. Linares, who is headed to Maine, has a conflict with both graduation AND his prom the weekend of the Classic, prompting him to withdraw from the game.