There’s hardly ever a time when football players from West Morris and Mendham can ever get along. After all, the two sister schools are fierce rivals in everything from chess to debating, so when there’s a gridiron reference, the rivalry becomes more intense.
But that wasn’t the case the last two weeks, when Adam Caruso of West Morris became very friendly with Matt Kuhn of Mendham, as the two prepared to play in Tuesday night’s 20th Annual Robeson Football All-Star Classic at Robeson Stadium.
Caruso and Kuhn became close during the practices prior to the game.
“We worked hard at the practices and we definitely bonded,” said Caruso, who played in his final football game Tuesday night, as Caruso will attend County College of Morris in the fall. “We were perfect rivals and now we became the best of friends. Sometimes, that happens in games like this.”
Kuhn, who is off to Wesleyan College to play football in the fall, agreed.
“The rivalry is certainly intense, but by being on the same team with someone like Adam, you learn that the rivalry doesn’t always have to be like that,” Kuhn said. “We bonded so well and we became good friends. We wanted to find ways to play well together.”
Caruso and Kuhn were just two of an astounding 23 players selected to play on the West squad from Morris County. Some of the original selectees did not participate in the contest, but the majority of players did show up and were honored to be there.
Malik Valentine of Morristown-Beard was paired once again with Danny Miller of Morristown. The two were teammates and classmates together at Morristown, before the diminutive Valentine transferred to Morristown-Beard.
But it was a happy reunion of sorts between the two long-time friends.
“It definitely helped that I knew Malik and I also knew a couple of other guys,” said Miller, a linebacker headed to Stevenson Junior College in the fall. “I was just happy to put on the cleats once again and play high school football one last time. I never expected any of this.”
“I was very excited,” said Valentine, who is off to play running back at Susquehanna College in the fall. “I knew most of these guys from watching them and now they’re on the same team with me. I’m getting the chance to show my talents one last time.”
Valentine endured two injury-filled seasons and one where the program was dropped only to lead the Crimson to qualify for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoffs in 2012.
“Hopefully, I can have a good game and make a name for myself,” Valentine said during pre-game warm-ups.
Parsippany Hills standout quarterback Tyler Simms was one of three signal callers for the West squad. Simms is headed to the University of Delaware, so his football career was also ending with his appearance in the game.
“I was very excited to get selected, because my brother (Kenny) was selected for the game (in 2006),” Simms said. “I’m very honored to be selected, but I’m also trying to have fun. I really thought that my career was done, so it was good to strap on the helmet and get one last chance. It’s been a lot of fun, getting to know my receivers and other players in this game.”
Simms was asked about the overall talent level that is in Morris County.
“Everyone knows that Morris County football is very good and you could tell that we have a higher talent level here,” Simms said.
Joe Esposito of Hanover Park was another player who thought his high school career was finished.
“I just put it aside me and thought that I had to get ready for college,” said Esposito, who is headed to the Jersey Coast Academy, a college prep school. “Sure, there were some heartaches along the way, some bumps and bruises, but it was great to put the pads on again and get out there.”
Nick Behrens of Mount Olive was one of three Marauders selected to play in the game.
“It’s unbelievable for me to get to play one more game,” said Behrens, who is going to East Stroudsburg, but not playing football. “It’s my last game, so I’m going to give it my all and go out with a bang. It’s fantastic that Mount Olive has three kids here. It shows how impressive Mount Olive is. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Behrens joined J.J. Moore and Justin Maksimow as Mount Olive products on the West squad.
Kyle Corry of Morris Hills was set to share time at fullback with Caruso. Corry is headed to the military school Norwich Academy in the fall to play football.
“It’s definitely a big thrill to still have one more football game before my high school career is over,” Corry said. “I think it’s great to represent my high school and great to represent Morris County by being on this team. I think it’s great for Morris County to have so many guys on the team. It shows how many good athletes come from the county.”
Butler was also well represented on the team by players like Jason Delattiboudere and Billy White.
“Our season ended pretty horribly, so I think we all wanted to get another chance to get back on the field,” said Delattiboudere, who is going to Marshall University and may try to walk on to the football team there. “Football is fun and I missed playing it. I was really looking forward to getting back out there.”
White, who will attend East Coast Prep in Massachusetts, felt like he had something to prove in the game.
“I wanted to get the chance to play football one last time before going away,” said White, whose older brother Greg played in last year’s game. “I was definitely excited to get the chance.”
The West squad wanted to change the outcome of recent games. The East has dominated the series, winning 17 of the prior 19 Classics.
“We definitely want to change that record,” Caruso said.