UNION – When the teams convened Friday night for the weekend’s football festivities at Kean University, as part of the Phil Simms New Jersey North-South All-Star Football Classic, Angelo Gallego was busy graduating from Parsippany Hills High School.
So while all of the other participants involved in the 37th annual All-Star Classic, sponsored in part by the New Jersey Scholastic Football Coaches Association, were collecting the necessities, like their practice jerseys, Gallego was collecting his cap, gown and diploma.
When the teams stepped onto the field early Saturday morning for the first of three practice sessions prior to Monday night’s 7 p.m. kickoff, Gallego was a man without a jersey. The smallest guy on the field stood out even more because he was wearing shoulder pads with no top.
North squad officials scampered off to find Gallego’s jersey, but Gallego went through the first few drills without a shirt.
Eventually, a No. 26 shirt was found (Gallego was supposed to be issued No. 22), but he tried to get the jersey on over his pads to no avail. Luckily, another Morris County product Matt McFadden of Morristown-Beard was nearby and helped Gallego get the uniform top over his shoulders.
Finally, running back Gallego became just like every other member of the North squad and it didn’t take long for him to make his presence felt. North head coach Drew Gibbs of Ramapo High School didn’t waste time to implement Gallego as a key member of the North’s offense, both carrying the ball and catching passes.
For Gallego, it was just the first time of what will be many that he will spend on Kean’s football field, because he will attend the school in a few months.
“For me, it shows me how much work I have to do to get on the field here,” Gallego said. “I still feel like I need a lot of work.”
Gallego, who led the Vikings to their first-ever NJSIAA state championship last December, when he rushed for 179 yards on a yeoman-like 35 carries and the fourth-quarter touchdown that gave the Vikings the 20-13 win over Cranford, is one of four Morris County products to play in Monday night’s All-Star game.
McFadden, the talented Crimson receiver/running back was joined by linemen David Vargas of Randolph and Ryan Jackson of Morris Hills on the North squad.
Gallego was just excited to be a part of the team and getting involved in the offense so quickly.
“I’m a little surprised that I’m getting this much work so soon,” said Gallego, who rushed for 1,776 yards and 18 touchdowns last fall for the Vikings. “I wasn’t expecting to get attended to. I’m just happy to be here. I’m meeting new people and having a good time. I just hope I can get a chance to show what I can do.”
And being 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds will not be a deterrent to Gallego.
“Never,” Gallego said. “It never has been and never will be, not one bit.”
McFadden was participating in his third All-Star game of the offseason, joining the New York vs. New Jersey All-Star game in Bergen County in early June and the Paul Robeson Classic a few weeks ago.
“It’s been awesome,” said McFadden, who is headed to Gettysburg College in the fall. “I’ve been very fortunate to be picked to play in all three, but this is the best, because of the level of competition. It’s been a lot of fun.”
McFadden was also being integrated in the North’s spread offense, utilizing his speed and skill out of the backfield and as a slot receiver.
“I really love this,” McFadden said. “There’s a lot of open field in this offense and that’s what I do best, getting into the open field and making things happen. If I can get by a linebacker, there’s a lot of green area before anyone can get to me.”
McFadden said that the All-Star experiences have given him a head start toward college football.
“It’s been a great stepping stone,” McFadden said. “It’s prepared me a lot. I’m just fortunate to get a chance to play with the best competition in the state.”
And he also gets a hand for being an impromptu equipment man and helping Gallego.
“It’s the least I could do for him,” McFadden laughed.
Jackson, the two-way lineman for the Scarlet Knights, was a key member of the first offensive line unit in practice.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Jackson, who is headed for Wesleyan University in West Virginia in a few weeks. “I’m working with people who I didn’t know. I’m rooming with three other linemen. It’s been tough trying to use the bathroom. We’re already out of toilet paper. But this is preparing me for what I’m going to see in a few weeks. It’s a new experience for me.”
Jackson said that he prepared for the game doing the specific workouts given to him by the Wesleyan coaching staff.
“Right now, I’m working, eating and sleeping that program,” said Jackson, the first Morris Hills player to be selected for the North-South All-Star game since 1991. “It’s crazy being here and I’m working with the first offensive line. I guess this is proof that Morris Hills should be here more often.”
Vargas played strictly defensive tackle for the Rams last season, but was placed at offensive guard by the North coaches.
“I haven’t played much offense in high school,” said Vargas, who will attend the County College of Morris with the hope of transferring to a four-year school shortly after. “It’s been tough, but I have to work with it. I’ve had a tough time learning some of the plays. I’m just looking to make my mark out there.”
Vargas, who also was a fine shot putter at Randolph, realized that the game could actually be his final grid game.
“I don’t want it to be, but it could be,” Vargas said. “It’s a good feeling to get back on a football field, to put the pads on and get back in football mode. It’s amazing to be here with all these great guys. If this is the last game, then it’s a good feeling to be here with the best.”
Simms attended practice Saturday and addressed the North squad after the game. It marks the second year that Simms has attached his name to the game.
His participation in practice was limited after recently undergoing back surgery.
Dover head coach Nick Gregorio is one of the assistants for the North squad.