Westhampton Beach Middle School students Lucas Villareal and Nolan Quinlan, both of East Quogue, had the rare opportunity this past month to compete for a national championship.
Thanks to Football University, which is owned and operated by All American Games, the producers of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from across the country had the chance to try out for their respective regional teams. Villareal, a lineman, and Quinlan, a tight end, both made the All-Long Island eighth grade team, which was made up of players from Suffolk and Nassau counties, Queens, and Brooklyn.
Teams were put into regional brackets and had to battle their way to the finals, which will be held at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas, January 3 through 5. Long Island was in the East bracket, along with teams from North Connecticut, South Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Jersey and Jersey.
Long Island lost its first game of the single-elimination tournament, 13-0, to South Connecticut on December 7 at Don Bosco Prep School in Ramsey, New Jersey, but each team was guaranteed a consolation game. Long Island also lost that game on December 8, 25-0, to South Jersey.
The players said the outcome was really secondary to the experience, though.
“It was a different experience, because there were better kids than I’m used to playing with. Better coaches, better refs,” Villareal explained. “It was just a different atmosphere.”
Villareal, whose favorite sport is football, but who also wrestles and plays lacrosse, added that it was a good experience to be able to practice and play with teammates from other parts of the island. “I liked playing in the game the most because it was a challenge and it was fun,” he said. “You never knew what was going to happen.”
Gerald Filardi was the head coach for the All-Long Island team. Filardi has a bevy of football experience. After graduating from Walt Whitman High School in 1992, he went on to play linebacker for Penn State. In 1997, he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers and later played for the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens. He’s currently a coach for travel football teams across Long Island.
Filardi had the tough task of putting together a viable eighth grade team in a short time frame. The team officially started practicing together November 4 and had less than a month to put a solid game plan together. “We had close to 15 practices together,” Filardi said. “The way the tournament is, it just doesn’t allow for that many practices.
“Overall, we didn’t get the wins, but it was a good experience,” he added. “It was the last opportunity they had to play in this tournament, being that they were eighth-graders. It was a good group of kids, and I was very proud of them.”
The tryout process was somewhat rigorous. Players vying to be on the team had to send in resumes with their accomplishments in the sport and also be nominated by a coach on the island. Then the physical tryouts came where each player had to show their agility, speed and strength. Villareal, being an offensive lineman, had to go up against a defensive lineman, while Quinlan had to show his blocking and pass catching skills as a tight end.
Filardi had positive things to say about both players.
“What I first saw from Nolan was his height,” he said. “But I hadn’t seen him in pads yet, so I didn’t know what he could do on the field. But he has good hands to go with his size. He struggled a little bit on the blocking side, but he was a handful for defensive ends to cover. He’s more of a receiving tight end or slot receiver than anything.
“Lucas came a long way from the first day of tryouts,” Filardi continued. “I thought he got better, technique wise, the more we had him in practice. The coaches who worked with him said they saw a lot of improvement from him over the course that they had him.”
The tryouts and practices overlapped both Villareal and Quinlan’s time on the Westhampton Beach Middle School football team and in other sports as well. Quinlan also plays PAL football in the Sachem School District and also plays basketball and travel lacrosse. Needless to say, it was a very busy month for both student athletes.
Joe Villareal, Lucas’s father, who works at Hampton Watercraft and Marine in Westhampton Beach, put hundreds of miles on his vehicle. The team practiced up-island the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving.
“It’s been exhausting,” he said. “You’re working all day, driving until 11:30 at night. In the beginning, it was a piece of cake, but in recent weeks, it was pretty tough. It was definitely a commitment.”
For more information on Football University, go to www.footballuniversity.org.