WEST GOSHEN – They hit the two decade mark on Thursday at the Believe and Achieve Valor Bowl. And in each one of those 20 years, Chester County’s annual all-star football game marked the final high school outing for a bunch of players on their way to the college ranks.
Other than the final minute of action, the 2018 edition at Farrell Stadium was largely uninteresting, unless you enjoy watching a solid punter’s duel. Things did heat up late, however, when the East squad staged a goal-line stand to preserve a 3-0 victory over the West.
For quite a few on both rosters, there will now be a short break before preparations for the 2018 college season get underway. Guys like Bishop Shanahan’s Kevin Jones and Malvern Prep’s Garrett Reilly will be leaving for summer practice sessions in just a few weeks.
“I go up in three weeks,” said Garrett, who is the second straight Malvern kicker to move on to the NCAA Division I level. He is headed the Boston College. A year ago, Brandon Chiazza signed with South Carolina.
A 6-foot-7, 295-pound offensive lineman, Jones is also going to New England, to play for FCS Maine.
“The best advice I’ve heard so far is to be ready to compete,” he said.
There wasn’t much in a way of offense on Thursday, but East head coach Dan Ellis was happy to get the ‘W’ when his defense stopped Avon Grove runner Kevin Francis at the one yard line as time expired. And he had some valuable advice for all players who are moving on to play college ball.
“The biggest thing I’d say is shut your mouth and work hard,” said Ellis, who is the head coach at Great Valley.
Nobody is more qualified when it comes to taking about the transition from local high school stardom to potential NCAA glory than Ellis. He led Downingtown High School to the 1996 PIAA state title and went on to become a multi-year starting quarterback at the University of Virginia.
“We all come from different programs, but every one respects coach Ellis,” Jones said.
According to Ellis, players like Jones, Reilly and Unionville’s Joe Zubillaga (FCS Delaware) and Alex Gorgone (Division III Widener) are going to be in for a massive adjustment period before they ever get on the football field in a game.
“They are going into a situation where they really don’t know anyone, even though a lot of them have communicated through social media,” Ellis said. “It’s also important for them to be reminded that nothing is going to be given to them.”
Just like Ellis experienced a couple decades ago, these players go from the top dog to just another player in what seems like a blink of an eye. College coaches throw out the platitudes during the recruiting process, but all of that love comes usually to a crashing halt once the player steps on campus.
“Playing football is a lot different than being recruited,” Ellis agreed. “The hardest adjustment comes when they don’t have somebody telling them, or tempering their ego a bit.
“I tell my guys: ‘they love you until they don’t.’”
A ferocious two-way player for the Indians, Zubillaga has been thinking about making a good impression when he arrives in Newark, Del., and that meant picking the brains of former Unionville players Elan Nash and Trevor Gardiner, who are playing at Navy and Widener, respectively.
“I have a lot of friends playing at the next level,” he said. “They’ve given me some tips throughout the recruiting process and then after.
“They say that it’s a whole different experience once you get on campus. And that instead of being shy, you need to learn to attack and adapt to whatever is the next obstacle.”
Jones says that Maine is a bit thin along the offensive line and he’d like to try to contribute as a freshman. That attitude doesn’t both Ellis, as long as it is realistic.
“You’re the greatest in high school and then you are just a freshman,” Ellis pointed out. “As long as they understand that going in, and don’t have these gross expectations of what might happen, they will be fine.
“If they walk in thinking they are going to start and there are five returning starters on the line, they are setting themselves up for failure.”
For Reilly, who hails from West Chester, he touched bases with Chiazza for some dos and don’ts. And he’s heard plenty from his parents, Jennifer and Sean Reilly, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1990.
“They were friends with guys on the Notre Dame football team and they’ve told me stories about how much time is involved to play Division I football,” Reilly said.
That brings us to Ellis’ next point: playing football is like a full-time job, and going to class is like another full-time job. And both are going on simultaneously.
“The sheer amount of time that you spend is mind-boggling,” Ellis said. “I know there is the 20-hour limit on practicing, but if they have any desire to be good at what they do, 20 hours isn’t nearly enough.
“That’s hard to understand until you actually step into it.”
It’s a message that certainly got through to Gorgone, who was the East quarterback throughout Thursday’s contest.
“If you want to be great, you have to go the extra mile because the other guys are always doing the same,” Gorgone said.
“Everybody I’ve talked to told me to stay on top of the academics, and then everything else will fall into play. They say to surround yourself with good people.”
Jones has also been afforded the opportunity to consult some people who were in the same position as he is right now. His offensive line coach at Shanahan is Justin Keller, who was a lineman at Coatesville and FCS Robert Morris.
“He’s kind of walked me through what it’s going to be like,” Jones said.
He’s also talked to Doug Costin, the father, and Doug Costin, the son. The elder Costin played at West Virginia , was later the head coach at West Chester East and is now an assistant at Bishop Shanahan. The younger Costin graduated from Shanahan in 2016 and started all 12 games last fall with FBS Miami (Ohio).
Ellis believes that the suddenness of the coming shock wave for all of these college rookies has been lessened to an extent now that teams hold a summer practice sessions.
“Back in the 90’s when I was playing, you showed up in August, started practicing and started school,” he said. “You want to talk about a shock to the system.”
NOTES: The only score in the game came early in the second quarter when West Chester Rustin’s Bobby Bosch booted a 31-yard field goal for the East squad … The East MVPs were West Chester Rustin’s Ty Pringle (offensive) and Conestoga’s Matt Dempsey (defense). The West MVPs: Avon Grove’s Kevin Francis (offense) and Coatesville’s Alex Raimondo (defense).