EAST ORANGE –
Michael Ramirez played wide receiver and defensive end on a Belleville High School football team that posted a 2-8 record last fall.
Let’s face facts. There aren’t many All-Stars that are selected from teams that finish with such a poor record, especially in the rough-and-tumble world of Essex County football.
So when the Buccaneers lost to Plainfield last November in an NJSIAA consolation round game, Ramirez figured that his high school football career was over.
However, in the back of his mind, Ramirez thought that he had a slight chance to get selected to play in the 22nd annual Paul Robeson All-Star Classic.
“I thought I would be a good candidate to get picked,” Ramirez said. “I had confidence in myself.”
Sure enough, Ramirez was indeed selected to play with the rest of the East All-Stars, who dismantled a West team comprised of players from Passaic, Morris, Sussex and Warren Counties, 28-8, last Tuesday night at the fittingly-named Robeson Stadium in East Orange.
The game is named after Robeson, the brilliant football All-America at Rutgers who went on to have a great career as a singer, actor and later civic activist.
Ramirez played strictly offense Tuesday night, but did not catch a pass. Still, it was a night to remember for Ramirez, who got to play on a winning squad.
“It was a great experience,” Ramirez said. “Going through all the practices and then the game, all the hard work we put in, was all worth it. I had a great time playing with all the amazing athletes that were on the field.”
Ramirez is headed to Montclair State to play football this summer. The Red Hawks will open training camp in August.
So after a week of practices, training and then playing, Ramirez has a head start on a lot of the other incoming Montclair State freshmen.
“It was a real good stepping stone for me as I get ready for college,” Ramirez said. “It got me back into football shape. I learned some new conditioning skills that will get me ready for camp.”
There was a rarity that took place during the practices and game. Belleville and Nutley kids, usually archrivals when they face each other, were actually getting along together for the good of the East squad.
Ramirez said that he was more than friendly with Nutley players Peter Russo and Kevin Davis.
“They’re great guys,” Ramirez said. “We have to support each other. We’re teammates. We get along fine.”
Davis, a standout two-way lineman who will play offensive tackle at William Paterson in the fall, agreed.
“We treated each other like any other teammate,” said Davis, who played left tackle during the game. “It was all fine with me.”
Davis said that he was honored to be selected to the East squad along with long-time friend Russo.
“Pete and I have been friends growing up,” Davis said. “I really didn’t think I’d be in this amazing game. I was shocked I made the team. It felt so good to be out there with Pete one last time.”
Davis said that he was thrilled to be on the field.
“I’m glad I was chosen to be a part of this All-Star team,” Davis said. “I never thought I would suit up again as a Nutley Maroon Raider. It hit me hard when it was over. But Coach (Tom Basile) texted me and said I made the team, then I was so pumped to be a part of it.”
Davis said that he was already working to get ready for college football.
“I’ve been working out hard for college,” Davis said. “I have a routine I have to follow. It’s just another test for me, but I think I did pretty well. This put me in the right frame of mind. It’s a great feeling and something I can tell my kids about.”
Bloomfield’s Nick Restaino was the East squad’s kicker. He is headed to Dover Valley University in Pennsylvania in the fall and already knows he will be that team’s placekicker in the fall, so Restaino already has the pressure on him.
“This was an amazing feeling,” Restaino said. “To be considered among the best players in New Jersey is a great feeling.”
Restaino said that he was a little nervous, considering the game was televised by Verizon FIOS.
“I was a little bit scared before the game,” Restaino said. “So many people were going to be watching it. It was a big league game. But it was a good nervous, because the game was on TV.”
So fans got to see Restaino drill his lone kicking attempt, an extra point in the third quarter.
Restaino said that he was happy that the coaches at Dover Valley came to East Orange to see him live and in action.
“I was very excited that I was getting a chance to kick with my coaches there,” Restaino said. “I got the chance to show them what I can do.”
Like Ramirez, Restaino played for a high school team that won just twice last fall, so winning was a priority.
“There aren’t many who can say that they won their final high school football game,” Restaino said. “I got to continue on with the winning ways. It’s a great feeling to go out with a win. My main goal before the season was to finish my career with a win.”
Restaino’s Bloomfield teammate Victor Olapinsin was also a member of the East squad.
It was a strong showing, fivefold, from local grid warriors at the Robeson Classic.