Jayden Vega didn’t have the senior season that he and his Harrison teammates envisioned for themselves this past fall. But despite that lack of team success, Vega will have the chance to show that he belongs among the state’s best players.
Vega, Harrison’s standout two-way lineman is one of 90 players selected to compete in the 2023 Phil Simms NJ North/South All Star Football Classic on June 11 at Kean University.
On Sunday, the game’s selections were introduced as part of the event’s annual Media Day and Symposium held at Kean.
Vega, a 6-foot-2, 290 pound defensive tackle, is the first Blue Tide player selected to the game – now in its 45th year in recent memory. He was the only Observer area player to make the 45-man North Team roster. Harrison head coach Ray Lucas will serve as the North’s quarterbacks coach. Former New York Giants offensive tackle and Super Bowl champion Roman Oben will serve as the North Team’s head coach.
“I was proud to be selected. I worked my butt off the whole season,” said Vega. “I didn’t have the best season, but I’m very proud of everything, very proud to be selected and very proud to have one more chance.
“It means the world to me. I’m representing my town, representing my people, representing my coach and representing what I do the best.”
Vega first started playing when he was 5, playing for Harrison Pop Warner all the way through middle school before starting his high school career at DePaul Catholic in Wayne.
Before his senior season, Vega decided to return home and transferred back to Harrison. Despite being limited by injuries during the preseason, Vega earned All-NJIC Union Division, First Team honors for the Blue Tide.
“I would have done anything to put this helmet on one more time, put the pads on. I’d do anything to get back on the field,” Vega said. “Ever since the last minute of the last game I was ready to get back onto the field and work again. I’m ready to work and show my talent.”
While most of the players selected for the North/South Game have their college commitments lined up already, Vega is one of the few uncommitted prospects. With limited film and the nature of the United Division – comprising the NJIC’s smallest schools, Lucas believes Vega has not gotten the attention he deserves from college coaches.
Overall, Vega is one of just three players from NJIC in the game and the only one from the United Division.
“When you play in the conference we play in, these kids don’t get enough credit,” Lucas said. “We’re in a conference where we can be competitive and not get our heads beat in, but that doesn’t mean our kids aren’t good enough to play in a game like this.
“We still have great kids and this is an opportunity for him to showcase his talent. Nobody’s coming and knocking on his door, which is a sin if you ask me because he’s that good.
“He’s tailor made (for the line) he has the whole skill set, his football IQ is through the roof. This kid has all the intangibles. Just because we come from a one square mile town, doesn’t mean the kid can’t play.”
Lucas, who played in the 1991 edition of the game is one of 64 players to have participated in the game, who went on to play in the NFL.
While the game is still nearly 12 weeks away, Vegas knows he has something to prove when he gets there.
“I have everything to prove and not just for myself, but for everyone, for the town of Harrison,” said Vega. “It’s a small town and I’m just a kid there trying to get and put the town on the map.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)