A lot of Bergen County might not have been too familiar with the work of North Arlington’s Devin Rivas and Kyle Villani prior to the annual Bergen County All-Star Game in Westwood on June 17.
So while the 25-yard touchdown strike from Rivas to Villani in the second quarter might have been first for many in attendance, it’s a sight those from North Arlington have been fortunate enough to see one more time.
“It was a great connection,” said Villani. “We have that chemistry together. Good route, good ball for a touchdown. It was great.”
“I’ve been playing with him since we were with Junior Vikings,” Rivas said. “He and I have a great chemistry. We’ve been working for years. In practice, out of practice, that chemistry has been there.
“It just felt natural to me. I knew it was coming.”
For Rivas and Villani it marked one last time they would represent North Arlington in a high school game. But it wasn’t the last time they’ll share a field together as teammates. Both Vikings standouts are set to play together in college, having both signed to play at Division II Southern Connecticut State University this spring.
“We did a pretty good job of the four years that we played together. We’ve had a lot of connections over the years,” Villani said. “In this game we brought it back and hopefully in college we can do the same exact thing.”
Incredibly, the two committed just a day apart, with Villani the first to make a verbal pledge.
“We talked about it for a really long time,” said Rivas. “We’ve always been talking about it since we were kids. Just growing up and going to the same high school, going to the same college, we’ve always been talking about that so it’s really a dream come true.”
For the past two seasons, the Rivas to Villani combination has been one of the best in North Jersey. Rivas, a running back growing up, threw for 3,607 yards and 33 touchdowns over the last two years, completing 241-of-384 passes while also rushing for 901 yards and 10 touchdowns. Villani emerged as his top target, catching 54 passes for 1,021 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The duo helped lead North Arlington to a 5-4 record this past season and just its second state tournament appearance in 25 years.
“I’ve had the pleasure of coaching them the last two years and they’ve been awesome leaders,” North Arlington head coach Joe Borkowski said. “They’ve been great teammates and I’m looking forward to watching them for the next couple of years at Southern Connecticut. We’re definitely going to miss them. They’re both two of the toughest kids I’ve coached in quite some time.”
Both Rivas and Villani represented the South team in the game, which was won by the North team, 22-14.
Villani was named the game’s Offensive MVP. On the first play from scrimmage, Rivas handed the ball off to Wood-Ridge’s Braden Negro, who threw a pass to a wide open Villani for a 75-yard touchdown.
Rivas’ touchdown to Villani gave the South a 14-7 lead.
“It was good to be back on the field with high schoolers one more time,” Villani said. “I wish we would have won, but I feel like I had a pretty good game and I’m honored with the MVP award.”
“It’s great for the program and it’s great for those two. They deserve it,” said Borkowski. “I’m happy that they were able to both contribute in pretty big ways despite the score.”
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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.)