On Sunday afternoon at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, 96 of the best football players in New York will meet in the third annual Empower New York State Football Classic, commonly known as the Upstate-Downstate game.
The Downstate team encompasses the best seniors from Long Island, New York City, Section 1, Section 9, and the CHSFL. The Upstate team includes each section north, including the CHSAA in Buffalo.
The Downstate team arrived in Syracuse on Wednesday and will practice in the dome each day until the game on Sunday. Downstate has won both NYS Football Classics since the inception. Downstate won 36-7 in 2010 and 41-7 last year.
The NYS Football Classic took over as the prominent state all-star game after the New York-New Jersey Governor’s Bowl folded.
Here’s a look at what to expect on Sunday:
Top Players (out of area)
Wayne Morgan, Erasmus Hall, Defensive Back: The 5-foot-11 cornerback is committed to Syracuse and will get a chance to play on his home field. Morgan was regularly considered one of the top recruits in the state this year.
Rich Czezcotka, John Glenn, Quarterback: Czeczotka, who will walk on at Rutgers, threw for 1,977 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior. He has good size at 6-foot-2 and 215lbs.
Omari Palmer, Longwood, Offensive Line: Palmer is another Syracuse-commit and he’ll have some potential battles in the trenches with Notre Dame-bound Jarron Jones.
Jahmahl Pardner, Aquinas, Defensive Back: Pardner is one of the best athletes in the state in multiple sports and is headed to Pittsburgh to play defense. He comes from Aquinas, one of the top football programs in New York.
Jarron Jones, Aquinas, Defensive Line: Jones has the athleticism of a defensive end but is a mammoth at defensive tackle with his 6-foot-7, 305lbs frame. Recruited by a who’s who list, he committed to Notre Dame.
Pancho Barnwell, East High (Rochester), Defensive End: Barnwell is a terror on the edge at 6-foot-4 230lbs. The Syracuse-commit will be troublesome to block in a game with only a few practices.
Jaden Cotton, Depew, Offensive Line: At 6-foot-6 330lbs., Cotton is one of the biggest players competing in the NYS Football Classic. He’s headed to Division 1 Buffalo.
Hudson Valley Representatives
Justin Ciero, Horace Greeley, Quarterback: Ciero has been a staple in Section 1 on both sides of the ball for his whole career, but will be taking snaps under center in the Football Classic. While he hasn’t seen athletes like he has this weekend coming at him, he also hasn’t had athletes like this to throw to. Ciero’s headed to Colby College.
Garfield Heslop, Stepinac, Linebacker: Heslop is a freakish athlete and still undecided about school in the fall, but a game like this could go a long way to figuring something out. Playing in the CHSFL will certainly be a benefit.
Ke’Shaun Stallworth, Pelham, Wide Receiver: Stallworth played running back at Pelham, but will make a transition to WR this week. He is headed to Cortland in the fall and could make an immediate impact.
Declan Myer, John Jay-Cross River, Defensive Back: Myer was one of the more underrated players in Section 1 this year, but has speed to play with anyone in the Football Classic. Myer will be joining Stallworth at Cortland and the two will probably match up for a few days during practice this week.
Erik Gosler, Marlboro, Punter: Coming out of Section 9 Class B will be quite a jump for Gosler, but a talented punter is a talented punter. Gosler is headed to Division 2 Colorado Mesa University. It’s the most interesting commitment in the entire NYS Football Classic.
Joshua Oliver, Poughkeepsie, Kick Returner: Oliver will be doing what he does best, making people miss. Oliver is listed as the special teams returner, but don’t be surprised to see him pop up anywhere. Oliver is headed to Ithaca College in the fall.
Eric Wellmon, Wallkill, Defensive Back: Wellmon quarterbacked Wallkill for the past few years but will play on the defensive side of the ball this week. Wellmon is headed to the prestigious Naval Academy next year.
Danny Caiola, John Jay-Cross River, Running Back: Caiola will be on offense this week and should be completely comfortable in a spread offense should the Downstate choose to go that route. Caiola is currently undecided about his collegiate future.
Kyle Ricciardi, Croton-Harmon, Linebacker: Ricciardi has experience in the dome with Croton-Harmon and will cap a five-year varsity career on the defensive side of the ball. Ricciardi is headed to Army to play football next year.
Robert Johnson, Poughkeepsie, Defensive Line: Johnson is headed to American International College in the fall and should star there. He’s a force on the interior and quicker than you think. Facing some top-notch competition will be a perfect warm-up for college football.
Keith Robinson, Gorton, Offensive Line: Robinson is headed to Central New York for the Football Classic and will be back in the fall attending SUNY-Morrisville. At 6-foot-1, 315lbs., Robinson helped Gorton surprise all of Section 1 with a fantastic year in 2011.
Other players from the Hudson Valley:
Jeremy Stinson, Newburgh, Kicker - UMass
Steven Johnson, Newbugh, Defensive Back –Army Prep
Kevin McNally, Cornwall, Tight End – New Hampshire
Mikal Myers, Newburgh, Defensive Line - UConn
Nick Ponnesse, Newburgh, Offensive Line - Springfield
Michael Esposito, Newburgh, Defensive End - TCNJ
Jake DeCicco, Kingston, Wide Receiver - Georgetown
The Downstate team hasn’t lost this game yet, but that doesn’t mean anything when it’s a new batch each season. In games like this, the trenches matter the most and the Upstate team has seven Division 1 commits at the line of scrimmage. The Downstate team only has four. That could spell trouble for Downstate. Frankly, you never know how these things can go, so I’m going to be a homer.
Downstate 21, Upstate 10.