By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Perhaps the toughest thing for any athlete to do is take off his or her high school jersey for the final time. For many, it’s the last time they will ever wear a jersey in competition again. This is especially true for high school football players. Only a small percentage go on to play in college or professionally.
Extinguishing a football player’s competitive fire isn’t easy, however. For the last two decades, football players in South Jersey, as well as athletes with backgrounds in other sports, have found a way to keep their competitive juices flowing in the Men’s Flag Football League of South Jersey.
According to league commissioner Kevin Grubb of Upper Township, the league this year will be more competitive than it has ever been, and his focus moving forward is to infuse rosters with some young talent to keep the league fresh and exciting.
The league’s mission statement on its website (mensflagfootballofsj.webs.com) says it aims to be the premier flag football league in all of New Jersey, and judging by the talent on some of the rosters, it may very well be. The league features players such as the Fishbein brothers, Rob, a standout at Holy Spirit High School who went on to play in the XFL, and Joe, who had a short stint in the Arena League. Mike Isgro was a star player at Absegami High School who went on to have a solid career at Delaware Valley College; Raffael Craig competed in the pentathlon and decathlon at the University of Connecticut; and Saeed Evans is a former running back at Mainland Regional. Each roster boasts many former high quality Cape-Atlantic League athletes.
“It’s evolved from a rough-touch league to a flag league, and over the years it has gotten better and better,” Grubb said. “We have more teams and some great talent coming out.”
This year the league has joined forces with Mainland graduate Barbie Carney, who runs the Jersey Shore Powder Puff Football League, a highly successful women’s flag football league that features eight teams and more than 100 players and plays its games from spring into summer at Bud Kern Field in Somers Point. On Saturday morning, Carney joined Grubb, Ray Goldstein and Jeff “Twinkie” Sheeler in the studios at 97.3 ESPN FM to talk about Carney’s team — the Bonecrushers — as well as the men’s league’s efforts to expand and gain more exposure.
The men’s league now has a Facebook page and will have statistics and standings available on its website throughout the season. In addition, photo galleries will be available on acglorydays.com throughout the season, which begins on Sunday, Aug. 18 and runs into December. On Saturday, Carney, Grubb, Goldstein and Sheeler were guests of Tyler Donohue on his radio show “The South Jersey Sports Report” which airs Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon on 97.3 ESPN FM.
“I can’t thank 97.3 ESPN enough for always welcoming me into their studio,” said Carney, who has been a guest in the past talking about the women’s league, which also features many former Cape-Atlantic League standout athletes. “I am honored that Ray and Kevin asked me to be a part of M.F.F.L. of South Jersey. I know I will learn a lot from this league, as I hope they will from me. This league is going into its 21st season and I want to get their name out there and make them huge!”
“It’s great exposure for our league. We want to get the league younger and get more people involved. We’re trying to get a younger group in and let them see the excitement and some of the competitiveness,” said Goldstein, who is captain of American Demolition. “We’ve got some bonafide players out there. They are in shape, they train for this. They live for this. This is their NFL, and this is what we look forward to.”
This year’s teams include defending champion American Demolition, The Truth, Nightmares, The Warriors, South Jersey Hawks, Jeff Higbee’s team and the J.S.P.P.L. Bonecrushers. Games are played on Sunday mornings beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Upper Township Elementary School.
“You have to be 18 years old to play, but there’s no maximum age limit. If you think you can play, come on out and play,” Grubb said. “There are a lot of guys coming out to play football, to learn about football, and they learn a lot while they are out there.
“They come out with the weird team names and cool jerseys. It’s very interesting. It’s fun every year. There’s always something new, something fun that keeps you interested. It’s
definitely a good time.”
Grubb said there is plenty of intensity during games and that guys enjoy the opportunity to still be playing a form of competitive football now that their high school or college days are behind them.
“There’s a lot of trash talk,” Grubb said. “It’s just a lot of guys coming out and reliving their college or high school years. Everybody has a ball with it.”
Said Goldstein, “I think the league is the most competitive it’s ever been. The last few years the competition has been unreal. We’ve evolved and brought stats in. What we’d like to do is incorporate more teams and get more exposure.”
The league is still accepting new players. If interested, check out the league’s Facebook page or website.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @GDsullysays