Four local star football players will be featured tonight in the Nassau County Senior Bowl. The high school version of the NFL Pro Bowl will pit the top seniors from Nassau Conference II and III against those from Conference I and IV.
Among the all-stars selected for the Nov. 24 game are Willis Cheatham, of Malverne High School's varsity Mules, and Mike Mangino, Brendan Zapelli and John Gomez, from the West Hempstead High School varsity Rams. Rams head coach Dom Carre, who was an assistant coach in last year's Senior Bowl, will be leading the charge for the Conference II and III team.
Malverne's Cheatham, a defensive end, led the team in sacks with three for the season and was the third leading tackler with 42 tackles.
"He's a very well-rounded, fundamental player," said Malverne Mules varsity football coach Kito Lockwood. "For a guy his size, he has great agility and footwork, and what helps him be a good defensive end is his hand work. He is very skillful."
Cheatham played four years of varsity for Malverne and is currently being recruited by Marist College, Monmouth, C.W. Post and Stony Brook University.
The three players selected from Carre's West Hempstead squad are "all senior leaders," the coach said.
"Mike Mangino was our best lineman, our leader on the offensive line," said Carre.
Mangino, who will play tackle in the game, started on the junior varsity squad as a freshman and was brought up to varsity toward the end of his sophomore season.
Then, there's Zapelli, or "Zippy" as his coaches and teammates call him. While he played the season as both a wing and a safety, he'll be taking to the field tonight as a wide receiver.
"Brendan is a great player for us on defense," Carre said. "He's made some big hits and big pass breakups. He's a spark-plug."
Rounding out the Rams all-star trio is tight end, John Gomez, who Carre described as a "great two-way player on offense and defense."
While all of these players have ambitions to continue their football careers in college, Carre said Gomez has his heart set on playing for a school out in Iowa or Colorado.
Their coach is confident they will succeed.
"All three of these kids work hard on and off the field," Carre said. "They don't talk much in practice or give you any problems. They just do what is expected of them."
Carre explained that you won't see these "foundational players" trying to own the spotlight or post record-breaking stats.
"They play hard and they produce, but they aren't very flashy," he said. "They help the team go a long way without getting all the flash."
Tonight's game will kick off at 7 p.m. at Mitchel Athletic Complex in
Uniondale. This will be the last time these athletes suit up in their football equipment - at least as a high school player.
"I'm just looking forward to having fun and playing with other great players in Nassau County," said Cheatham, who said winning would be nice too. Several of Cheatham's family members will be in the stands, including his grandma and cousins who make the trip from Brooklyn to see him play.
Reflecting upon the end of his high school football career, Cheatham, said that although basketball his first love is basketball, the gridiron know owns a special place in his heart too.
"These four years changed my life tremendously," he said. "I never thought I'd have a love for football like I do now. I'm very thankful to my coach for giving me this experience. It was a great time!"