Union County football players are in the Robeson Classic for first time

Hillside High School football quarterback Caleb Salters runs with the ball in anticipation of the 29th annual Paul Robeson All-Star Football Classic, which takes place every June at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — For the first time, football players from Union County will be putting on shoulder pads and lacing up their cleats to compete in the 29th annual Paul Robeson All-Star Football Classic, which takes place every June at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange, where the East Orange Campus High School Jaguars play their home games.

This year’s classic is on Tuesday, June 13, with a 7 p.m. kickoff.

“We are so happy to have players from Union County who will participate in the game this year and beyond,” said Robeson Classic president and longtime game organizer Stephen Cowan.

The East will now consist of senior players from Essex, Hudson and Union counties and the West senior players from Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties.

Players from Union County high schools on the East roster include quarterback Caleb Salters of Hillside High School, quarterback Weston Fischer of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, running back Elijah Stewart of Union High School, running back Thian Grimaud of Elizabeth High School, running back Emmanuel Lyles of Abraham Clark High School, wide receiver Joshua Penick of Elizabeth High School, wide receiver Jaden Castro of Plainfield High School, offensive lineman Bryan Alvarez of Elizabeth, offensive lineman Darren Nesmith of Hillside, linebacker Jayden McIver of Plainfield, defensive back Samir Rivet of Abraham Clark High School, defensive lineman Tim McKeever of Summit High School and defensive lineman Quanir Clark of Hillside.

Salters, who will continue playing in college at Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, N.C., had a fine senior season for the Hillside Comets. Salters completed 90 passes in 160 attempts for 1,360 yards. He threw 13 touchdown passes and was only intercepted seven times in 11 games.

One of his best games last year was completing eight of 10 pass attempts for 221 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a convincing 33-7 win at Arthur L. Johnson High School.

Hillside finished 9-2 after reaching the North 1, Group 3 sectional state championship game, falling at Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan 28-14.

A three-year starter at Hillside for head coach Barris Grant, Salters had career totals of 231 completions in 347 attempts, 3,899 yards, 33 touchdown passes and just 17 interceptions.

Lyles paced Abraham Clark who, in rushing with an outstanding 2022 campaign that saw him gain 1,272 yards on 138 carries, and led the Rams in touchdowns with 16.

Lyles helped Abraham Clark turn its season around after an 0-4 start. The Rams ended up winning their last eight games to finish 8-4 and capture the first South, Group 2 Regional Invitational championship. Abraham Clark beat Jonathan Dayton, Bordentown and then Haddon Heights in the final.

Stewart was Union’s leading rusher in 2022 with 451 yards on 70 carries and four touchdowns.

Fischer will attend Gettysburg, Stewart Hudson will attend Valley Community College, Pinick will go to Kean University, Castro to Western Connecticut, Alvarez to Montclair State, Nesmith to American International College, McKeever Hobart/William Smith and Clark to Garden City Junior College.

The first Robeson Classic contest was played in 1994. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no games played in 2020 and 2021, but players were still selected and honored.

When the game returned last year, the West defeated the East by a score of 19-0 before a crowd of 1,200.

Many of Union County’s best players in the past were selected to play in the annual Snapple Bowl, which featured Union County vs. Middlesex County all-stars from 1994 to 2019.

Photo Courtesy of Gene Nann