PISCATAWAY – When Valentino Ambrosio went to attempt his first extra point, kicking the ball had nothing to do with the play.
“It was raining and when the ball was snapped it went right through the hands of the holder,” said Valentino, referring to Roselle Park’s season-opener four years ago on an inclement weather Saturday afternoon at Pingry.
“I actually picked the ball up and tried to run with it and got tackled,” Ambrosio continued. “I never kicked it.”
Ambrosio successfully kicked extra points after Roselle Park’s next three touchdowns that Sept. 13, 2014 date in Somerset County, a 135-pound, 14-year-old freshman beginning to make his mark as one of New Jersey’s top placekickers.
He had never put on a helmet, wore pads or even made an attempt to run with a football prior to becoming Roselle Park’s kicker in 2014.
Ambrosio’s No. 1 passion at the time was soccer, a sport he began to play at the age of 2.
Just over three years later Ambrosio has gone from novice kicker to one of the best in the Garden State.
Ambrosio was on hand Sunday at Piscataway High School as a member of the North squad – its kicker – as Media Day was held for the Phil Simms New Jersey North-South All-Star Football Classic.
The 39th game will take place Monday, June 25 at 7 p.m. at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union.
The South leads the series 19-17-2. The North has never led. The South won last year’s game at Kean 30-22. The first year was 1979, with no game being played in 2002 because of thunder and lightning.
With the South winning again last year, the North will now have to win the next three games to take a lead in the series for the first time.
This is the fifth year that Phil Simms is involved, with the Honorary Captains being former New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers center Bart Oates for the North and former Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens player L.J. Smith for the South.
Oates was Simms’ center when the Giants won the Super Bowl for the first time after the 1986 season. Oates won two Super Bowls with the Giants and one with the 49ers. He played all three seasons in the United States Football League (USFL) in the summers of 1983, 1984 and 1985 with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars before joining the Giants for the 1985 season. Oates is from Albany, Ga. and played collegiately at Brigham Young.
Smith starred at Highland Park and graduated from the Group 1 Middlesex County school in 1998. He also played for the South in the 1998 North-South All-Star Game, won that year by the North 33-31.
Ambrosio (5-9, 160) played his first two years at Roselle Park and his last two at Cranford after his family moved in August of 2016, right before his junior season.
As Ambrosio was finishing 8th grade he was kicking field goals bare-footed at Roselle Park’s Herm Shaw Field when it was suggested by friends that he might want to try out for the football team his freshman year – as its kicker, of course.
“My father didn’t want me to play football, but I made my own decision,” said Ambrosio, whose parents both Italian. Valentino was born in the United States.
“I talked to Terry (Roselle Park head coach Terry Hanratty) and we worked it out so I could be on the team and still play club soccer,” Ambrosio said. “I remember the first time I put on the uniform and put a helmet on over my head, it was nerve-wracking.”
Ambrosio is grateful for all the support Hanratty and his staff provided in order for him to play both football and soccer.
“The day of my first game against Pingry I was able to leave at halftime – Roselle Park led 27-0 at intermission and won 33-0 – to play club soccer,” Ambrosio said. “I remember my first extra point kick was good, but it hit the right upright and went through.”
Ambrosio’s first field goal was at arch rival Brearley on a Friday night his freshman season. It was a 25-yarder in the second quarter of an eventual 34-24 setback.
“It took me a couple of games to get used to football, but I loved the Friday night lights,” Ambrosio said. “Coach Hanratty made the special teams part of practice early so I could then leave and play soccer.
“He was okay with that. I didn’t miss any football games. He was great to me.”
Ambrosio’s club soccer squad is the New York Red Bulls Academy team out of Harrison. He is a midfielder.
“I began kicking a soccer ball at age 2 and joined the Roselle Park recreation team at, I think, age 6 or 7,” Ambrosio said. “I was scoring six goals a game.”
In the 2015 season-opener at home against Pingry his sophomore season, Valentino kicked a 46-yard field goal in a 38-0 Panther triumph.
“I had to work on my kickoffs, because my freshman year they were landing inside the 5, they were inconsistent,” Ambrosio said. “My sophomore year I started to get some touchbacks.
“Obviously, as a kicker I want to make a field goal and put up three points on the scoreboard, but if I don’t get the opportunity in a game then I’m also satisfied if I can get my kickoffs through the end zone.”
Right before his third high school season Ambrosio was no longer a Roselle Park resident.
“My parents wanted to move to Cranford and I had no say, I had to deal with what was going on,” Ambrosio said. “I contacted (Cranford head coach Erik) Rosenmeier, filled out all the paper work and was able to get in the six practices I needed before the season started.
“Coach Rosenmeier didn’t know who I was, but like Coach Hanratty he adjusted the practice schedule for me. I was able to practice Wednesdays and Thursdays and then leave for soccer. He was fine with that.
“Both coaches I had – Terry and Erik – were great to play for and very accommodating.”
“I was happy that he kicked for Erik, because I root for Erik’s teams,” Hanratty said. “I think Erik does things the right way.”
Rosenmeier was fortunate enough to have two excellent placekickers before Ambrosio. Troy Kettler kicked on the 2011 North 2, Group 3 state championship team and Joe Norton on the 2015 one.
Then Ambrosio came along.
“The first time I saw him kick I knew,” Rosenmeier said. “The sound was different, like a great drive hitting a golf ball.”
His first game with Cranford – the season-opener his junior season of 2016 at Memorial field – he kicked a 21-yard field goal and made both extra points in a 41-17 loss at home to Somerville.
The next game he kicked all five extra points in a 35-0 home win over Voorhees. Then in Cranford’s first road game – on the grass at Rahway’s Veterans Field – he kicked a 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of an eventual 40-34 single overtime defeat. He also kicked a 26-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Ambrosio made 6 of 8 field goal attempts his junior year and 5 of 9 his senior season, including a 45-yarder in a 34-21 home win over eventual Central Jersey, Group 2 state champion Hillside.
“I had an awesome time at Cranford, I can’t even explain it,” Ambrosio said. “Cranford in general, school also, has been great.
“In the two years he was with me I can make the argument that he was responsible for 2-3 a year,” Rosenmeier said. “He never missed an extra point and the biggest thing was that he had over 80 kicks go through the end zone. If he didn’t have a kickoff that went through it was unusual.
“To make a team have to go 80 yards to score makes the probability of that team scoring much lesser. That’s what he did for us.
“A perfect example of that was last year’s Rahway game. Rahway was 2-0, we were 0-2 and trailing 14-0 at the half. Plus, we had to kick to them to start the second half.
“Valentino kicked the ball through the end zone and then we got a turnover and scored. He kicked it through the end zone again, we held them and then we scored again.”
Cranford scored three touchdowns in the third quarter of its 2017 home-opener that night against Rahway to take a 21-14 lead. Ambrosio closed the scoring in the fourth quarter by kicking a 39-yard field to help give Cranford an impressive 24-14 comeback victory.
“We don’t win that game without him,” Rosenmeier said. “I think he had only eight kickoffs in two years that didn’t go through the end zone.”
Rosenmeier Cranford teams had to contend with Summit standout kicker Michael Badgley earlier this decade. The 2013 Summit graduate continued to excel on the Division 1 level at the University of Miami and this week will see if an NFL team will take a chance on drafting him.
Badgley was a First Team All-ACC selection last fall during his senior season for the Hurricanes. He made a school-best 77 field goals in his career at Miami and after scoring six points in the Orange Bowl he became the school’s all-time leader in points. He was an All-ACC member his final three seasons at Miami and produced a career-long field goal of 51 yards.
“Badgley and Valentino were the two best I’ve ever seen,” Rosenmeier said. “However, Valentino’s kickoffs – nobody was better.
“Like players we’ve had here such as Reggie Green and Will Fries, Val turned my head with his ability.”
Ambrosio studied under renowned statewide kicking guru Pat Sempier, who Ambrosio spoke with Saturday on Sempier’s 84th birthday.
“Valentino is without a doubt one of the best kickers I have ever worked with in 59 years of coaching,” Sempier said. “He has the combination of being an outstanding soccer player since age 6 and a fantastic football placekicker who I started working with in the ninth grade.”
Ambrosio, who will turn 18 on May 13, was in Europe last month with his club soccer team.
He has one full ride Division 1 soccer offer from Fairleigh Dickinson University. The few football offers that have come in have not provided enough scholarship money for him to accept.
“Film has been sent out to every school in the country and Pat (Sempier) and Coach Rosenmeier have called in every way,” Ambrosio said. “If college doesn’t work out there’s the potential to be a pro in Europe.”
This will not be an easy decision for Ambrosio, who said that he likes playing soccer and football equally.
There have been cases where players were discovered by colleges at the North-South All-Star Game.
“If football doesn’t work out I might take a leap year (not attend school at all for 2018-2019),” Ambrosio said.
“He needs a school to kick,” Rosenmeier said. “Many schools are hesitant to give a full scholarship to a kicker.”
The one definite now is that Ambrosio will be the North’s kicker for this June’s all-star classic.
“I can’t wait for the game and look forward to playing at Kean,” Ambrosio said.
Beginning with the first year – 2014 – Simms attached his name to the game, MVPs were selected, with offensive and defensive MVPs being named for both teams. The 2015 South Offensive MVP was placekicker Vincent Mota of Long Branch.
UNION COUNTY HAS 9 PLAYERS ON THE NORTH ROSTER:
Here are Union County’s nine players that are on the North roster:
3-Craig McRae, Roselle, LB, (5-10, 220)
4-Naseem Daniels, Elizabeth, DL, (6-2, 265)
12-Jerish Halsey, Rahway, WR, (5-11, 165)
14-Antwan Spencer, Plainfield, LB, (6-1, 185)
16-Valentino Ambrosio, Cranford, K, (5-8, 160)
44-Arthur Pinckney, Union, LB, (5-10, 220)
58-Daniel Olenick, Johnson, OL, (6-0,260)
73-Jack McCauley, Westfield, OL, (6-3, 270)
82-Jordan Gray, Roselle, WR, (6-3, 190)
SOUTH LEADS SERIES 19-17-2:
2017: South 30, North 22 – at Kean University
2016: North 7, South 0 – at Kean University
2015: South 23, North 21 – at Kean University
2014: South 20, North 14 – at Piscataway High School
2013: North 54, South 8 – at Kean University
2012: North 14, South 7 – at Kean University
2011: South 21, North 14 – at Kean University
2010: North 17, South 3 – at Kean University
2009: South 7, North 0 – at Kean University
2008: North 31, South 25 – at Rutgers Stadium
2007: South 14, North 7 – at Rutgers Stadium
2006: North 31, South 16 – at Rutgers Stadium
2005: North 9, South 7 – at Rutgers Stadium
2004: North 26, South 21 – at Rutgers Stadium
2003: South 3, North 0 – at Rutgers Stadium
2002: No game was played at Rutgers
because of inclement weather before kickoff.
2001: North 24, South 0 – at Rutgers Stadium
2000: South 20, North 5 – at Rutgers Stadium
1999: South 22, North 19 – at Rutgers Stadium
1998: North 33, South 31 – at Rutgers Stadium
1997: South 28, North 24 – at The College of New Jersey
1996: South 32, North 23 – at Rutgers Stadium
1995: North 37, South 15 – at Rutgers Stadium
1994: South 21, North 16 – at Trenton State College
1993: South 9, North 8 – at Giants Stadium
1992: North 7, South 7 (tie) – at Giants Stadium
1991: North 26, South 12 – at Giants Stadium
1990: North 14, South 10 – at Rutgers Stadium
1989: South 24, North 0 – at Rutgers Stadium
1988: South 12, North 9 – at Rutgers Stadium
1987: North 21, South 10 – at Rutgers Stadium
1986: North 20, South 17 – at Rutgers Stadium
1985: North 10, South 10 (tie) – at Rutgers Stadium
1984: North 7, South 0 – at Rutgers Stadium
1983: South 41, North 7 – at Rutgers Stadium
1982: South 16, North 7 – at Rutgers Stadium
1981: South 32, North 0 – at Rutgers Stadium
1980: North 13, South 6 – at Rutgers Stadium
1979: South 34, North 13 – at Rutgers Stadium