PISCATAWAY – Before continuing their athletic careers on the collegiate level, seven of Union County’s finest senior football players will get an opportunity to excel one more time nearby to their home towns.
The setting is the 35th annual North-South All-Star Football Game, set to kick off June 24 at 7 p.m. at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union.
The North came back in the second half to win last year’s game 14-7 to pull to within 16-15-2 in the series. The North will get another opportunity to tie the series again for the first time since it was 6-6-2 after the second deadlock in 1992.
If the North wins, it will have the opportunity to take its first lead in the series next year.
Seven of Union County’s finest seniors who will help lead the North squad on to the field at Kean University include – on offense – Elizabeth quarterback P.J. Walker (6-1, 210), Rahway guard Ruben Pierre (6-2, 265) and Johnson tackle Ryan Baron (6-5, 285) and – on defense – Roselle linebacker Derrick Taylor (5-10, 220), Cranford end Chris Folinusz (6-3, 235), Union tackle Darius Stapleton (6-3, 255) and Roselle Park linebacker Juan Carmona (6-0, 195).
Six of those seven players were able to attend Sunday’s Media Day at Piscataway High School. North director Marion Bell, the head coach at East Orange Campus, announced that Walker could not attend because of a commitment to the college he will attend, Temple.
Walker was a four-year varsity starter under center who guided Elizabeth (11-0) to the first North 2, Group 5 championship and was named The Star-Ledger’s Offensive Player of the Year this past season.
Carmona led Roselle Park, which finished 9-3 and made the state playoffs for the first time in 11 years, to the North 2, Group 1 championship game, with the Panthers also posting their first winning season since 2006. Roselle Park also won its first playoff game and reached its first sectional final since 1993 and defeated arch rivals Brearley and New Providence both for the first time since 2001. Roselle Park also defeated New Providence in the North 2, Group 1 semifinals to reach the final at East Rutherford’s Met Life Stadium.
At linebacker, Carmona – who will continue playing at Montclair State University for longtime head coach Rich Giancola – was one of the toughest kids on the football field and a performer not many offensive players could find their way past.
“Nobody thought we would be that good,” Carmona said. “We proved them wrong.”
Folinusz, who will continue playing baseball at Rutgers, was a key defensive player on Cranford’s 2011 North 2, Group 3 championship team, which was the program’s first state title club in the playoff era.
Folinusz then helped lead last year’s baseball team to the Group 3 state championship. In the Group 3 final at Toms River South against Freehold Borough, Folinusz blasted two mammoth solo home runs in a 4-1 triumph.
After hitting the baseball again this spring for a Cranford team that might be the favorite once more in Group 3, Folinusz will look forward to hitting South offensive players in less than three months.
“I will miss football a lot, so I’m excited to play in this game,” Folinusz said.
Folinusz considered giving both football and baseball a shot in college, but chose baseball only.
“I thought about possibly playing both, but if I did play baseball too, then I would miss spring football,” Folinusz said. “I chose baseball because I’ve been getting pro looks for baseball and that’s my best shot to play professionally.”
Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier had Folinusz playing multiple positions on offense and defense this past fall, with the Cougars winning another playoff game and getting back to the North 2, Group 3 semifinals.
“I like playing defense more,” Folinusz said. “I’m looking forward to taking some helmets off.”
Darius Stapleton is the second Stapleton that will play in the North-South Game. His oldest brother Darnell played in the North-South Game and his next oldest brother Desmond played in the Governor’s Bowl.
Both of those Stapletons went on to play collegiately at Rutgers, with Darnell also winning a Super Bowl as a starting offensive lineman blocking for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I feel I’ve got to live up to my brothers,” said Stapleton, who plans on attending prep school Milford Academy, with hopes of gaining a Division 1 scholarship afterwards. “I always have something to prove all the time.”
Taylor was the leading tackler at Roselle the past three years, helping lead the Rams to the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs his sophomore and junior seasons. Head coach Lou Grasso Jr. always had high praise for a player who wasn’t satisfied until he put the ball-carrier down for no gain.
“It was fun playing for Coach Grasso,” Taylor said.
Grasso is on the North coaching staff once again.
“He put Roselle football on the map,” Taylor said.
Linebacker was not the first position Taylor, who is considering playing at either Kean or Montclair State, every played.
“I didn’t start playing linebacker until my freshman year,” Taylor said. “I just fell in love with it.
“I like being the aggressor and hitting people.”
Baron did not play football at all until his sophomore season at Johnson.
Present Johnson head football coach Mike Mancino coached him in another sport and encouraged him to try taking his talents to the gridiron.
“I played freshman baseball for Coach Mancino and because of my size he asked me to try football,” said Baron, who will play football in college at the Division 2 level at Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pa. “It just took off from there.”
Baron, also gifted academically, chose Kutztown over Lafayette and Holy Cross.
“It’s awesome out there,” Baron said of Kutztown.
Baron and fellow senior teammate and lineman Ed Olenick, who will play for the Union County All-Stars in the July 19 Snapple Bowl at Kean, formed a solid tandem on both sides of the ball. Olenick, also a standout wrestler, will join Baron on the football team at Kutztown.
“Ed is a very good player,” Baron said. “We formed a good 1-2 punch.”
Baron will be Johnson’s first North-South player since wide receiver P.J. Franciotti, who now plays at Colgate, performed for the North squad in the 2011 game at Kean.
Pierre, who is considering playing at Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va. for one season, is the latest in a long line of Rahway players to compete in the North-South All-Star Game. He also comes from a program, guided by successful head coach Gary Mobley, which has qualified for the state playoffs eight of the past nine seasons.
“I will be following past Rahway players in this game,” Pierre said. “I just want to be able to keep it going.”
A two-year starter on both sides of the ball for the Indians, Pierre admitted a penchant for playing on defense a bit more, although he is presently listed as an offensive guard for the June 25 clash.
“On defense you can fly around,” Pierre said. “You have one direction and one motive, to give your best effort.”
SOUTH LEADS SERIES: 16-15-2
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 the 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