NFL Films’ ‘Hard Knocks’ takes a look at area semipro team

first_imgBY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent Above: New Jersey Lions head coach Paul Castillo, who played football for Middletown North High School, talks to his players during a practice at its home field at St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, on Jan. 21. The Lions, a semipro football team out of Old Bridge, are seeking to be featured in NFL Films’ “Hard Knocks.” Below: Snow and freezing temperatures didn’t keep the Lions from practicing in preparation for their Jan. 29 game at SJV against another semipro team, the Irish of the Five Star Football League, in a game to be covered by NFL Films. PHOTOS BY ERIC SUCAR staff The NFL isn’t the only football league still playing outside in subfreezing temperatures. Some 60 players from the New Jersey semipro football team New Jersey Lions, based in Old Bridge, will have their exhibition game against the New Jersey Irish in chilling temperatures covered by NFL Films for a special program on semipro football around the country, to be aired on its “Hard Knocks” program.The Pride Bowl will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, at St. John Vianney High School’s all-weather field in Holmdel. It pits the Lions of the Big Northeast Football Federation against the Irish of the Five Star Football League and will be taped for highlights. Lions coach and owner Paul Castillo and some of the Lions players will have microphones recording them during the game to give viewers a feel of what’s going on.Film crews were at St. John Vianney on Jan. 21 recording footage of practice and interviewing players. General admission is $7 for the game, and children under 10 will be admitted free of charge. Some proceeds from the game will benefit the Valerie Center Children’s Cancer Hospital in Long Branch.The date and time for the airing of the NFL Films program have yet to be determined.“Most of these guys played in college, and they still have the dream. They play for the love of the game,” said Castillo. “NFL Films wanted do to something on NFL teams, and looked around and heard about [semipro teams], came to two or three of our practices and liked what they had seen.”His team was 10-2 during the season in its second year in the conference, losing in the second round of the North Division playoffs to the Jersey Wolves, 28-22, in overtime. The Lions’only other loss was to the Central Pennsylvania Piranhas, 26-20. The season runs through the summer into November, but the Lions and Irish agreed to play an exhibition game in the frigid January weather.“Theweather is not that bad. You just dress in layers, although it’s better to play without all of that in the warmer weather,” said quarterback Matt Mariano, a former star at East Brunswick High School who went on to play at Delaware Valley College and is one of the players being mic’d up for this game. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not many players actually in the NFLhave a chance to be a part of an NFL Films production. Who knows what can happen from here?”Mariano is working his way back into playing shape after he was medically cleared in December after a shoulder separation suffered early in the season.“When I was done with college, I thought I was done with football,” he said. “One guy I played high school football with told me about this team, which is not far.”But games are played along the East Coast, and for any game that’s about two hours away or less, players need to figure out their own way to get there. For a few games of longer distances, they charter a bus. After three seasons, the Lions moved from the Regional American Football League, where they averaged 48 points a game in an unbeaten regular season and gave up 6.3 points per game, second best in the league. Last year they finished 14-1, beating the 2007 RAFL and national champion Prince William (Va.) Monarchs, 30-13. In the second round, the Lions beat the New Jersey Wolves, 15-12, with a 105-yard interception return for the game-winning touchdown before the season ended in a 22-21 loss to the Virginia Kings.This season, they scored 36.6 points and allowed 6.7 per outing, second best in their new league in both areas.Most of the players on this team were college players who could not hang up the cleats for good. Just about all of them have professional careers.“This is not for everybody,” said Lions middle linebacker Jeff Castillo, the coach’s brother and a co-owner of the team. “Some look to semipro football as a joke, but not us. We’re in a class with a few other teams that take this seriously. We’re trying to change the face of semipro football, and my brother and his staff of 16 coaches put in so much time to this. It’s their lives. It’s what they talk about away from the field.”Jeff Castillo, an ironworker for New Jersey Local 45, is a former star middle linebacker for Middletown North’s state championship team in 1996. He said he became a co-owner first and then decided to get back on the field. “I wasn’t ready to stop playing yet,” he said. Strong-side linebacker Paul Keator, one of many Jersey Shore-area players, lives in Toms River after a stellar career at Middletown South as a running back. He was recruited by University of New Haven coach Tony Sparano, now head coach with the Miami Dolphins, and left after a year when Sparano also exited. He spent a brief time at Rowan University in 2003 and then left to start his own paving business.“I feel this is better than college,” Keator said. “The time everyone is putting into it, they feel like it’s real football. It’s getting bigger and younger with more guys fresh out of college who feel this is their chance to maybe get noticed by a team [in the NFL].”And with a potentially large audience who may be watching them on their television sets, this is the chance for many of them to live their dream — at least for one showing.For more information, go to njlionsfootball.com or Facebook.com/newjersey lions.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *