BY 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.
Hannah J. Ryan Helena Molina, a biologist at the University of Costa Rica, is studying the growth of sea life in the Golfo Dulce, off the southern Pacific coast. Marvin Villalobos checks a GPS on his boat in the Pacific Ocean. For example, he said Costa Rica’s Mixed Institute for Social Aid is working on a strategy to get the fishermen new motors. Donald McGuiness, a former president of FECOP, negotiated the deal with the trawlers to keep them out of the gulf. He understands local fishermen’s gripes with the fisheries institute, noting several complaints with Incopesca’s practices. But there’s a sentiment in FECOP that fishermen also need to be more flexible in order to build a sustainable community, he says. Asking for compensation and better boats only serves shortsighted purposes, according to the expert. FECOP wants fishermen to work on a comprehensive business plan. Tourism and artisanal fishing communities must now figure out how to turn the sustainable brand into reality, he says.McGuiness also criticizes the recent proliferation of illegal fishermen in the Golfo Dulce. He says some of the same fishermen attending Fenopea meetings sneak into the waters at 2 a.m., cast nets and tow in huge illegal catches. The fishing tourism federation is unsure how to deal with this ongoing problem, McGuiness says. He used to loan a boat to the Coast Guard, the only entity allowed to arrest illegal fishermen. For two years, the crew patrolled the gulf until the contract ran out in May 2011.McGuiness says he’d like to start the patrol program again and set up radars to monitor activity in the waters. But implementing these plans requires investment and a concerted effort by all groups involved in protecting Golfo Dulce. Villalobos zooms his boat around the gulf’s mouth. He checks with each fisherman, who tell him they’re not catching anything. Out in the ocean, as authorities and conservation groups contemplate how to stave off illegal fishing, Villalobos wonders in which direction the gulf will go next. “I think it’ll work,” Villalobos says. “We knew we had to make these changes. We want to make these changes, but what we need is the government to help us.” Facebook Comments Hannah J. Ryan Today, marine biologists studying the gulf have reported a slow resurgence in fishand shrimp in the 750-square-kilometer area, the largest responsible fishing zone in Central America.A press trip sponsored by conservation organization Pronature brought more than two dozen journalists to the southern Pacific port city of Golfito last week for a day of boating and discussing the responsible fishing area.Behind sunglasses and in an unbuttoned dress shirt, Villalobos powers the motorboat through the ocean, gabbing about the beaches, water and beauty of whale-watching season. He has a license to fish in the zone, and at one time supported his family with what he caught. But the 55-year-old boat captain considers himself a full-time tour guide these days, even if there’s only enough tourists for two or three trips a week. In these times, a couple tours can be more profitable than a week’s worth of fishing, he says.A few years ago, fishermen struggled because they couldn’t take on trawlers that pillaged the waters. Now, anglers face difficulties because they are not catching fish.Members of the Golfo Dulce-based National Federation of Artisanal Fishers (Fenopea) and marine scientists extolled the rebirth of ocean life in the region. But the trip also showed the challenges that lie ahead. Fenopea, which consists of six fishermen’s associations from around Golfo Dulce, dreams of turning business in the sustainable fishing area into a profitable practice.Villalobos guides his lancha toward another local resident, Cirilo Quintero, who is president of the Association of Puntarenitas Fishermen. Quintero is fishing with his two children near the Osa Peninsula town of Puerto Jiménez. His daughter hooks a shimmering red fish about the size of her forearm and pulls it on board. Quintero looks at his daughter and laughs, joking to reporters that she’s caught two fish today, which is more success than he’s had.Someone asks him how often he winds up with nothing in his bucket. The fisherman turns downbeat. Quintero has lived in the gulf for 48 years, and claims that this is the worst he’s ever seen the place.Still, he supports sustainable fishing, as does Villalobos. Quintero says it’s the only way to keep the gulf alive for his children and grandchildren. The Golfo Dulce is no longer dying, he says, but nor are artisanal fishermen like Quintero reaping the benefits of the revival. “We’re in a very bad situation,” Quintero says.Nirlady Artavia, of Fenopea, describes a tangible vision for local fishermen. She says as long as they can keep the trawlers out, artisanal fishermen can benefit from more favorable prices. In the future, Fenopea members hope to develop a brand for their sustainably caught seafood, which could sell for an even higher market price. Artavia says the group also wants to push the renewed Golfo Dulce as a tourist destination. This could establish the area as a popular sport fishing destination and bring dividends to the artisanal fishing community, whose members could give tours and supply fresh catches to hotels and other businesses. But Artavia admits organizing the effort has been a challenge. Many residents are bitter with the government. Boaters and fishermen seen out on the water, including Villalobos and Quintero, blame the government for not aiding them as the area transitioned into a responsible fishing zone. They curse the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) for not making the fishermen’s own livelihoods – which rely on handlines and outdated equipment – sustainable. The most vocal fishermen do not take issue with the responsible fishing area. Quintero explains that the situation was no better before with shrimpers controlling the waters. But, he says, artisanal fishermen think the government is neglecting them. Gerardo Zamora, of Incopesca’s Golfito office, said they are collaborating with the small-scale fishermen, but improving the situation is not a quick fix. He said Incopesca and other governmental and private entities are working with the fishermen to teach sustainable fishing techniques and how to better commercialize their product.“We are conducting a series of projects in order to implement everything that is reflected in the [responsible] fishing plan,” Zamora said. No related posts. From the print editionGOLFO DULCE, Puntarenas – Marvin Villalobos leans forward in his boat and revs the motor. “I think I see dolphins over there,” he says, looking out to a swath of blue several hundred meters ahead.The bottlenose dolphins appear in seconds, riding the wake around the boat. Onlookers pull out their cameras.Venturing into another part of the gulf, Villalobos pulls his boat close to two sea turtles at the ocean’s surface. Cameras snap. This is a different reality for Golfo Dulce, located off the southern Pacific coast. Several years ago, local and foreign shrimp trawlers overran the waters, bringing the gulf’s resources to near-oblivion. Trawlers, which use large funnel-shaped nets that scrape the ocean floor, netted as much un-targeted marine life as shrimp. Sea life dwindled. Shrimp trawlers dominated the local market by selling volumes of low-priced shrimp, and artisanal fishermen couldn’t compete. Each big score by the trawlers led to the discarding of tons of conger eels, snappers, sailfish and other species.Then, in 2008, sport fishing operators, artisanal fishermen, shrimp trawler owners and conservationists worked out a million-dollar deal to ban trawlers from the gulf. The agreement, headed by the Costa Rican Federation of Fishing Tourism (FECOP), had the body of water declared a “marine area of responsible fishing” in 2010. The plan called for teaching local gill-netters sustainable practices and doing biological studies to monitor sea life in the region.