The last traces of Tyler Ammirato’s football DNA will be left on the turf at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium on Friday night.
“It’s kind of sad, but it’s great to strap on the helmet and pads one more time,” said Ammirato, named the Long Island team’s defensive caption on Thursday after the final practice before the 23rd Empire Challenge that will match Long Island and New York City in a charity All-Star football game that kicks off at 7 p.m. Long Island leads the series 12-8 (the first two were between Nassau and Suffolk), but the City has won the last two years.
“We’ve been having fun the whole week, but we want to win,” said Ammirato, who played at Miller Place while his father, Vin, coached at Mount Sinai. Even with that pedigree, Tyler, a 5-7, 170-pound free safety, will play lacrosse in college at Marist. ”I grew up watching my dad’s teams. I love football. But my lacrosse coach at Marist [Keegan Wilkinson] just texted me and said, ‘Go kick some butt. Don’t hold back.’ ”
It’s that attitude that earned Ammirato the nod as defensive captain, quarterback Tommy Heuer (Oceanside/Cortland) as offensive captain and running back/kick returner Dylan Laube (Westhampton/New Hampshire) as special teams captain.
“From Day 1 of practice, Tyler proved he had football savvy,” defensive coordinator Kyle Madden (Half Hollow Hills West) said. “His Dad is a football coach. It’s in his blood. You could see how smart he was, making the checks on defense and putting people in the right spots. The kids who are going to play another sport in college plays as hard, or harder, than anyone else. Tyler is the epitome of that.”
Laube epitomizes the team-first attitude of these all-stars. At Westhampton, which used the wing-T under Bill Parry, who is the coach for the Long Island squad, Laube was the primary ball-carrying option and often carried 40 times a game. “This is a lot different from Westhampton,” Laube said with a laugh. “It’s cool. Instead of the wing-T, we’re running the spread and I get to do everything. Swing passes, wheel routes, inside handoffs, some lead blocking. That’s what I’ll need to do in college.”
Laube also can be a potential game-breaker with his elusiveness on returns. “I’ll be looking for a big moment,” he said with a grin. “Maybe the first play? On the opening kickoff? Set the tone.”
Heuer (Oceanside) will start at quarterback and rotate series with Nick Anzalone (Lindenhurst) and Ryan Walsh (Northport). The player who is moving the team best usually gets the bulk of the work in the second half. Heuer had an advantage in that the offensive coordinator for this game is his high school coach, Rob Blount. “The transition was simple for me,” Heuer said. “It’s the same system. Our receivers are talented and can make plays. I hope I have the hot hand.”
He’s already had the helping hand. “Tommy has been lights out in practice,” Blount said. “He’s been a big asset since he knows the system and has helped the other quarterbacks, who came from different systems.”
With no blitzing or lineman stunts allowed, according to the rules established by the game’s founder, former NFL star Boomer Esiason, this game, according to Blount, “is built for quarterbacks.”
It’s in the Empire Challenge’s DNA.
What: United Health Care Empire Challenge, an All-Star football game featuring the best high school seniors from Long Island against the best from New York City. Proceeds benefit the Boomer Esiason Foundation, the Gunnar H. Esiason Scholarship Fund at Hofstra University, and local youth football programs.
When: Friday at 7 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m.
Where: Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium.
Parking: Parking is free, but limited.
Tickets: Available at stadium ticket booths on game day beginning at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person.
Pregame activities: FanFest is from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the main parking lot near the entrance to the stadium. FanFest is free and is an interactive theme park with inflatable rides and games.
History: Long Island leads the series, 12-8. NYC won last year, 37-35.