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Empire Challenge will be a challenge for New York City’s defense

Freeport's Rashad Tucker practices for 22nd Empire Challenge

Freeport's Rashad Tucker practices for 22nd Empire Challenge All-Star game at Hofstra University on Saturday, June 17, 2017. Long Island hopes to take advantage of Tucker's running ability. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

One zips the ball into tight windows with unerring accuracy; the other zips past would-be tacklers with uncanny shiftiness. With Elmont’s Aaron Ruthman and Freeport’s Rashad Tucker sharing the quarterback chores, Long Island’s offense will not likely be held to zip in Wednesday night’s Empire Challenge.

“There’s definitely a different wrinkle for each kid,” said offensive coordinator Mike Stanley of Carey, who hopes to find plenty of creases to go along with those wrinkles when Long Island faces New York City at 7 p.m. at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium in the 22nd edition of the All-Star football game for seniors.

Ruthman, at 5-9, 160 pounds, is not your classically tall pocket quarterback with a cannon arm, but he’s got pocket presence, quick feet and throws darts. As a Newsday All-Long Island first-team selection last fall, Ruthman passed for a school-record 2,764 yards and 31 touchdowns. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes and had a career day with six TD tosses against Carey.

So Stanley knows firsthand what kind of talent he has in Ruthman. “I saw it personally for two years,” Stanley said of his Nassau II opponent. “The way the kid throws the ball is phenomenal.”

Ruthman feels the same way about being a part of a star-studded offensive unit. “It’s great. It’s kind of like a super team, a high school dream team,” he said. “You have a lot of weapons. You’re surrounded by all great players on one team. It’s something that you don’t really see.”

While Ruthman is more likely to carve up the New York City defense in modest chunks, Tucker is apt to serve up touchdowns in larger slices. He accumulated 1,081 yards rushing last year as the quarterback in Freeport’s vaunted spread, most of them on long gains. He also threw for 1,404 yards and 19 touchdowns. He passed for two TDs and ran for another in Freeport’s 28-14 victory over Floyd in the Long Island Class I championship. “I’m very versatile,” said Tucker, also a 2016 first-team All-Long Island choice.

While it’s true that he has thrown well in practice, it’s not Tucker’s arm that turns heads. “Rashad is a tremendous athlete. He can do so much with his legs,” Stanley noted. “His strength is his athleticism and we’ll do what we can to maximize his strength.”

Tucker is looking forward to getting Long Island back on track. NYC rallied late to end a six-game losing streak with a 39-34 victory last year, but Long Island leads the series 12-7. “We’re going to hit them in the air and with the running game,” Tucker said. “It’s very exciting. We are all capable of breaking one at any time. It’ll be fun to see.”

But maybe not for the NYC defense. “It depends on how they prepare for us. They’ll know that I’m more of a passer and Rashad’s more of a runner as the game goes on,” Ruthman said. “It’s hard to play the run [for Tucker] and then play the pass [for Ruthman]. It definitely will take a toll on them.”

Will that toll be EZ-run or EZ-pass?

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