Jack Cheshire spent months savoring the notion of playing football this fall. The Sayville senior quarterback threw for a Long Island-record 43 touchdowns last season and looked forward to playing another great campaign before Golden Flashes fans and college recruiters. Then the coronavirus pandemic got in the way of all that.
New York is one of more than 20 states that is not playing high school football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19. On Long Island, the governing bodies for school sports in Nassau and Suffolk plan to play a compressed football season in March and April. So for those who hope to land a scholarship offer — like Cheshire — the opportunities to make an impression have been little or none so far and the future chances are uncertain.
It's one of the reasons Cheshire accepted an invitation to compete in Saturday’s Elite Five NYC Football Showcase. On the field at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains more than 300 high school football recruits ran drills with approximately 10 video cameras recording every rep. Each will be able to use that footage in a tape they can send to colleges that want to recruit them but are currently not permitted to make in-person evaluations because of the NCAA’s COVID protocols.
"Losing our fall season does hurt us," Cheshire said. "There’s states where they’re already playing football in the fall. Colleges are jumping on those kids. Our not playing is a setback . . . maybe this helps close the gap."
The showcase is primarily designed to bring exposure to players from New York City’s five boroughs, but organizers did issue invitations to some top players from surrounding areas. Cheshire was one of 10 Long Islanders to receive one.
The others were Oceanside junior quarterback Charlie McKee, Lindenhurst senior linebacker Jack Winey, Carey senior linebacker Anthony DeNicola, St. John the Baptist senior running back Jayden Louis, Amityville senior defensive lineman Tyleek Hendricks, West Hempstead senior linebacker Abubakarr Kargbo, Sachem East senior offensive lineman Daniel Pearo, Chaminade senior offensive lineman Takvor Blaise and Sachem North junior offensive lineman Joseph Cruz.
"This was a chance to compete against some really high-level guys and I was proud to be repping Long Island here," Winey said. "I hope colleges will be able to see what happened here and that it will help."
"It’s pretty fun to be able to get back on the field and do something competitive when your season’s been cancelled," McKee said. "The competition is good."
Asked whether the limited opportunities to make an impression on college programs has put extra pressure on players in an event like this, McKee replied "there’s always some pressure, but with no pressure you get no diamonds."
Cheshire, McKee and a handful of other quarterbacks took turns throwing to receivers in one-on-one coverage. The linebackers played defense on the receivers in those drills. Linemen did maneuvers involving footspeed and dodging obstacles; their one-on-one contests were about staying in front of each other without contact. All players wore masks throughout the showcase.
When the event was first planned back in June by George Lanese of AboutUOutreach.org, the idea was to have college coaches for in-person evaluations. However the NCAA has twice extended the dead period for such activities. That’s when the outfit decided to shoot huge sums of video to accomplish their goal.
"There are inequities that have gotten out of control and put New York athletes at a recruiting disadvantage," he said. "We not only hope that this showcase can compensate for that, but maybe becomes a model. Colleges are heading toward years of financial difficulties because of the pandemic and this could be a way for them to see more players."
For the Long Islanders at the showcase, there remains unbounded hope for a season that starts in March though.
"I’m really hoping we’ll be playing in March," McKee said. "I am remaining optimistic."
Added Winey: "We’re willing to play high school football whenever we can. I am just glad to have something to look forward to."