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Little Footballers Hit The Big Time 

Griffin Deegan runs a play against Plainview during halftime of Sunday’s Jets game.

It was hard to tell the young athletes of the Harborfields Youth Football team from the professional football players of the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday – aside from the tremendous difference in height, that is.

Donning uniforms that are the same dark green as the New York pro team, the 10-year-olds did virtually everything the Jets did during the game that day. The boys suited up in helmets and pads, walked through the VIP tunnels, and made a grand entrance on the field at halftime to run a few plays. And everywhere they went, fans high-fived them.

The invitation to play on the field during the Jets-Dolphins game on Sunday was a special treat for the Harborfields team, who went undefeated in its inaugural year.

The boys were pumped but focused as they stood in the tunnel, waiting for the cue to play on the same field as do their idols from the Jets and the New York Giants. The handful of coaches and parents with them were just as excited as the boys, if not more – perhaps because they were better able to grasp the magnitude of what they all were about to experience.

“[My son] is excited about it, but I don’t think he has any idea. When he gets out there, he’s going to be blown away,” Andrew Sangiovanni said. “I said to him, ‘When you look out on that field and you see 80,000 people, you’re going to realize how special a moment this is.”

Halftime came and the little Harborfields soldiers marched out onto the field at the same time the Jets and Dolphins jogged off. A booming voice over the sound system announced their arrival as they ran to center field to face off against neighboring youth team, Plainview. The boys looked simply colossal as their images were projected on MetLife Stadium’s jumbotrons, but were likely ant-sized to the naked eyes of the nearly 150 members of the Harborfields community watching from the stands in sections 330 and 331.

The team had rehearsed their plays many times in preparation for their quick halftime game, and ran them like a well-oiled machine, swapping players constantly so everyone could have a turn on the larger-than-life field.

The boys were so intently focused on their own game, in fact, that as the halftime clock wound down and the Jets and their opponents started to take the field, the little football players continued to play, barely noticing that practice field goals were soaring over their heads.

When their time on the field was up, however, the reality of it all seemed to sink in rather quickly. The boys became very aware of their surroundings and stretched out their arms to slap hands with every Jets player in sight. The pros delivered, high-fiving the kids with big smiles as they ran by.

“I touched Geno Smith! I touched the whole Jets team!” Joseph Carino said of giving the Jets’ quarterback a high-five.

And with that, the short game they played against Plainview no longer mattered.

“I don’t even care that we lost, Dad. That was really cool,” Ethan McGuinness said to his father when they were reunited.

“It was really amazing. I felt like I was an actual Jets player!” Andrew Widmer said.

The pro field at MetLife stadium made an impression on the boys, who explained the difference between that field and the fields they usually play on in a few short sentences: “It’s turf.” “It’s soft.” “It’s gigantic.” And “there are millions of people watching.”

Sunday’s trip to the Jets game was truly a monumental end to a memorable season. In the grade level’s first year fielding a team in the Harborfields Youth Football League, the squad went undefeated with a 9-0-1 record. The team plays in the Suffolk Police Athletic League, and for a program in its infancy, it is one that is  expected to grow, especially from the exposure of playing at MetLife.

“After such a great inaugural season competing in the PAL league and going undefeated, playing at MetLife Stadium during halftime of an NFL game is such a cool experience that these boys will remember for the rest of their lives,” said assistant coach Sean Deegan.

The parents were just as grateful to the coaches and the Jets organization as the players themselves were. Parent Lisa Phillips had nothing but praise for the coaches, who made the season a special one for her son, Brian.

“I feel like he’s a little pro-football player!” she said after seeing her son play on the NFL field. “He will remember this forever.”

Ross Weber contributed to this report.

 

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