This year's first MetLife Stadium preseason game was exciting for more reasons than just one. On Aug. 21, The Giants defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 25-22, to clinch a second straight preseason win. And amidst the Giants' triumph, five local youth football teams celebrated wins of their own.
In attendance at Sunday's preseason game were five youth football teams, each of which were honored in recognition of Play Football month. Though the teams hail from different parts of the New York metropolitan area, they are all similar in one way.
Their resilience has driven success beyond their wildest dreams.
Before ringing the Giants Pride Bell, Shore Regional High School students Julia Iannuzzelli, a quarterback, and Devyn Minnig, a wide receiver, absorbed the pregame festivities from the sidelines. The duo was at a loss for words. As back-to-back champions of the Shore Conference Girls High School Flag Football League, neither could imagine their time at Shore Regional without the sport.
When asked how flag football shaped their high school experience, Iannuzzeli revealed, "It just made it more fun. (The team) all became so close together." Their coach, Mark Costantino, who also coaches Shore Regional's tackle football team, was in agreement. The support between the flag and tackle football programs, he told, is nothing short of incredible. "Football is football," Costantino insisted.
Shore Regional's participation at Sunday's game embodied a full circle moment, as the Giants funded the conference's establishment in 2020 alongside Nike, a corporate partner. In January 2022, the Giants celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day with a $60,000 donation to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHAA). The donation, split equally between Section 1 and Section 4, enabled high schools around New York State to establish roots in the girl's flag football space. In the Giants' offseason, quarterback Daniel Jones and linebacker Blake Martinez hosted clinics at high schools within both sections to aid in implementing girls flag football. The regular season winners of Section 1 and Section 4 – Brewster High School and Binghamton High School, respectfully, – were invited to partake in an exhibition game when the Giants and Bengals retreated to the locker room at halftime.
Matt Cunningham, head coach for Brewster's girls flag football team, described the invitation as a "lifetime opportunity." Assistant Coach Mike Castaldo echoed the sentiment and shared that their inaugural section title was a celebration of something even bigger than football; the establishment of flag football at Brewster High School aided in the athletes' character development. "I think (flag football's) going to serve them well later in life because they're going to be willing to take some risks in their lives and be successful," Castaldo said.
Senior captain and Brewster quarterback Bre Washington spoke with a maturity beyond her years as she awaited kickoff. "The best part (of flag football) is probably connecting with everybody and building a relationship because at the beginning of the season, I didn't know that many people on the team. I knew some, but as the season went on, we got better and better, which I didn't think would happen. And we actually did pretty good this season."
Though they are rivals on the field, Binghamton and Brewster shared a comfortability as two pioneers in the high school flag football scene.
"To jump into a brand-new sport and ask questions and learn the game and then win a championship at the end of it, that's just a testament to (the girls). They'll get to say to the girls down the line, in ten, fifteen years when this is hopefully a state-sponsored sport, 'We were the first Section IV team. We were the first to do it,'" Binghamton Head Coach Vaughn Labor said.
The other side of the halftime field mirrored the aura of excitement and accomplishment.
Mark Murray, Mount Vernon Razorbacks Head Coach, also attended Sunday's preseason game with his youth team. After the team's trailer was vandalized in March 2022, leaving the majority of their equipment damaged or stolen, the Giants awarded the team $10,000 through the NFL's Disaster Relief Grant. Murray's team was invited to play in a halftime exhibition game against the 2021 Disaster Relief recipients – the Manville Youth Athletic League. Manville's facilities were devastated in the wake of Hurricane Ida.
"Just for my community to get exposure to this – the young men in my community in Mount Vernon don't get to see things like this on the regular, so to bring them out here, to bring them onto the field means the world to me. I love to see the smile on their face," Murray shared prior to the Giants vs. Bengals seven o'clock kickoff.
As Murray stood alongside his team watching warmups from the sidelines, his young football players beamed ear-to-ear. "The (Giants) players signed my gloves. It's crazy," exclaimed Aidan Stewart, who admitted running back is his favorite role among his repertoire of capabilities that includes defensive tackle and center. Stewart and his fellow teammates were already acquainted with players like running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Justin Ellis, and wide receiver Robert Foster, who visited their football camp in May to bear news of the grant.
For Pat Gorbatuk, head coach of the Manville Youth Athletic League, Sunday's festivities were particularly meaningful in that he was able to share them with his family. To Gorbatuk, the experience was not a celebration of one team but rather a "giant celebration of football in the Manville community." Gorbatuk's role in Hurricane Ida cleanup efforts earned him the distinction of 2021 Week 2 Lou Rettino High School Coach of the Week. Given Pat's growing role in youth football and the community at large, it was Pat's wife Amanda who recognized her husband's dedication and ultimately applied for the grant. Their son Mathew, who shared that he has always been a devoted Giants fan, expressed his excitement about playing on the offensive line in the halftime exhibition game with Mount Vernon. "It's crazy. I've never been on a field like this," he admitted.
Sunday's preseason game also honored the coaches whose immense contributions to the sport continue to impact the next generation of athletes. Nine of the 2021 Lou Rettino High School Coach of the Week awardees and the 2021 Lou Rettino High School Coach of the Year were welcomed to the field to partake in Play Football month. Both Manville Youth Athletic League Head Coach Pat Gorbatuk and Shore Regional High School Head Coach Mark Costantino were among the group recognized. The full awardee class included:
Week 1 High School Coach of the Week: Mark Costantino, Shore Regional High School
Week 2 High School Coach of the Week: Pat Gorbatuk, Manville High School
Week 3 High School Coach of the Week: Robert Hampton, Lincoln High School
Week 4 High School Coach of the Week: Tyrone Turner, Shabazz High School
Week 5 High School Coach of the Week: Tommy Baleno, Union-Endicott High School
Week 6 High School Coach of the Week: Rick Burd, Dumont High School
Week 7 High School Coach of the Week: Greg Sheeler, Shaker High School
Week 8 High School Coach of the Week: Ryan Baldock, Cornwall Central High School
Week 9 High School Coach of the Week: Adam Baeira, Ramsey High School
Week 10 High School Coach of the Week: Frank Marchiano, Sparta High School
2021 High School Coach of the Year: Ray Oliver, East Orange Campus High School
For dozens of young athletes and their coaches, the Sunday festivities mark the beginning of a new chapter made possible by those who recognize the impact of football in the community. Though the five teams and coaches are diverse in many ways, they are forever joined by a common thread – football.
View photos of the New York Giants' 2022 roster as it currently stands.