By Joseph Staszewski
The talk around the New York City roster the most recent Empire Challenge football games has been about the players heading to Syracuse.
It became a ritual over the last five years to count the number of stars headed to the Orange on both sides of the New York vs. Long Island senior all-star game at Hofstra University.
That changed when the two squads clashed on Tuesday, a 40-8 Long Island whitewashing, to benefit the Boomer Esiason Foundation for cystic fibrosis. All eyes were on the three recruits heading to the University of Connecticut: tight end Jordan Fuchs of Christ the King and defensive tackle Folorunso “Foley” Fatukasi of Beach Channel, who joined Poly Prep defensive end Cameron Stapleton on the city roster. The trio hoped it would be the start of regular participation by numerous Huskies recruits for the city in the future.
“UConn is still growing,” Fatukasi said. “Hopefully, it changes.”
The opportunity is there for UConn to follow in Orange’s footsteps.
It started at Syracuse when former Orange Coach and Bronx native Doug Marone landed one or two kids and the rest felt comfortable enough to follow. Marone has since become the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
Guys like Fuchs, Fatukasi and Stapleton, because of their character, can be great ambassadors for UConn in the coming years.
“Great attitude, great work ethic and they are a pleasure to coach,” said NYC and Erasmus Hall head Coach Danny Landberg of the three.
Fuchs, a tight end who began playing high school football just two years ago, said a number of younger players have already expressed interest about UConn to him. They want to be the next in line, with former St. Joseph by the Sea running back Lyle McCombs and former Boys & Girls safety Wilbert Lee already in Storrs, Conn.
“They see guys like me and Cam going up there and it makes them want to go out there and be with us,” Fuchs said.
For now, the players are getting to know each other before they head to school June 25 for summer classes. Stapleton and Fatukasi will be roommates. They have only met in passing twice, but have talked often on Facebook. Being around each other and seeing the other play has only heightened their excitement to start the next stage of their lives together. That includes Stapleton backing up his constant talk on the field.
“That guy is hilarious,” Fatukasi said. “I can really get used to him. For me to be with him right now it kind of gives us like a head start on getting to know each other.”
Their presence in the game only heightens UConn’s presence in the metro area. The Huskies, who will play in the American Athletic Conference next year, are coming off a share of the Big East title and had a school record five players selected in the NFL draft. UConn became a Division I program in 2000.
“I feel a lot of kids are suspect of going there because it just started,” Stapleton said. “They are building their program up.”
He, Fuchs and Fatukasi could be the beginning of a pipeline of city kids who will help them do so even more.