By Laura Amato
Holy Cross defensive end Stephen Barongi got the news in February.
He had been selected to participate in this year’s Empire Challenge at Hofstra University. The annual football game, now in its 21st year, pits the best players in New York City against the top talent on Long Island. Barongi was thrilled at the prospect of competing.
Then he realized he’d be competing alone—kind of. Barongi was flanked by some of the city’s best when he took the field at Hofstra University Tuesday, but there was one very important difference. He was the only player from Queens.
It was a startling realization for Barongi, but one he took in stride. In fact, realizing that he was the only player representing Queens made him want to play even harder.
After all, it’s easy to bring an extra bit of intensity to your hits when you realize you’re representing an entire borough.
“It means a lot, honestly,” Barongi said. “It’s a honor to do that. I really just want represent my borough. I was just ecstatic. I was very, very excited to play.”
Barongi helped make history as New York City battled back for a 39-34 victory over Long Island, the first time the city had won the charity tilt since 2010.
His stats this past season are more than enough reason to make this year’s squad.
As a senior, Barongi racked up 55 total tackles, including 41 solo, as well as nine tackles for a loss. He recorded four sacks, forced three fumbles and recovered two.
In other words, he was a defensive force to be reckoned with.
He brought the same approach to the Empire Challenge, supported by a small army of family members sporting custom-made jerseys. He was focused on just one thing as soon as the ball was snapped—hitting someone.
“Hit some kids hard and win the game,” Barongi said of his pre-game approach. “I want a sack. I want to get a couple of good tackles.”
The weeks leading up to the Empire Challenge were a little strange for Barongi.
He and his fellow New York City all-stars held a handful of practices prior to the game and it wasn’t always easy for the squad to meld. After spending four years playing against each other, suddenly turning into teammates was a bit of a challenge.
Still, Barongi relished the opportunity to suit up as a high school player one last time and even he had to admit that the early-morning practice sessions were fun.
“Practice has been great,” he said. “We’ve been going hard and we just wanted to come out and try to play as well as we could.”
Barongi followed up on his pre-game expectations, hauling down Long Island quarterback Mike Catanese and forcing an incomplete pass with just seconds left on the clock.
Now that his high school football career is in the rearview mirror, Barongi has his sights set on Jireh Preparatory Academy in North Carolina, where he’s hoping another year of exposure will help attract some big-time college offers.
It might all be over, but Barongi has loved his time on the high school gridiron and, in the end, he simply hopes he did his borough proud.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” he said. “It went so quick. But it was all great.”