HEMPSTEAD, LI — For standout New York City and Long Island football players, the Empire Challenge marks the end of their high school careers.
But for Christ the King’s Jordan Fuchs, Cameron Stapleton from Poly Prep and Beach Channel’s Folorunso Fatukasi, Tuesday night’s all-star game at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium is just the beginning.
This fall, the trio will play football at the University of Connecticut together — among five from the city attending the Division I school — and the Empire Challenge will feature them playing as teammates for the first time, likely in front of a crowd of thousands.
“For me to be with them right now, it kind of gives us a head start getting to know each other,” Fatukasi said.
After years of watching the Empire Challenge, which raises money for the Boomer Esiason Foundation’s battle against cystic fibrosis, Fatukasi, 18, will finally get a chance to compete.
“I’ve always said to myself, ‘Yo, I’m going to play in this game one day.’ I believed it and I worked hard throughout my season and now I’m here rocking an NYC helmet,” the 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive tackle from Far Rockaway said. “I feel really honored and accomplished by just being here.”
Fatukasi, who had 78 tackles and 10 sacks as a senior at Beach Channel, has already formed a friendship with Stapleton. The two first met at UConn’s junior day and again at the spring game.
“He’s a funny guy,” Fatukasi said of Stapleton. “He acts like my little brother. That guy’s hilarious. I can really get used to him.”
They will get that chance soon enough — as roommates, as well as teammates.
“We were asked a month or two ago who we wanted our roommates to be. I said I wanted Foley because I’ve been talking to him on Facebook and he seems like a good kid, coming from a good family,” Stapleton said. “He actually chose me too, so it worked out perfect.”
Like Fatukasi, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Stapleton has looked forward to playing in the Empire Challenge. Coming from Poly Prep in Brooklyn, which plays an independent schedule that doesn’t include PSAL or CHSFL teams, Stapleton, 18, doesn’t get to showcase his skills against the other top players from New York City often.
“I’m just trying to show we can ball too,” said Stapleton, a Staten Island native who had 39 tackles and nine sacks as senior defensive end at Poly Prep.
The game’s attendance has grown each year and it’s likely upwards of 13,000 fans will pack Shuart Stadium Tuesday night. It’s something Fuchs couldn’t comprehend as he scanned the stands following a practice Friday afternoon.
Fuchs, a tight end from Malverne who had 27 receptions for 374 yards and five touchdowns as a senior, said most of his games in two years of playing football at Christ the King had “like 30 people there.”
“I can’t picture that in my head,” Fuchs said. “I’ve never seen that many people. It should be a good experience.”
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound two-sport standout, who also guided the Christ the King basketball team to a New York State Federation Class AA title, will soon play his football at Rentschler Field with a capacity of 40,000.
Fuchs, 18, gets to share that experience with his new teammates from the Empire Challenge.
“I just started to get to know them, but they’re real cool guys,” Fuchs said. “It will be fun playing with them.”
Just six days after the Empire Challenge, the trio leaves for Connecticut, joining Wilbert Lee from Boys & Girls and former St. Joseph by the Sea standout Lyle McCombs as New York City football players on the Huskies roster.
“I don’t have that much time left here. It’s crazy,” Stapleton said. “I’ve been in school here for so many years, but now I have to leave. It’s a crazy feeling but I know I’m ready. It’s another chapter of my life I have to accomplish and take hold of.”
Could they be the start of a pipeline to UConn?
For years Syracuse had a firm grip on the five boroughs, but that is now up for grabs after Orange coach Doug Marrone left to become the Buffalo Bills head coach, taking lead New York City recruiter John Anselmo with him.
“I don’t see why not,” said New York City coach Danny Landberg, who guided Erasmus Hall to the PSAL Championship Division title in December.
“[UConn assistant coach] Jon Wholley does a great job coming in and making his relationship strong with us.”