Two North Bergen students were chosen to participate in a prestigious national football game in Dallas that was played in January. Seventh graders Ethan Govea and Michael Santini participated in a week of activities including training, networking and a visit to the Cotton Bowl, culminating in their playing on the winning team at the Junior Academic All American Bowl.
It all began many months earlier.
“I was just playing a game and afterward some guy came on the field and it was Marvin, and the head coach called us on the field and he congratulated us and told us we were chosen to participate in the game in Philly,” explained Michael.
IV Star Showcase
“Marvin” is Marvin Chambers, CEO of IV Star Showcase, a regional East Coast operation. “We’re a recruiting agency and we provide a service for getting these kids recruited through our games.”
IV Star Showcase is designed to promote outstanding young football players with strong academic credentials through a series of exhibition games. Participants are nominated by parents, teachers, coaches, or other interested parties, and demonstration videotapes must be submitted.
“Our process is very meticulous. Last year there were 200 kids selected out of 5,000 nominations,” said Chambers. Based on the information submitted, IV Star Showcase recruiters travel to schools up and down the East Coast to evaluate the nominees.
Chambers recalled the first time he saw Ethan and Michael.
“They’re very special kids and they play very hard.” – Marvin Chambers
“Michael is a linebacker, a fullback,” Chambers said. “Govea, he played center some games, some games end or tackle. What I liked is they’re very coachable, flexible. You could see the passion and the sportsmanship. You don’t see at that age kids who are able to move around for the team. They’re very special kids and they play very hard.”
Based on what he saw, Chambers made an offer for the two to come play the IV Star Showcase in Pennsylvania.
“There’s a lot of people there checking out their talent,” he said. “Our main goal is to get them to the next level. Academics come first, we teach that all the time. We also want these guys to develop kinship, bonding, because hopefully they’ll be playing together on a collegiate level.”
Both Michael and Ethan performed well at the games—well enough that they were scouted by national all-star recruiters.
“There was an evaluation by Bret Cooper and his executive committee,” Chambers said.
From that game, 12 kids were chosen to participate in the Junior Academic All American Bowl.
“About two weeks after I got back from the first all-star games, my dad showed me the e-mail from Bret and I got really excited,” remembered Ethan.
Junior Academic All American Bowl
Bret Cooper started the Junior Academic All American Bowl four years ago, after running a similar program in Arizona. The program is intended to highlight the best student athletes from across the country.
“We created it to give a new way of recognizing them on the football field,” said Cooper. “In order to get recognized for college and recruited, they look at you academically and your character first. To be selected for the Junior Academic All American Bowl you need to have a 3.0 GPA.”
“We’re seen as kind of a filter,” he continued. “Colleges want to know if the kids are coachable. That’s the kind of kids the colleges want. They look at these kids as early recruits. And kids are getting recognized. Last year we had 28 players that were offered scholarships in eighth and ninth grade.”
The program, held annually in Texas, consists of an intensive week of training, practice, drills… and fun.
“This year we had the Cotton Bowl teamed up with us,” said Cooper. “That was an experience for the kids—not only to attend the bowl, but to attend as an All-American. They had jerseys on, they attended pre-game events, they held trophies for photos.”
And then there was the game itself.
“They competed against top players from all over the country and Canada. One hundred and fifteen kids participated this year.”
As for Ethan and Michael, “Both were on the winning team, so they had a good time,” Cooper said.
“The games themselves are great opportunities to show what you can do,” said Ethan of the experience. “I learned how different coaches coach, different styles of playing, new ways of playing, how to get better, how to work hard with everything, not just football.”
“Everything is possible,” said Michael. “You have to work really hard to get to the next level.
Just keep on training and get ready for the next football season and do well in school. School comes first.”
“My whole family’s been involved with football,” he added, “and I just want to carry on the legacy.”
“One of the reasons we moved back from Bergen County,” said Michael’s mother, Jennifer Santini, “was so my son could continue playing for Hudson County. My dad [legendary local coach Vincent Ascolese] coached here for a long time, like 39 years. He just retired a few years ago. My son always wanted to play for North Bergen.”
“I mostly did it for my grandpa,” said Michael.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.