Yesterday marked the third annual Roman's Soldiers Showcase at the Indoor Sports Pavilion in Randolph. The event, which has become March tradition in New Jersey, is hosted and directed by former NFL offensive lineman Roman Oben, and yesterday's edition featured the largest enrollment thus far, with roughly 100 kids from grades 8-11 participating.
"I'm really glad the program has grown and we now have high school head coaches fully supporting the event," Oben said. "From Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic, Pope John (Sparta), to Rancocas Valley, West Orange HS, Malcolm X Shabazz, and Millburn High Schools, kids came from various programs and did extremely well today."
While the camp serves as a showcase, typical combine drills such as the 40-yard dash are nowhere to be found. Rather, the players receive hands-on instruction during individual position periods before engaging in 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 competition.
Oben prefers this type of structure.
"My core philosophy is that there is a time to run 40's and do speed testing but March, when we're coming off brutal NJ winters, is not the time," he said. "It doesn't benefit a kid to run a sub par 40-yard time and it gets recorded. Football drills and competition have always been the ultimate equalizer."
Competition was at a high-level this year as several Division I prospects were among the high school attendees, and the large contingent of eighth graders at the event featured multiple campers with tremendous upside.
"This was the most competitive year by far," Oben said. "Some kids came for the experience to compete against top kids, and some came to prove that they were the best. Many parents thanked me for the program being well-organized, which I appreciated."
Three of Oben's NFL teammates -- Amani Toomer, Darien Barnes and Alshermond Singleton-- stopped by, with Barnes and Toomer speaking with campers.
Here is the list of top performers from the afternoon:
Chase Hebron-RB - One to watch down the road; Will attend DePaul Catholic
Berrell Neal- RB - Impressive Jersey City Pop Warner star is bound for Don Bosco)
Kevin Brennan - DB - Brennan competed against bigger, older competition in a fearless manner. Westfield native also headed to Don Bosco
Kashawn Decker -WR - Was named the camp's top overall ninth grader
Rashawn Gary-DL - Named best overall at the event; New Jersey's top recruit for 2016
JP Blassi-QB - Current Don Bosco Ironman who could emerge as the program's next starter
Zack Hawkins - Bergen Catholic wideout who was named top overall sophomore. A high-academic achiever, Hawkins could breakout this season for the Crusaders.
Kenny Wright-TE/DE - Rancocas Valley product who looks the part. Overall 10th grade MVP last year and overall 11th grade MVP this year. Has a Stony Brook offer and is waiting for bigger programs to come through.
Aaron Viltres-RB/DB - Quick, fast athlete from the Bronx has 1-AA interest and is also a track standout
Jordan Sandusky-QB - Won best overall QB at the event this year and last. Another Rancocas Valley product - Heavy Ivy/Patriot interest now and also hearing from Temple and Villanova. ACC programs could get involved later.
Jared Harris-WR (Milburn HS) - Won best overall wide receiver
Oden Gilzene-LB - Raw, put-together kid who could be a late bloomer. Best overall LB at the event but DE is likely best position.
Daivon Ellison-DB - Don Bosco cornerback was best overall defensive back by far. Major competitor, outstanding technique and ability to close. Already holds offers from Rutgers, Boston College and others.
Jake Pickard - Millburn product is blowing up and won best overall tight end. Big (6-foot-6, 220 pounds), moves well and can get down the field in a hurry. Played offensive line out of necessity as a junior but has the hands to stick at TE at the next level. Could also play defense
Tyree Humes - Humes was named the best overall DL but will play center in college. Lafayette will likely offer the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder.