Earlier this year, former Gilroy High School quarterback Niko Fortino had a message on his phone. On the other end of the voicemail, Independence High School head coach Norm Brown relayed the news Fortino had wanted to hear for quite some time. He had been chosen to be a member on the South squad in the Silicon Valley Youth Classic Charlie Wedemeyer All-Star football game – the annual exhibition that showcases the upper-echelon of outgoing senior football players in Santa Clara County.
“It was always one of my goals through high school to get into this game,” Fortino said by phone Friday. “So it’s exciting to be selected and to be able to play in it.”
After a courtesy call back to coach Brown, Fortino, not surprisingly, delivered the good word first to his parents.
“Everyone was pretty excited,” Fortino said.
As they should be. The 2011 first-team All-Tri-County League honoree will become the third member of the Fortino family to suit up in the Classic. Dad Tim played in the 1982 game, while cousin Mike blocked for Jeff Garcia in the 1988 soirée.
“I’m just really excited to be playing in it, especially since my dad played in it in high school, which makes it that much better for me,” Fortino added.
The signal caller joins a very short list of past Gilroy High quarterbacks to play in the Wedemyer game – including Garcia and, most recently, Jamie Jensen in 2009 – and is one of six locals suiting up for the South on Wednesday at Westmont High School.
Yes, there will be plenty of local flavor at this 38th prep spectacle. For the first time, Christopher High has representatives. Dillon Babb, Bryant Cid and Marcus Harrell, a trio that shouldered pivotal roles in leading the 2011 CHS varsity team to a league championship and program-first playoff berth, pave the way for future Cougars.
“We are the first three guys to come from Christopher High,” Cid said. “That’s an honor in and of itself. Hopefully down the line more players follow the footsteps.”
Gilroy High’s Jourdan Soares and Alfredo Mireles complete the Garlic Town group that is guaranteed to generate a generous offering of big-time plays. For a few of them, their high school careers have come full circle – teammates as youth through their freshmen year at GHS, rivals in the middle, and now teammates once more.
“This is my first time getting to play with Jourdan, Niko and Alfredo,” said Babb, who came to Gilroy from Oklahoma his sophomore year. “During the season, when you know you’re going to have to play them, you don’t really want to talk. But now you get to talk to them and it’s pretty fun.”
The football credentials attached to this six-pack of athletes is remarkable. Fall 2011 football awards, in part, include: Soares’ TCAL MVP, Harrell’s Monterey Bay League MVP, Cid’s Defensive Back of the Year award (MBL), Babb’s Defensive Lineman of the Year (MBL) nod, first team all-league selections for those five and Mireles’ second-team distinction.
“There’s no way the North is going to win,” Soares said at practice last week, surrounded by his Gilroy comrades who all agreed in volume to that bold prediction.
The South does have a miniature two-game winning streak entering Wednesday’s showdown – that coming after a four-year winless drought, which included a 28-28 tie in 2009.
“I’ve been looking forward to playing in this since I watched last year’s game,” Soares added. “When I watched it last year, everyone looked like they were having fun and I’m just excited to play.”
Soares should have plenty of opportunity to show off his speed at wide receiver, chasing down balls from a familiar friend in Fortino and two other prolific passers from the Central Coast Section in Willow Glen’s Mitch Ravizza and Leland’s Jason Habash.
“We are actually bonding a lot as a team right now and getting closer with a lot of the guys who I played against during the season, so it’s cool to get to know everybody,” Fortino said.
Harrell, who will play at Gavilan College in the fall, will line up in the backfield Wednesday and see some time at cornerback.
“It’s an honor and I’m just ready to play,” he said succinctly.
Mireles, too, is chomping at the bit and said he can’t wait to check out the North’s defensive linemen.
“There are some tough guys out there. It’s a good example of how college is going to look,” he said.
Mireles will play at West Valley in the fall.
The North is headed by Saratoga’s Tim Lugo, and against the South’s best efforts, will attempt to lead his contingent to victory for the first time since 2008.
The South defense will have the task of containing North quarterback Mike Butler (Mountain View) and a trio of West Catholic Athletic League running backs – Durell Crooks (St. Francis), Joe DeCecco (Mitty) and Dre Hill (Palo Alto.)
“You get to play with the best,” said Babb, who will play defensive end. “I’ve just been looking forward to it.”
Babb and the rest don’t have much longer to wait. Wednesday’s kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m.