HOPEWELL: Gies named ‘Outstanding Player’ of Sunshine Classic

By Rich Fisher, Packet Media Group
EWING – Mike Gies and Matt Graziano will both be playing college football and neither will be playing it at The College of New Jersey.
But TCNJ’s turf field will always hold special memories for both Hopewell Valley Central High players.
On Wednesday, July 1, Gies walked away with the Sunshine Classic’s Outstanding Player Award for his effort in the West team’s 21-0 win over the East. One of Gies’ biggest plays was a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown that got called back due to a clip, but the whole play was put in motion by a crushing block from Graziano.
“Both boys really competed,” said HVCHS coach Dave Caldwell, who served as a West assistant. “They’re all-star character kids and I’m glad they ended up playing like All-Stars in a great All-Star game.
“Both boys played unbelievable. You see why Mike is going to Lehigh. Big time players make big time plays in big time games and that’s what he did.”
The Bulldog duo excelled on the same field that it defeated Lawrence for the 2013 Central Jersey Group III championship.
“Big games,” Graziano said of TCNJ. “Fun times.”
“It’s so great coming back here where we won the state championship and ending it this way on this field, it really means something,” Gies said. “It’s a good way to go out and finish your high school career.”
Gies definitely finished with a flair. He started in the second quarter, when he went down the middle of the field and caught a delivery from North Hunterdon’s Ryan McDonald in stride for a 67-yard touchdown catch.
“The inside receiver does a smash and I’m supposed to rub off his butt,” Gies said. “I timed it perfectly, he timed it perfectly, the ball was right there and all I had to do was catch it.”It was the product of some week-long cramming between Gies and McDonald.
“We went out on a Saturday before practice started and coach introduced us and we ran some routes and stuff like that,” Gies said. “We just started early.”
The touchdown gave the West a 6-0 lead but the East answered with a 64-yard march to the 4-yard line. Forced to settle for a field goal, even that was squashed when Gies went up to block the 24-yard attempt. That play proved to be the biggest in securing the first shutout in Classic history since the format went to East vs. West 10 years ago.
“I just tried to get the biggest jump I could get, it worked out for the best,” Gies said.
The heroics continued into the end of the third quarter when Gies took a punt at the 22, ran to his right and went 78 yards for the score. A clip was called, however, reducing the play to a 20-yard return. But the most memorable moment of the sequence was a bone-shattering block by Graziano to spring Gies.
“Coach (Rob) Radice puts in that punt return,” Caldwell said. “Graz and Mike have been running that all year and it worked to perfection. Well, almost to perfection.”Gies loved watching his teammate go to work.
“Oh man, that was bad,” he said with a grin. “I turned the corner, the first guy I saw, I forget what color helmet he was, but I all I saw was Graz coming and he had him pinned out. I saw it happen the whole time. “
“I was real excited,” Graziano said. “I was just trying to get Gies into the endzone, that’s my job.
Neither player seemed too upset the play got called back, especially since it ended up setting a final scoring drive that chewed up over nine minutes of clock.
“I wasn’t too bummed about it,” Gies said. “All these guys are working their butts off. It worked out for the best, I can’t complain.
“I wasn’t that disappointed,” Graziano said. “I know Gies was real happy with the play.” In the end, everyone was happy with the experience.
“It was great to meet all the guys, make some new brothers,” Graziano said. “And it’s great to play for the (Sunshine Foundation) kids.”