It gave current NFL player Jihad Ward a chance he believes helped change the trajectory of his life.
From nearly head to toe, it prepared Florida International University senior Teair Tart-Spencer for a 'last chance” that helped him become a Division I football standout.
For Imhotep senior Nasier Dean, it represents a final opportunity to make a first impression of sorts.
Despite a recent scandal that left its future in doubt, the Philadelphia City All-Star Football Game, which began in 1975, will be played Saturday at 5 p.m. at Northeast High School, featuring about 80 of the area’s top football players.
New Father Judge coach Frank McArdle will lead the Non-Public team. Imhotep coach Nick Lincoln will lead the Public side.
In February, The Inquirer reported allegations of embezzlement against the game’s former executive committee president, Brian Fluck, the now-former longtime football coach at West Catholic.
In an email to The Inquirer on behalf of other executive committee members, attorney Fortunato N. Perri Jr. accused Fluck of misappropriating and embezzling “funds that he was entrusted to manage while in his capacity as president.”
In an email to The Inquirer, Fluck’s attorney, Richard F. Klineburger III, wrote that his client was “more than willing” to participate in a full-fledged audit “to ensure that he, along with the Board, complied with the by-laws.”
Perri, the executive committee lawyer, said he was unaware of the situation’s legal status. A spokesperson for the state Attorney General’s Office said: “We can neither confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.”
On March 6, West Catholic school officials announced in an email statement to The Inquirer that Fluck’s contract expired at the end of last season and was not renewed. He had been the Burrs coach since 1999.
Near the end of March, Ward, a standout at Bok who graduated in 2012, contacted the Inquirer to talk about what the All-Star Game did for him, and offer support for its current players.
Sports Illustrated featured Ward in a story about his time in junior college at Globe Institute of Technology in New York City. It required a “24.5-mile round-trip commute—nearly three of those miles on foot—and around 200 minutes in transit over a five-day week,” just to get to practice from his residence on Long Island.
He later earned a scholarship to the University of Illinois as one of the nation’s most sought-after junior-college players. In 2016, he was drafted No. 44 overall by the Oakland Raiders.
That journey began, he said, with belief that came from the city All-Star Game.
“It gave me a chance to believe I could be up there,” Ward said via phone back in March while on vacation overseas.
Playing with and against guys headed to Division I schools, he said, some of whom he hadn’t played against in the Public League, gave him confidence. Ward said he still talks to Philly natives currently in the NFL such as Jaelen Strong (Cleveland Browns), Will Parks (Denver Broncos), and Will Fuller (Houston Texans) about his All-Star Game experiences.
“When I believed in that,” said Ward, who played for the Indianapolis Colts last season, “I didn’t think I’d be in the situation I am now.”
The game was last held at Lincoln Financial Field in 2012. Ward has since played against the Eagles with the Raiders and Colts.
“It felt like you were in the league,” Ward said. “That’s the kind of impact it had. It impacted me so much that every time I play the Eagles and sack [Carson] Wentz or Nick Foles, I feel like I’m in the All-Star Game. Every time I come home, I feel like I’m in the All-Star Game. I think about that every time.”
In 2015 at Northeast High, Tart-Spencer was named the game MVP in defeat for the Public team.
“It meant the world to me,” he said in a May 2 interview while in the city. “I wasn’t a big name. I didn’t get invited to any other [All-Star] Game.”
“I felt like I worked really hard to get that," he added, "and I put my heart and soul into that game,”
Before it began, motivation was on his mind and goals were tucked away in his left sock.
Former Ben Franklin coach David Carter, coach of the Public team that season, suggested players jot down goals for the game, stuff the paper in their socks and chase those goals.
“That’s what I did,” he said. “I just went out and balled out, had fun, and played for my teammates and boys around me.”
He also learned useful techniques during practice from Martin Luther King senior Dawayne Young, a teammate on the Public squad.
“I actually use that in my game to date,” said Tart-Spencer, who started in junior college at East Mississippi College, also known as Last Chance U of Netflix fame. “I actually get a bit of my sacks off of that.”
There’s no doubt Imhotep senior Nasier Dean will also be chasing sacks. The 6-foot, 180-pound linebacker and defensive back called it a privilege and a blessing to be selected to the game he’s attended as a spectator since before high school. Make no mistake, however, Dean is hunting something else as well.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove, because in this city, my name is not buzzing where I want it to be,” said Dean, who will play at California University (Pa.) next season. “I want everybody to know me.