By Brett Carroll
Three Manalapan High School football players will end a lifetime connection as teammates when they compete in the annual All-Shore Gridiron Classic all-star game pitting Monmouth County against Ocean County June 29.
Sean Kinniburgh, Cody Weiner and Jon Pimentel have been together on the football fields through their youth years up until their senior season at Manalapan last autumn.
They will suit up for the Monmouth County team before heading off to their respective colleges in September.
Kinniburgh will play in the secondary, Weiner will serve as the punter and Pimentel will position himself at linebacker for Monmouth County when the all-star game is contested at Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch. The all-star game will kick off at 7 p.m.
Manalapan coach Ed Gurrieri feels that his players will stand out in the game.
“It’s a great group,” Gurrieri said. “They’re a great group of leaders. They led our squad to an 11-1 record and a state title game. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Gurrieri also advised his players to enjoy the game.
“I told them to go out there and have fun,” Gurrieri said. “I also told them that the kids that you grew up hating and who were your rivals are going to end up being your best friend by the end of the week. It’s funny how that happens in these games. It’s a great bonding experience, and the guys that were your rivals throughout the years always somehow wind up to be good friends later down the road.”
Weiner was excited to play with Kinniburgh and Pimentel while he revealed that their last game together should be special.
“It feels great because we’ve played together for so long,” Weiner said. “Jon and Sean are two of my best friends, so it’s going to be special to play this final game together before we all go our separate ways.”
Kinniburgh, who is headed to Monmouth University, will not only bid farewell to his teammates, but also to the sport itself.
“I’m not playing college football next year,” Kinniburgh said. “I was conflicted for a while, but I want my entire focus to be on my grades. I figured that if my heart wasn’t totally into football, then it’s a waste of time.”
Kinniburgh plans to embrace the experience of playing in the all-star game.
“Playing with my brothers on either side of me will be great,” Kinniburgh said. “Since I’m not going to play next year, getting to go out with those two will be phenomenal.”
Weiner has plans to walk on and earn a spot as punter for the University of Delaware.
“This has definitely been an honor,” Weiner said. “I’ve been kicking since I was 8 years old. I just want to get better so I can keep doing what I love. I want to kick as best as I can on [June 29].”
Weiner and Kinniburgh both thought that their final season at Manalapan was a success despite having their bid to finish the year undefeated and as a state sectional champion ruined with a loss to Piscataway Township High School in the title game.
Manalapan ended the season with an 11-1 record after the Braves were defeated by Piscataway, 34-13, in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey, Group V championship game in December at Rutgers University. That victory enabled Piscataway to avenge a 21-10 loss to Manalapan during the regular season Oct. 29.
Weiner’s favorite memory of the season was when Manalapan gained its share of revenge with a 34-20 victory over South Brunswick High School in the sectional semifinals.
“Beating South Brunswick in the state semifinals was definitely the best moment of the year,” Weiner said. “They had beaten us in the state semifinals the year before in their house. To be able to have them in our house this year and get revenge was great.”
South Brunswick went on to win the Central Jersey, Group V title in 2015.
Kinniburgh will remember the first game against Piscataway, when he was able to get an interception return for a touchdown in that October game that was also played at Rutgers University.
“Getting a pick six against Piscataway was amazing,” Kinniburgh said. “It was during the Rutgers Showcase, so it was extra special because you always want to make big plays at the Rutgers Showcase.”
Kinniburgh hopes that his last game will also be a special one, but he wants to just enjoy the game one last time.
“Honestly, I hope [the] game just gives me the same feeling that football has always given me,” Kinniburgh said. “I just to be able to fly around on defense and enjoy the moment. Hopefully, I’ll get a pick six, because, hey, why not?”
Pimentel will attend Brookdale Community College while he plays for the New Jersey Warriors. The New Jersey Warriors are made up of players who attend any junior college in New Jersey.