Bernards quarterback Connor Laverty and Carteret linebacker Sir Hezekiah Ragland are among 20 student athletes from the tri-state area who are in the running this week for USA Football’s “Heart of a Giant” award, presented by the Hospital for Special Surgery and the NFL’s New York Giants.
According to USA Football’s website, the Heart of a Giant award “seeks to find and highlight Tri-State high school tackle and flag football athletes, student managers, student mascots or other designated student team members who demonstrate that extra something special. The ones that have a relentless work ethic and unmatched love for the game.”
Coaches wind up submitting hundreds of candidates, which get pared down into six voting groups to come up with one finalist per group. Laverty and Ragland are in the Week 5 voting, which began this week, and overlaps with Week 4 this week, and the Week 6 group next week. For those two, voting began back on October 5th and ends at 11:59 pm on October 22nd. Fans can vote once per day on the USA Football page, by clicking here.
They are the only two entrants from the Big Central Conference who made it to the voting round.
The six finalists will be announced at noon on October 30th, along with five wild card finalists. They all most then create a video of no longer than six minutes highlighting “the reasons that the player has a ‘Heart of a Giant.'” All the finalists win a $1,000 equipment grant for their school.
The ultimate winner will be announced no later than January 7th, 2024.
The player named to have the “Heart of a Giant” wins an addition $9,000 equipment grant for their school, and a trophy.
A Big Central player winning the award isn’t without precedent. Though the league was still yet to play its first game – its debut season was the 2020 COVID year – Shadon Willis of Hillside won the award in 2018.
Recognized on the USA Football website, Willis’ bio says: “At the age of four, when Shadon’s parents were no longer able take care of him and his three siblings, he found refuge with his aunt and uncle and considers his cousins as siblings. Because of his lack of resources, Shadon made some decisions that ended with him being benched his freshman year, while devastating at the time, he used this experience as motivation to change his life and now recognizes how the game of football has helped him overcome various hardships.”