Mashawn Simmons made the last play for the latest iteration of the John F. Kennedy Knights football team. The defensive tackle made a stop after a three-yard gain.
Then came graduation and the tears.
Simmons, quarterback Anthony Cruz and tight end Christian Perez played in the 19th annual Empire Challenge at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, New York on June 25. The game pits exceptional senior football players from New York City against their counterparts from Long Island in an all-star game sponsored by former NFL Pro Bowler Boomer Esiason.
The Kennedy Campus Knights will field a football team next season, but under a different configuration of schools. So Simmons, Cruz and Perez were the last athletes to represent the current version before graduation.
Simmons made three tackles, including one for a four-yard loss, in New York City’s 24-18 loss in front of a record crowd of 9,762.
JFK’s closure was much on the athlete’s mind.
“It’s a sad feeling,” Simmons said. “Just to know my school’s closing down and I won’t have a school to come back to, it hurts. But I’m always going to be a Kennedy Knight.”
Cruz, who will play at Nassau Community College next season, and Perez, who will play at Monroe College, hooked up for the final points in Knights history — a two-point conversion pass into the right flat to pull the NYC team within 11-8 in the third quarter.
Cruz was the starting quarterback for the City team. He ran for 15 yards on four carries and his only completion in four attempts was to Perez for nine yards.
“Me and [Perez] feel so accomplished that we both made it,” Cruz said. “Freshman year, we would think about it to feel how it would be to be all-City. I always watched it every year, and just to be playing in this game, I feel so honored. I cried before this game because it means so much to me.”
Cruz engineered a nine-play, 64-yard scoring drive, capped by Erasmus running back Kahlil Lewin’s one-yard touchdown plunge. Cruz also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, to give Long Island a 24-11 lead in the fourth quarter.