Area Football Players Nominated For 'Heart Of A Giant' Award

A group of student-athletes in New York has been nominated for a prestigious award sponsored in part through the New York Giants.

Brandon Sweeney
Brandon Sweeney Photo Credit: Heart of a Giant
Jayvian Allen
Jayvian Allen Photo Credit: Heart of a Giant
Justin Barnhill
Justin Barnhill Photo Credit: Heart of a Giant
Jakym Jordan
Jakym Jordan Photo Credit: Heart of a Giant
Jaaron Joseph
Jaaron Joseph Photo Credit: Heart of a Giant
Anele Nwanyanwu
Anele Nwanyanwu Photo Credit: Heart of a Giant

Football players in Freeport and Coram on Long Island, Port Chester in Westchester, Bardonia in Rockland and Newburgh and Wallkill in Orange County have been nominated for the “Heart of a Giant” award, and now need their communities to vote them into the finals. Each week, 10 football players in the tristate area are nominated for voting, and their communities have 25 days to note them in.

Six finalists and four honorable mention finalists will ultimately be named. Each of those will receive $1,000 for their school’s football program, with the winner receiving an additional $9,000. The grand prize winner will also be celebrated during an on-field ceremony at a Giants’ home game in December.

Local student-athletes to be nominated include:
  • Jayvian Allen, from Freeport High School;
  • Justin Barnhill, from the Newburgh Free Academy;
  • Jakym Jordan, from Port Chester High School;
  • Jaaron Joseph, from Albertus Magnus High School in Bardonia;
  • Anele Nwanyanwu, from Longwood High School in Coram;
  • Brandon Sweeney, from Wallkill Senior High School. 

The “Heart of a Giant” award is “based on an athlete’s demonstration of commitment, dedication, will, character and teamwork. Candidates must possess a strong work ethic, leadership skills, the desire to succeed both on the field and in the classroom and the ability to inspire others to work together to achieve a common goal.”

According to the organizers of the "Heart of a Giant Award:"

  • “Football helps me to cope with the things my parents go through because it helps get my mind off the bad things that can happen,” says Jayvian Allen, defensive back for Freeport High School. Allen’s father is battling diabetes and Allen’s mother got into a car accident a few years ago. When Allen is playing football, his mind is on the game, not anything else. The Allen family loves football and has truly used it as a remedy. “Throughout it all my parents never missed a game and me seeing them there every week gave me hope that we would overcome the things that they were going through,” says Allen. Trainer Kahmal Roy says, “Jayvian has never disappointed in terms of his work ethic, dedication and perseverance.”
  • About a year ago, Justin Barnhill and his family lost their house to a tragic fire. Barnhill never thought it would happen to him. However, football has and always will be a coping method. Barnhill says, “whether it’s on the field or in the gym, it provided me with a second family, a team that relies on me to do my job, and get it done just like I do them.” After moving to Fishkill, which was eight miles away from his team, his dad was able to get him a bike to help fill that void. Every day, Barnhill rides his bike across the bridge to football practice to be with the team. Coach Bill Bianco says, “Justin has remained positive through everything and is a key contributor to our program.”
  • Jakym Jordan was not raised in the best environment. A place where if you don’t make the right decisions, you can fall into the wrong crowd. Thankfully, football is always there to push Jordan to keep moving forward. Jordan always parallels life to football: “In real life, when things are difficult and aren't going your way you have to fight back. Just because I was going through hard times with my family and with where we live, doesn't mean I should just let it put me down and stop me from what I'm doing and what I love.” Jordan is truly an inspiration to everyone around him: he maintains a great GPA, continues to be in the 95th percentile of school attendance, rarely misses a football workout, and gives back to his community by building a garden to help other families get food on the table. “With all of this going on around Jakym, he continues to be the same joyful young man who is dedicated to his school, his football program and his community,” says Head Coach Paul Santavicca.
  • “Beyond working hard, he has always set the example and demanded high levels of work and dedication from his peers... One thing about Jaaron is that he is one of the top athletes at our school Albertus Magnus,” says Head Coach Paul Villanueva about Jaaron Joseph, a standout running back at Albertus Magnus High School. Joseph’s god-given ability has never made Jaaron complacent or take things for granted, according to Villanueva. This humility and class can be seen in his relationship with his 9-year-old sister, who has Down Syndrome. When Joseph isn’t playing football, he’s playing with this sister. They’ve built an incredible bond, as he has helped her develop her speech, language, communication, and has taught her how to listen and follow directions. Joseph’s heart is so big for his teammates, his family, and everyone around him.
  • “Whether facing adversity, helping teammates or special needs students, Anele can always be found with a smile,” says Head Coach Sean Kluber about Anele Nwanyanwu, three-sport athlete and captain of the football team. Despite a concussion in tenth grade, a sprained ankle in eleventh grade, and a torn ligament in his dominant hand his senior year, Nwanyanwu continued to make a commitment to his community, a commitment to his coaches, to his team, and most importantly, himself. “I have the will and commitment to battle through injuries and any other adversity because I have the will to be great for myself and everyone that aided me along the way,” states Nwanyanwu.
  • Brandon Sweeney’s antidote to adversity is football. After hearing his parents were getting a divorce and his father was nowhere to be found, he turned to his teammate and the football field. Sweeney’s commitment to football is like no other. “The “first in, last out” mentality is displayed by being the first player at the school, preparing for practice as I do tennis ball drills and get on a bike. After practice, I continue to give my 110%. I would ask my coach to either go in the weight room or take an ice bath to prepare my body for the next day,” exclaims Sweeney. Head Coach Brian Vegliando says, “Brandon plays with heart on every play, one thing that does not stop him is fatigue, he believes that if his body is tired it’s all mentally, if you mentally can push harder and keep doing it for the brothers beside you then you can stay in that game and keep giving your all no matter how tired or hurt.”

The nominees can be voted on here.

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