Plenty of reasons to celebrate for NFBD All-Star players

Saturday, June 1, 2019 | 6:36 PM

If Hollis Mathis scores an all-star game touchdown Sunday, he might have to call somebody immediately.

“I was thinking about tossing a phone underneath the field goal post and maybe doing a Joe Horn tribute,” Mathis said. “Pulling out the phone and maybe recording a video or making a phone call to my mom to tell her I love her.”

The Penn Hills senior is quarterbacking one of the teams at the NFBD All-Star Game at Cupples Stadium.

Kickoff is 7:45 p.m.

Mathis hasn’t finalized any celebration plans, but he has ruled out igniting a smoke grenade as homage to the controversial cloud his team created at the WPIAL championship in November.

“For the sake of the game and for the sake of everyone at Penn Hills, I surely hope not,” he said, laughing.

Touchdown celebrations are not allowed in high school football, but the NFBD game wants to be different. In fact, it’s in the organization’s name: Never Fear Being Different. The NFBD game, which tries to separate itself from the coach-organized all-star events in the region, uses traditional rules with two exceptions.

First, rather than a coin flip, there’s a 40-yard race between two players. Second, players are penalized if they don’t celebrate when they score.

Traditionalists aren’t necessarily fans of that second rule, said NFBD founder Jordon Rooney, a former WPIAL football player.

“Two years ago, I instituted it and there were people in an uproar,” Rooney said. “Two months later, the NFL came out with a rule that it was OK with celebrating and then suddenly everybody’s tone changed. We still get people now who say you should score and hand the ball to the ref. Great, but does it mean a kid’s not humble if he does a three-second dance because he scored a touchdown? No.”

Among the past celebrations, a player once stuck to the goal post’s padding in homage to a former Steelers wide receiver.

“People want to create this narrative around these young, talented athletes that they’re not humble because they’re having fun doing what they’re doing,” Rooney said.

Rooney graduated from Union in 2008 and Westminster in 2012. He works as a motivational speaker and runs a nonprofit organization that “educates and empowers the social media generation.”

This is the fourth year for the all-star game. It was held last year at Woodland Hills’ Wolvarena but was moved to a more city-centered location this time at the South Side stadium. A handful of NFL and Division I players were on the sideline watching last year, Rooney said, an atmosphere he expects again Sunday.

The players selected as all-stars are mostly from WPIAL and City League schools, though there are a few from Central and Eastern Pennsylvania as well.

Baldwin’s Loran Cooley will coach Team Never Fear, a roster that has a strong Penn Hills contingent. There are 11 former Indians playing, including Mathis and Penn State recruit Daequan Hardy, who combined to win the state Class 5A title last season.

The other roster — Team Different — is coached by Moon’s Ryan Linn. His lineup includes South Fayette quarterback Jamie Diven, West Mifflin defensive back Parrish Parker and Steel Valley linebacker Todd Hill, who were Trib 25 selections as seniors.

“A lot of the guys know guys on the other team,” Cooley said, “so there’s a rivalry.”

The players attended practice starting Thursday but also took part in off-field activities, including an “Athlete Inner Circle Event” on Friday that let the all-stars hear from former WPIAL and City League stars Darrin Walls, Greg McGhee, Tre Tipton and others.

“It’s way more than just a football game,” said Mathis, who also spoke at the event. “(Rooney’s) doing it to make a positive impact in our community. I’m willing to help with whatever he needs. If that means going out and playing football, then that’s a great opportunity for me to help.”

The all-star players haven’t worn pads for months and are only weeks away from reporting for college workouts, but there’s still an underlining desire to win.

“I know myself too well,” Mathis said. “Right now I’m trying to downplay it, like I won’t go out there and try super hard. But I’m going to get out there, put the pads on, see everybody lined up and go into full game mode.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .


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