BY LARRY FLEISHER
Four years ago, the only football experience Miltiadis (Milton) Kaplanidis had was in the schoolyard of M.S. 67 on Marathon Parkway.
Playing in those informal games, Kaplanidis did not necessarily think about a high school career, let alone one that would lead to playing on an NFL field at some point. Eventually it did, and the Cardozo senior defensive lineman received one of the coveted spots on the 2015 U.S. Select Team that faces the International Federation of American Football World Team at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 31.
Kaplanidis is among 57 varsity high school football players to be selected to play at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. The team joins five U.S. national teams as part of the International Bowl in competition between USA Football and Football Canada, and Kaplanidis admits to being shocked at making the team even after doing well in tryouts last summer in College Station, Texas.
“It was a shock because when I played in Texas on the national team to try out for this team, I wasn’t the biggest,” Kaplanidis said. “I wasn’t the strongest, I wasn’t the best, but I listened to my coach and did the best I could do. I worked hard. I trained for months, and [for] a kid who’s in a public school in New York and to make such an honorable team, it’s amazing.”
Listed at 6 foot 1 and 252 pounds, Kaplanidis is the one of two New York City players and one of three players from New York State on the team. The others are Woodhaven native and Fort Hamilton High School linebacker Jayson Magnani and Babylon High School running back Jerry Brown Jr. Among the recent alumni of the team are quarterbacks Bryce Petty (Baylor) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford), linebacker Mike Hull (Penn State), running back Samaje Perine (Oklahoma), wide receiver Jaxon Shipley (Oklahoma), offensive lineman Jack Mewhort of the Colts, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu of the Cardinals and defensive end Stephon Tuitt of the Steelers.
The road to playing on a national team started in the summer of 2011 when Kaplanidis was among many who received a letter from Cardozo junior varsity coach John Savage about trying out for the team. Unlike many others, Kaplanidis had never played for any of the youth programs in Queens that often feed players into high schools.
“I was contemplating should I join the football team, should I not because years before I wanted to play football, but they never had an outside league,” Kaplanidis said. “I just tried out, [Savage] liked my size, I played and years went by. I think I found my footing in it because I would have never thought I’d have come this far into my life being into football.”
Upon reaching Cardozo in the fall of 2011, Kaplanidis played seven games with the junior varsity. He eventually switched from offensive line to defense so he could go from blocking to making tackles.
“I started off playing left tackle,” he said. “I started playing offensive line. I thought it was boring so I tried defense, and I was still better at offense, but I wanted to work hard on defense because I enjoyed it a lot more.”
Last year, he had 37 tackles in eight games while serving as the team captain. Although the team finished with a 2-8 record, he was the team’s best player and he credits coaches Joseph Kaso, Lou Decicco and Sean Glover for his development and getting a chance to play on the same field as Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and the rest of the Cowboys.
As for what comes next, Kaplanidis intends to play football in college. So far, Buffalo, which competes in the Mid-American Conference, has shown interest, but most of the interest in Kaplanidis has come from Division II and III schools such as SUNY-Cortland, Ithaca, Assumption, Stonehill and Merrimack.
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