Gridiron all-stars ready to shine

Mitch Banuskevich wasn’t entirely sure what was going on when he got a phone call in April from Milford High School football coach Keith Jones.

Less than a day removed from surgery, Banuskevich, who graduated from Milford earlier this month, was still a little out of it, and needed a moment to understand that his former coach calling him to see if he’d be interested in playing in the CHaD East-West NH High School All-Star Football Game.

“I was still able to say yes,” Banuskevich said. “I was recovering from surgery still, so I was still kind of out of it. Coach Jones called me first and he said ‘you better say yes.’ I was pumped.”

Not only was it a chance to play football one more time, but it was an opportunity for Banuskevich to play alongside Harrison Urda, one of his best friends and longtime teammate for the Spartans.

“I was laying on the couch and he texted me and said ‘guess what,’ “ Urda said. “I was like ‘OK, what?’ He said he was on the CHaD team. It’s awesome.”

Both players were eager to get back on the field together, considering how their senior year went. The Spartans were rolling through the football season when Urda suffered a serious ankle injury in the first half of a win over John Stark on Oct 12 that caused him to miss the final three games of the season and all of basketball season.

Then in the spring, with Urda back at full-strength, Banuskevich was going to join him on the Milford lacrosse team, but ended up having to sit out the season after the surgery to his nose.

The pair has been traveling to and from the West team’s practice together, and they’ll share the field together as they both will play on defense, with Urda at defensive back and Banuskevich splitting time between the backfield and outside linebacker.

It’s a fitting send off, considering that both cracked the Milford lineup on defense when they were sophomores.

“This is huge being side by side,” Banuskevich said. “We’ll be on defense together. Harrison and I started on defense as sophomore. I do appreciate it.

“Some kids don’t get to play varsity. Having that much time in varsity (games) made us that much better senior year. I wasn’t nervous before games anymore because I knew the system, I knew how to prepare myself.”

While they played varsity football together for three years, the on-field bond between the two goes back even further, to when they started playing for the Milford Mustangs in the first few seasons of that program’s existence.

“I didn’t know who was going to play,” Urda said. “That’s where my social group came from. Mitch is an athlete and we told him he should play. We finally got him into it and it was awesome to have another really great athlete around.”

Having a team in Milford was something that motivated Banuskevich to finally join.

“My friends egged me into,” he said. “They did it the first year, and I was like ‘no, I’ll just do baseball.’ They told me how much fun it was and being in Milford, instead of the (Souhegan Valley) Sabers, that we had our own team, kind of motivated me to play.”

Although Urda (quarterback) and Banuskevich (running back) were key parts to the Spartans’ offense the last two years, both are OK with not playing on that side of the ball for the West, which is being led this year by former Milford coach Paul Lavigne.

“Defense is really where my heart is, so I’m really excited to play there,” Urda said. “I wasn’t disappointed about not being a quarterback. I’m not the kid who can stay in the pocket and throw the ball.”

The West team does have Nashua South’s Trevor Knight at quarterback, and Banuskevich believes that gives his squad a pretty good edge.

“Having Trevor, the (Gatorade) Player of the Year, there’s no way we lose,” he said. “Seeing (Concord running back) Walters (Ndi), he’s jacked. There’s some big kids.”

While they might surrounded by fellow all-stars, Urda and Banuskevich are aware of what contributions Milford has made to the game in its three-year history. Last year, Joe Albina and Brett Stagnone helped the West to an overtime victory, and in the 2012, the game’s first year, Jones helped coach the West to a blowout win.

And there’s the off-field connection to CHaD, as Jones’ son, Harris, spent time at the hospital when he was younger.

“It’s awesome to know you’re from a small town like Milford and you’re being recognized throughout the state,” Urda said. “There’s always going to be a couple kids who will break out each season and be able to play in a great game like this.

“I’m really close with coach Jones and his family. To be close with Harris, and to know what this cause is for, it’s awesome to be a part of it.”