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My glory days: Alvin Cintron, Absegami High School, 2000

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Alvin Cintron lives within earshot of the Holy Spirit High School football field. There are mornings when he hears whistles blowing and coaches barking, and as he’s having a cup of coffee his mind wanders back to Absegami High in the late 1990s. He’ll let the memories linger for a bit before he has to get back to reality and head off to his job as the general manager at Chickie’s & Pete’s in Egg Harbor Township. Cintron doesn’t live in the past, but now that he has returned to the Jersey Shore after years of working and living in Philadelphia and North Jersey, the former Braves football and baseball player doesn’t mind at all when some of those memories pop back into his mind. Like many successful high school athletes, Cintron remembers his time at Absegami fondly. “My house is actually directly across the water from Holy Spirit, so I hear them out there, I hear the whistles blowing. And the smell of fresh-cut grass reminds me of football, of stretching before practice. That’s what always triggers the memories,” said Cintron, 33, who grew up in Atlantic City and Egg Harbor City. “Those little triggers are always there, whether it’s a smell, a whistle, hearing a coach digging into somebody. Things like that take me back. When you are in that moment (as a high school player) you’re not happy you are being yelled at, but I don’t think there is a guy out here who doesn’t want to be yelled at like that again.” Cintron said he has one piece of advice for current high school athletes. “Slow down,” Cintron said. “I think everything in high school moves 100 miles per hour. You look up, and four years is gone. One of my clearest memories is playing against Oakcrest on Thanksgiving Day, looking up at the clock and seeing the time running down and thinking, man, this is the last minute of my career. And when that’s gone, it’s gone. So my advice is to slow down and enjoy it.” Cintron, an all-conference performer who graduated from Absegami in 2000 after transferring back home after spending his freshman year at St. Joseph in Hammonton, did have a chance to play at the next level. But after playing as a freshman at Kean University, Cintron decided it was time to start figuring out what he was going to do with the rest of his life. “At that age, when you are 18, a lot of guys are still thinking ‘I want to play in the NFL.’ But I was always the kind of guy who was like, I’m not making it to the league. I wanted to get a good job, that was my focus,” Cintron said. “There were guys I knew who played semi-pro ball until they were 28 or 29, still chasing that dream, meanwhile I was already six or seven years into my career and making good money. It’s hard, I guess, to tell a kid to gear back his expectations.” Like many high school athletes, the game that stands out most a decade or more after their playing career is a tough loss. For Cintron, he remembers a football game against Atlantic City during his senior year as if it was yesterday. The Braves had a 10-point lead on the top team in South Jersey with less than two minutes remaining, and in an instant certain victory turned to disaster. Life lesson No. 1 for young Alvin: nothing is as certain as it seems, and you have to keep going until the final whistle. Alvin Cintron, a former football star at Absegami High School, has enjoyed a successful career in the restaurant business. He currently is the general manager at Chickie's & Pete's in Egg Harbor Township. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O'Sullivan) Alvin Cintron, a former football star at Absegami High School, has enjoyed a successful career in the restaurant business. He currently is the general manager at Chickie’s & Pete’s in Egg Harbor Township. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan) “The game that stands out in my mind was my senior year against Atlantic City, the year they won the Group 4 championship. We had them on the ropes and were up by 10. At the time, my friend Jamar Reynolds was their big running back. Every game he would have 100 or 150 yards and we held him to something like 60 yards on 26 carries. I had a blocked field goal, a blocked extra point, a couple sacks. Just enough to keep them on the ropes. We were up by 10 with two minutes left and lost. They had two 60-yard touchdowns in 1:30. We had the best team in South Jersey beat, we’re on the sidelines hugging each other and thinking the game was over, and lightning struck twice in less than two minutes. As serious as I was about baseball and football, that was the first time I remember crying and physically being in pain. I was always the guy who was like, ‘listen guys, this is just a game. It’s not life or death,'” Cintron said. “It was early in the season, but that kind of set the tone. They went one direction after that game and we went in the other. It kind of derailed us a little bit. I just remember that was the first time when I wasn’t the guy walking around saying ‘hey, it’s just a game.’ I was the one who had to be consoled. I couldn’t fathom how that got away from us. “The series of events that led us to (getting a 10-point lead), I felt like fate was on our side. And just as quickly it got snatched away. And it was one of those things that we never recovered from. We had all the talent in the world. We had four or five guys who were all conference, but at the end of the year we were barely .500. It was one of those things we definitely carried with us. I let a lot of those things go, but that’s one of those things that kind of still digs at me. I recently went to a buddy’s wedding, and two guys (from the Atlantic City) team were there and they kind of reminded me about that.” There definitely were highlights, though. “My best game was probably my senior year, a consolation game against Highland. I had about 22 tackles, two of them were just destroying kids,” Cintron said. “That was one of those games where I just said to myself that this was going to be one of the last games of my life and I just reacted. I guessed every play right. I didn’t read my keys, I just guessed right 99 percent of the time.” Cintron also was a talented baseball player, and as a senior he pitched the Braves to a win over a powerful Millville squad. Unfortunately, that was way before the popularity of the internet, and all his efforts garnered were a few lines in the Press of Atlantic City the following day. “Millville was a big-time baseball program and we hadn’t beaten them in years. My senior year I pitched a complete game and we beat them 4-2. It was one of those things that was just surreal. They were one of the top teams in the state at the time and I was just some skinny kid who threw the ball kind of hard. I wasn’t really a pitcher, I was more of a thrower. It was kind of like the game when everything comes together, and it was perfect because it was against the No. 1 team in the state. It was an out-of-body experience,” Cintron said. “I remember reading the Press every day because back then there wasn’t Glory Days, there weren’t all these websites. I remember the Press coming out every day with huge stories about Millville winning. When we beat them and gave them their first loss, the write-up was about two lines. It was something like, ‘Millville lost, 4-2, Alvin Cintron gets the win.’ But to us it was a big deal.” For Cintron, though, playing high school sports was never about accolades or awards, and it wasn’t about trying to land a college scholarship. To him, high school sports was a way to compete alongside his friends and get that feeling of accomplishing something that was bigger than himself. “The things I take from (my high school career) were before and after the games, the conversations we had among ourselves. There were also a lot of guys I played against in high school, from Atlantic City High or Oakcrest or whatever, and at the time you think you are sworn enemies because you go to different high schools. Some of those guys now are some of my best friends. In high school, your mentality is that guy is your enemy, but those are some of the best guys I’ve met in my travels,” Cintron said. “I didn’t want to go to a school where football was my job because I didn’t think that was my ticket out. In my mind, I wasn’t good enough to go to the NFL or play at a big school. I went to Kean University and played my freshman year, but eventually decided to let my passion go and I just went to school and worked.” Cintron said he was talented enough to continue playing football at Kean University, but, ever the realist, knew that eventually he would have to take steps necessary to ensure that he had a future beyond the gridiron. He decided after his freshman year of college that he better get started on that path sooner rather than later. “I was an Egg Harbor City kid, my family didn’t have much money, I was the first to go to college. I remember not having money to eat or to go out with my buddies, so once I finished freshman year I got a job serving and bartending. I just decided I wanted to make a career out of (the restaurant business). I realized, even before I got to college, that football wasn’t going to be my life,” Cintron said. “The biggest draw to high school sports for me was that I got to play alongside my friends, the people I grew up with and the people that I loved. A lot of my friends knocked me for not pursuing football harder (after high school), but I don’t regret it. The joy of spending that time with people you will never forget far exceeds the joy of calling yourself a superior athlete.” In a way, high school sports has never really left Cintron, however. As general manager at Chickie’s & Pete’s, a number of the people he has working for him are current high school athletes or young adults who are not that far removed from their own playing days. Now that he is back in the area, he also gets to see some of his former coaches on occasion. “I’ve always had a love affair with South Jersey. I lived in North Jersey for years, but I always missed home. Now that I’m home, you do think about the people you played with and you run into people you haven’t seen in years. I kind of turned that off when I wasn’t around, but now that I’m here that’s happening a lot,” Cintron said. “We hosted the Absegami coaches a few weeks back and a lot of those guys were my old football and baseball coaches. Brian Wastell is still the head baseball coach there. We were his first baseball group. John Murray was my football coach, Gene Barber was here, the old wrestling coach. It’s funny because you see those guys, and they have had thousands of players come through and they can look at you and say, ‘hey, remember that one game when you did this.’ The guys who commit that time, they value that.” Cintron said he had hoped to end his high school career as a local hero, walking off after the Thanksgiving Day game against rival Oakcrest to the cheers of the fans, the band playing. Instead, he walked off in a rain storm with only a couple dozen folks left in the stands once the final horn sounded. Although it wasn’t a fairytale ending, it’s an ending he will never forget because it’s a memory he got to share with the people he cared about most. “I grew up going to that game every year and it never rained. It was always a perfect day and there were masses of people. And my senior year it was raining sideways, there were only a handful of people in the stands. In my head I pictured us coming off the field to cheers, trumpets playing, and it ended up being just my dad and his friend,” Cintron said. “But the biggest thing was, at the end of that game we took a picture of a couple guys and I remember my buddy’s dad crying because that was going to be the last time we played together.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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