by Andrew Garda

The Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars football team went through a rough patch during the 2017 season, notching just a pair of wins over the course of the 10-game season.

All that struggling could pay off big-time in 2018 though, as a team which was young last year is battle-hardened entering this season.

In 2017, the Cougars had just four seniors on the team. That meant Head Coach Anthony Rea and his staff had to throw a lot of young players with minimal experience into the woodchipper.

Those players now have at least a year’s experience under their belt.

“We were very thin last year, just in terms of experience,” Rea said. “We’re definitely more experienced this year.“

The bulk of the team is now in the upper classes, with eight seniors and 10 juniors.
“That makes a big difference,” said Rea. “We have a couple of sophomores we can sprinkle in, but we don’t have to worry too much about those guys carrying a heavy load.”

Among the cornerstone pieces in the Cougars’ return is senior Trey Young. Despite playing only three games in his junior year, Wilson managed to score 16 touchdowns, a number Rea feels would have easily surpassed 20 had he played the whole season.

Naturally, now that he’s healthy, Rea expects great things of Wilson.

Wilson in turn, expects great things of the team and the difference between last season and the upcoming one is pretty clear to him.

“A lot of people have been here in the summer, unlike last year,” Wilson said during a recent practice.  “So a lot of people are much stronger and a lot faster. I think we’re going to have a really great season, and we’ll catch teams off-guard because a lot of them will think we’re still going to be bad. “

Last year’s youth is this year’s leadership according to Wilson, and the senior class knows what it has to do.

“Since we lost so many games [last season], nobody went into a game thinking we were going to win,” he explained. “That was a big part of our struggles. But now, our whole  mindset is shifted. We’re going into all the games with confidence.”

Along with a successful team season, Wilson is looking to end his Cougars individual career on a high note.

“I want to break as many records as I can,” he said, laughing. “Running back, touchdowns, whatever I can. But mostly, I want us to win.”

Rea plans on using Wilson all over the field, on offense, defense and special teams. His speed and vision will make him equally dangerous, both carrying the ball and tackling the other team when they carry it.

Expect to see Wilson featured early and often, especially on offense.

If he’s going to have success though, he’s going to need help from his quarterback — more than likely Christian Breitweiser, who started the last two games of the season at the position — and offensive line.

The line could be the biggest key to a big Cougars year.

“We’ve got a veteran group back,” Rea said. “We have seven or eight guys that we can rely on. When you have seven or eight that you feel comfortable putting into a game, that’s really all you can ask for.”

While the depth is a nice luxury, it’s the starting five who will make the biggest impact and they all played together as a unit the last four games.

That experience has created a group who move and block as one entity, according to senior tackle Adam Erbes. Communication is key, and the line was able to get on the same page during the final stretch of last season, when they were all on the field at the same time for every offensive snap.

“It’s great,” the six-foot-three, 230 pound tackle said. “Especially me playing left tackle, Patrick Morrisseau at left guard. I’ve played with him sophomore year on JV, last year on varsity and this year we’ll be on varsity together again.”

Having been together for that long, Erbes and Morrisseau now know what each is capable of, as well as how to read one another’s cues.

“We have so much communication between each other about who is in front of us and what we have to do,” Erbes said. “I think that’s something that’s so important, because you come out and the defenses are going to move around and switch positions. So to be able to communicate with the person next to you about what’s going on and how you’re going to adjust to that, I think that’s what we have in this line group. I really like how well-knit together we are.”

Both Erbes and Wilson said their biggest challenge as leaders is to keep all the younger players focused. They tell the underclassmen that while they may not be getting much playing time on Saturdays, the efforts the freshmen and sophomores put in during practice makes the starters even better.

“As much work as they’re getting, which  makes them better, it also makes us better,” Erbes said.

Rea sees this as a team with a tremendous amount of potential, and can easily get back to the form, which has had the Cougars in the playoffs six out of the last eight years.

After that, the sky's the limit.

“Our league has everything divided now. So we have  a non-conference [to start]. Then we head into our league stuff… and we’re in a division with Pingry and Morristown-Beard before we cross over [to the other division] with Hackley and Fieldston,” Rea said.

Then the league does a four-team playoff. If the Cougars make it through that and into the final, it will actually collide with the preliminary round of the NJSIAA playoffs.
Rea isn’t worried about that possibility, because that’s an embarrassment of riches.

“My thought process is, if we’re in a 12-team playoff in Group Two, and we’re in the championship of our league, we should be a top four or five seed [in the NJSIAA],” he said. “I don’t know if it will work out like that, but you know what? If we reach the point where that’s a problem? It will have been a pretty good year.”