by Andrew Garda

Cougars senior Michael Hermo is not a big guy. At 5-7, 175 pounds, he’s not what one would call the prototypical center. However, you wouldn’t know it by the way he plays and the attitude he brings to the position for the Montclair Kimberley Academy football team.

“I’ve been playing center since sixth grade now,” he said recently after a Cougar’s practice. “My snaps have always been one of the best on the team, I guess. I like to play football, I like to hit people. I’m physical.”

Entering his second year as starting center on the Cougar’s line, Hermo is one of the few pieces head coach Anthony Rea has returning to his offensive line, and one of just four seniors on the team.

“We’ve got kids who, this is really the first time getting any action [on the line],” Hermo said.

That being the case, Hermo knows he needs to step up, but he’s not worried about getting the new blood around him prepared to kick things off on Thursday because he knows the teams they’ll face.

“Especially in the league we play in, it’s the same teams every year. I know the style of their play, so I can really help prepare [the line].”

It wasn’t that long ago when Hermo was in the exact same position, stepping into a starting position for the first time.

“Last year I was inexperienced,” he recalled. “I wasn’t used to the pace of the game. I always thought that junior varsity and varsity, there wasn’t too much difference, but there really is. My first game last year it was like ‘oh, you’re getting hit,”

One season later, Hermo can focus less on getting used to the pace of the game and more on fine tuning his efforts.

“Now, I’m ready to lead the offensive line. I’m better with my calls, better at communicating, I pick up the blitzes better,” he said. “It’s more about having better vision.”

It’s also about setting the tone, especially with defensive linemen who think that because Hermo isn’t big, he’ll be easy prey.

“I let them know that I’m not here to play around by hitting them. I’m a smack talker too. I like to get in someone’s head. If you’re lined up across from me I’m going to say something like ‘hey you’re bigger than me but your cleats are kind of beat, so looks like I’m gonna be rolling over you all day.’ You can’t be afraid. I’m not afraid of anyone. It can be a bad thing...because sometimes I’m getting myself in trouble.”

When not jawing with defensive linemen, Hermo works on his technique and being physical.

“Technique and physicality is everything, if you’re a small guy.”

Luckily for the line, he’s worked on it enough to where snapping the ball—the most critical part of any center’s job—has become, in many ways, an unconscious gesture.

“At this point, getting the ball back there, I’m not thinking about it anymore. I’m just snapping it back there.”

It helps that, like many great center-quarterback combinations, he’s good friends with both Cougars quarterbacks, Christian Breitweiser and John Sweetwood. Before every practice, Hermo says they work on the center-quarterback exchange to keep it smooth. Hermo knows that’s a critical thing, and can mean the difference between a well-executed play and a disaster, or even a win versus a loss.

“Center and quarterback, that’s a big deal,” he said. “Center may not be the leader of the offensive line, but he’s the man in the middle. He and the quarterback have to communicate well, and he has to communicate [well] with his line. The center has the best vision of everything, and I think it’s an important position.”