It's been a getting-acquainted process for the new Montclair High School football coaching staff and the 2022 players in the early going.

The Mounties started practice on Aug. 10 under a new regime for Montclair football after the school board approved the hiring in May of Jermain Johnson, who comes over from Belleville High School.

At the time of his hiring, Johnson said that Montclair's history of success on the gridiron was what lured him to apply for the job.

“Montclair has generational talent,” Johnson said. “It is the most appealing job in the state of New Jersey. The kids work hard and have won championships where they know how to win.”

In the short time that Johnson's coaching staff has been together, the players have so far given it thumbs up.

"I would say that this coaching staff is more organized and disciplined," senior wide receiver/outside linebacker Isaiah Holm, who was named to the All North Jersey Super Football Conference (NJSFC) Freedom Red second team last season, said at the Montclair Football Press Day on Saturday at Woodman Field.

For junior quarterback Drew Pfeifer it’s been a different experience between the two coaching staffs. Pfeifer saw time under center last season for the first time. "I think the previous coaching staff really brought me along and gave me the opportunity to play," said Pfeifer, adding that the new coaching staff has "been doing a good job getting us together."

To build camaraderie, Johnson organized a trip to East Stroudsburg State University for a three- day, two-night football camp with a dozen high school teams, mainly from Pennsylvania but also including Wayne Hills and West Morris high schools. While the camp had Montclair go up against quality schools with 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s without pads, the main impetus of the camp was to be together 24/7 for a couple of days.

"Since I got the job so late it was great for the coaching staff to get to know the kids and the kids to get to know the coaching staff," Johnson said.

The last time the Montclair football team was on the field the Mounties lost a heartbreaker, 20-14, at Passaic Tech in three overtimes in the North 1 Group 5 state playoff opener. Passaic Tech would go on to reach the North 1 Group 5 final.

The Montclair football seniors and the coaching staff pose for a team picture for the school's yearbook on Saturday at Woodman Field. The Mounties take on West Orange on Sept. 2, 8 p.m., at Montclair State University. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
The Montclair football seniors and the coaching staff pose for a team picture for the school's yearbook on Saturday at Woodman Field. The Mounties take on West Orange on Sept. 2, 8 p.m., at Montclair State University. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

For many of the players who are back from the 2021 team, it still stings.

"I think we learned a lot from the loss, those that came back this season," Pfeifer said. "I think the guys have a chip on their shoulder.”

Holm still thinks about the final result on the scoreboard to this day. "I'm still pretty upset by it," he said. "It's still on my mind, and I can still see the scoreboard."

For senior Gage Hammond, who was All NJSFC Red Division first team kicker last season, the defeat to Passaic Tech smarts. "It still stings," said Hammond, who added that the players have to push it aside and get back to work this season. "The seniors can't end it that way."

Johnson and Montclair are working toward Sept. 2, when the Mounties kick off the 2022 season by taking on rival West Orange at Montclair State University (8 p.m.) as part of a football double-header. "We are extremely excited," Johnson said. "It's going to be an electric atmosphere."

Last year Montclair was supposed to play East Orange at Rutgers University Stadium to open the 2021 season. But because of Hurricane Ida, which came storming earlier in the week, Rutgers University’s game was pushed to Saturday and in turn the Montclair-East Orange clash could not be played at Rutgers Stadium. The Mounties would lose 37-28 at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange.

For Holmes it will be good to go up against West Orange, because he has some friends on the Mountaineers team, including senior Saboor Karriem, who transferred from Montclair to West Orange after his sophomore year. 

"We are super-ready for the game," said Holm, adding that he has been discussing the matchup with some of his West Orange friends. "We're not trash-talking,” he said, “but we are talking about it." 

Pfeifer, looking ahead to that game, said, "I think we are just going to have to play our game."

Montclair has lost to West Orange the last four times, with the last victory coming in 2017, when the Mounties went undefeated.

Heading into this season, Johnson replaced Pete Ramiccio, who was the interim head coach while John Fiore was on leave of absence.

The district opted to hire Johnson instead of Ramiccio, who was immediately hired by Governor Livingston. Fiore moved on to be the head football coach at Elizabeth High School.