Young but experienced Montclair Kimberley football looking for a big turnaround this fall
The Montclair Kimberley football team took its lumps last season with a young group and a low number of team members.
While the Cougars are still young this year, head coach Anthony Rea believes that the experience those players gained through a 4-5 season in 2021 will turn some of those losses into victories this fall.
"I think for this team specifically, we want to show how much we have improved from last season, and that we are a force to be reckoned with in our league," Rea said.
"This team has a lot of experience. We were so young last year, and with such a small roster, everyone had to play a lot. We took our lumps last year, but we come back with a team that, although still young, has played in a lot of varsity football games."
Last season the Cougars had 23 players on the roster but are eyeing 30 or more this year. MKA only has four seniors, Nic Lembo, Jordan Fishback, Colin Larish and Sohan Agarwal, on the squad.
"The numbers are up in part due to strong sophomore and freshman classes, as we have nine sophomores out for the team and 10 freshmen," the coach said.
Rea said the team is looking to win the Metropolitan Independent Football League (MIFL) division, which has Newark Academy along with three schools in New York, Horace Mann, Dalton and Riverdale Country School. And it is looking to build a resume for a shot at the state playoffs.
For Rea there is no doubt that the strength of the '22 squad will be on the defensive side of the ball, led by Lembo, who was named to the MIFL first team last season with 93 tackles and who will play middle linebacker.
Three of the four linebackers are back. Along with Lembo, there is sophomore middle linebacker Kalvin Thomas and junior outside linebacker Jaylen Ankrah-Jones. Juniors Payam Ekrami and Craig Brill and sophomore Lincoln Hedberg are also battling for time at linebacker.
The returnees on the defensive line are junior defensive end Geoff Vaiana, junior defensive end Will Simms, junior defensive end Craig Brill, sophomore defensive tackle Nate Conforti and sophomore defensive tackle Ben Morganstein.
One of the top players returning is Fishback, who will be going into his third year as a cornerback.
"He was tasked with covering the opposition's number one wide receiver," Rea said. "He did an outstanding job, so we have all the confidence in the world in his abilities."
Sophomore Jack Scuorzo, senior Agarwal and freshman Nate Chou are competing for cornerback and safety slots.
One of the biggest spots to fill this season is at quarterback with the graduation of Jake Pryor, who was All MIFL first team last season. Replacing Pryor is sophomore Miles Black, who was MKA’s junior varsity signal caller in 2021.
"Obviously, Jake is impossible to directly replace this season, so we will make sure that we get Miles comfortable and ask everyone along the offense, especially the returning starters, to chip in and help," Rea said. "Miles Black really had an outstanding off-season and is off to a great start in camp."
In the backfield Black has the benefit of the return of Lembo, who collected 343 rushing yards and five touchdowns last season.
"He brings a wealth of experience and is extremely difficult to tackle," the coach said about Lembo. "He is someone you can rely on to always convert short yardage for a first down or touchdown, and he showed some big-play ability during his junior season."
Another player who is expected to get carries is junior Simms, who played on the offensive line in 2021. "He is extremely quick and will be a great complement to Nic," Rea said, adding that Simms could also play wide receiver.
"His sacrifice for the team really helped us last year,” Rea said. “He's looked great in camp at running back, and we expect him to have an excellent year."
The offensive line was very young in 2021 and is still young, with juniors Vaina and Brill and sophomores Conforti and Morganstein, but all of them played last year. Larish and sophomore Oscar Douglas will also see time on the offensive line.
"They return battle-tested from facing off against bigger and older defensive lines last season," the coach said. "They had a really difficult assignment last year, but they never backed down, and I am looking forward to seeing what they can do this year with a year of experience under their belt."
When Black is throwing the ball, Fishback could be the top target after bringing in 27 receptions for 409 yards and three touchdowns last season. Simms and Lembo could also be targets for Black.
The Cougars are looking to avenge a loss to Morristown-Beard, 46-12, last year when they kick off the 2022 season at Van Brunt Field at noon on Sept. 2.
Montclair Kimberley Football Schedule
Sept. 2 Morristown Beard, Noon
Sept. 9 at Newark Academy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Fieldston, 1 p.m.
Sept. 24 Riverdale Country School, 1 p.m.
Oct. 1 Dalton School, 3 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Horace Mann, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Pingry, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 Newark Academy, 1 p.m.