By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Nick Edwards has been the head football coach at Kearny High School for only a few weeks now, but he’s already beginning to like what he sees.
“The amount of kids we have in training camp is the biggest thing,” said Edwards, who was hired to replace Pete Llaneza, who resigned at the end of last season. “We have 70 kids in the program and 45 with the varsity. That’s a good start. That’s a positive start.”
Edwards said that he wanted to change the face of Kearny football from the outset.
“I think from Day 1, when we first met with the kids, that we all knew things were going to change,” Edwards said. “We want to compete and that’s the first thing we have to do. The program hasn’t done much about competition in recent years. Right now, Kearny has a football team, but we want it to be a program.”
Edwards knows that the battle ahead is not going to be easy.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Edwards, a teacher at the high school who was an assistant coach for a few years. “I know Kearny is a soccer town. But the main thing is to stay on the path and keep moving forward. We can’t try to do too many things at once. It’s going to be taking it one day at a time.”
Edwards said that the response to his coaching has been positive.
“The attitude has been great,” Edwards said. “We always have had about 40 kids in the weight room. Training camp has been really tough, but we made it tough to give the kids some mental discipline as they move forward.”
Edwards is implementing a new offensive scheme which is taking time to learn.
“We’re running the spread offense, but we’ve kept the option part of it,” Edwards said.
Senior Tim Soto (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) is the starter at quarterback.
“He’s used to running the option, so we’re working on throwing the ball,” Edwards said of Soto. “But he has good speed running with the ball. We want to utilize him in the pocket throwing the ball.”
Soto is backed up by sophomore Christian Rodriguez (5-8, 165), who Edwards said “is going to be very good.”
One position where the Kardinals don’t have to worry about being good is at running back, where senior Gabriel Xavier returns. The three-year start Xavier (6-0, 185) gained more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore in 2011, but struggled through an injury-filled junior year.
“He can definitely play at the next level,” Edwards said of Xavier. “He has had some very big games in the past and we’re hoping that he has big games this season.”
Sophomore Richard Diaz (5-8, 165) is the backup to Xavier at running back.
The top receiver looks like senior Jorge Fernandez (5-8, 175).
“He is lightning fast and has tremendous hands,” Edwards said.
The Kardinals have a host of talented performers at wide receiver.
Senior Jax Angulo (5-7, 165) is a regular jack-of-all-trades, considering he can play a lot of positions.
“We’re putting him at the slot, the wide receiver, the backfield, all over,” Edwards said. “He’s a very dynamic player who runs well.”
Senior Sonny Nash (5-9, 170), the last of the talented Nash family members who have played for Kearny High School in the past, is another quality pass catcher, along with senior Robert Silva (5- 9, 165), junior Philip Tavares (5-8, 165) and the Benavides twins, Chris and Mike, both juniors and both 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds. The twins are so identical, right down to the braces on their teeth.
“They’re both very good athletes and good kids,” Edwards said. “They’re also honors students.”
Edwards explained the reason for going to the spread offense.
“I saw what we had and I knew that we had to get the ball to these kids somehow,” Edwards said. “We’re going to utilize them as best as possible.”
The starting offensive line doesn’t have a lot of experience, but Edwards is hoping they come along.
Senior Joe Rodriguez (6-2, 240) and junior Nick Springer (6-2, 250) are the tackles, with junior Owen Martinez (5-9, 200) and senior Edwin Machuca (5-9, 220) at guard. Senior Byron Quevedo (5-9, 190) is the lone returnee along the line, but he’s being moved from tackle, where he played last year, to center this year. Senior T.J. Witt (6- 0, 185) is the tight end.
Defensively, the Kardinals will feature Giovanni Diaz (5-10, 190) and Mike Chininin (5-8, 175) at defensive end, with Springer and freshman Hebber Reyes (5-9, 250) at tackles.
“The best players have to play,” Edwards said about putting a freshman like Reyes on the varsity. “He is very strong and is a good gap player.”
Xavier, a three-year starter, headlines the outside linebackers.
“He’s an excellent defensive player,” Edwards said. “He’s as good on defense, if not better. He knows how to play.”
Nash and Christian Rodriguez are the team’s other outside linebackers.
Witt and Quevedo return to their inside linebacker slots, where they both played a year ago.
The cornerbacks are also returning, namely Angulo and Soto, with Jorge Fernandez in the mix as well in the secondary.
The Kardinals will begin the Nick Edwards era on Thursday night, Sept. 12, at Kearny High School at 7 p.m. There are no easy stops along the way of the 2013 schedule, with Bayonne, St. Peter’s Prep, Union City, Lakeland and North Bergen to follow.
One thing’s for sure: Edwards is certainly not going to take any forfeit losses this year. The Kardinals will line up and play all nine scheduled games.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re going to play,” Edwards said. “My goal this year was to have a freshman, JV (junior varsity) and varsity team this year and to play every game. That’s the goal. We’re well on the way. With 70 kids in the program, it’s a huge success.”
Whether that can translate to wins both this year and down the road remains to be seen. But Edwards is ready for the challenge and that’s definitely the first step.