By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Even though he had been gone from Queen of Peace football for a few years, Robert Kearns never felt like really left.
“I’ve been Queen of Peace all my life,” Kearns said. “My brother went to QP. So did my sons. I coached here for more than 10 years. My heart is at Queen of Peace.”
So when the head football coaching position opened upon Steve Romano’s resignation at the end of the 2012 season, Kearns made one call to longtime friend and QP athletic director Ed Abromaitis.
“I said that if there was anything I could do for the school, I would do it,” Kearns said. “I want to see football keep going at QP.”
Kearns, who recently was the defensive coordinator at Cardinal McCarrick in South Amboy, was a longtime assistant coach at Queen of Peace under both Andy Cerco and the late Ralph Borgess. He was even the head coach for two seasons in 1997 and 1998.
So there was a sense of familiarity when the school brought back Kearns to be the head coach for the 2013 season.
“I was very excited,” Kearns said. “I told them that I’m there for them.”
Kearns has been rejuvenated in his return to his old stomping grounds.
“It’s probably the most excited I’ve ever been for a new season,” Kearns said. “The attitude is tremendous. But as I started to watch this team, I realized that this is a very talented club. There are a lot of good athletes.”
The Golden Griffins were 2-8 last season, yet still managed to qualify for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 playoffs, losing to St. Anthony.
However, several of the key players from last year’s team have returned – despite rumors of a mass exodus upon Romano’s departure. All of the key personnel have returned.
Leading the way is senior quarterback Anthony Villano (6-1, 185), who has been the starting signal caller for the Golden Griffins for the last three seasons.
Kearns is in amazement when it comes to Villano’s talents.
“Without a question, Anthony is the purest passer I think Queen of Peace has ever had,” Kearns said. “I told him early on that he was in charge. When he calls the plays, he has this confidence built in him. He’s like having another coach on the field. I told him that he’s the guy driving the car. Every day, he grows more confident and that’s a pleasure to see.”
Top running back Kevin Momnohin has also returned. Momnohin (5-11, 200) has been the most electric player QP has had the last two seasons and he’s back for his senior year. The only thing that has sidetracked Momnohin in the past has been injury. Other than that, he’s been next to unstoppable.
“We have to get him the ball,” Kearns said. “He’s a complete football player.”
Another returnee in the QP backfield is Momnohin’s twin brother Keith (5-10, 220).
“He’s a quiet kid, but a tough quiet,” Kearns said. “He has that look about him, that presence.”
The fullback is senior Tajier Jefferson (5-9, 225), who might be built low to the ground, but he’s deceptively fast.
“He’s a bowling ball, but he can go,” Kearns said. “He’s elusive.”
Senior Danny Douelfakar (6-2, 210) is the team’s tight end/wide receiver.
“He has great hands,” Kearns said of Douelfakar. “I think he has a great thing going with Anthony. The two work so well together and help each other.”
Another wide receiver is senior Justin Thomas (5-9, 175).
“He’s the best route runner on the team,” Kearns said. “He is a heck of a receiver.”
Senior Michael Akanbi (6-4, 220), the standout high hurdler in the spring track season, is another returning starter at tackle. Akanbi is joined at tackle by senior Shadaun Brown (6-1, 215). Senior Babatunde Ojo (6-2, 240) returns at one guard slot. He is joined by mammoth senior Peter Lorfink (6-7, 350), who moves extremely well for a player of his stature. Sophomore Maurice Helena (6-2, 220) is the center.
“We have nice size up front,” Kearns said. “They’re meshing well together.”
Defensively, the Golden Griffins use a 3-4 formation, with Akanbi and Ojo at defensive end and sophomore Chima Dunga (6-2, 210) at nose guard.
Thomas and junior Jeraldy Napoleon (5-10, 185) are the outside linebackers, with Douelfakar and Jefferson at inside linebacker.
Jefferson is a player to watch on the defensive side.
“He’s the heart and soul of our defense,” Kearns said.
Keith Momnohin and Villano are the cornerbacks, with Kevin and senior Justin Estevez (5-8, 165) at safety.
The Golden Griffins open their season Sept. 14, christening the new athletic facility in Riverside County Park. It’s going to be a godsend for the Griffins to play on FieldTurf this season full-time.
The talent is certainly there. Kearns just has to find a way to keep the Griffins healthy.
“Any time you deal with a small group, that’s a concern,” Kearns said. “We have to find a way to keep them healthy. We have to be smart with the way we use the players. We have to utilize the others on special teams.”
Kearns likes the makeup of his squad.
“We’ll see,” Kearns said. “The talent is there. We just have to put them in the right positions. Once we do, we can start moving forward.”
If they do move forward, then a berth in the state playoffs once again is not out of the question.