There’s no way to sugarcoat what the Kearny High School football team had to endure in 2016. There’s not a chance to dance around it. Or try to avoid it like a runaway freight train.
Plain and simple, the Kardinals were 1-9 last year. They won the first game against Newark East Side, then proceeded to lose the final nine games, most of which were lopsided losses.
The Kards lost their last two games to Union City and Watchung Hills by a combined score of 106-0. It was that bad.
“It’s never easy when you have a season like that,” said Kearny’s third-year head coach John Kryzanowski. “It’s hard to keep the kids motivated. We did have a lot of injuries to key guys. We did have a young team. It was a tough year.”
But Kryzanowski is upbeat as a new season approaches.
“It’s amazing what a difference a year makes,” Kryzanowski said. “I think we all learned from experience. I’ve definitely seen improvement. I think the kids as a whole have come together. They have good camaraderie. I hope I’m doing something right by keeping them all together. I always try to keep things positive. Everything comes from the top. If I’m not excited or into it, then perhaps they won’t do it. But they’re doing it.”
Leading the returnees for the Kards is junior quarterback Travis Witt (5-10, 175).
“He has a year under his belt, so that has to help,” Kryzanowski said of his signal caller. “It only gets better from here. We have been correcting the things he did wrong. He’s not letting anything get to him. He’s very calm and collected. Physically, he’s in good shape because he keeps himself busy.”
Witt is a three-sport athlete at the school. He wrestles in the winter and plays baseball in the spring.
The Kards have a lot of speed in their backfield in senior Rauly Cordero (5-7, 160) and Sebastian Garcia (5-6, 160). Cordero is a former Observer Athlete of the Week recipient.
“Rauly had a couple of big games for us last year,” Kryzanowski said. “I just hope he can do something good this year. He has speed. We just have to get him out into the open space. When that happens, he’s hard to catch.”
The Kards have “three or four fullbacks,” according to Kryzanowski.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Kryzanowski said. “Having a lot of guys there really helps us out.”
One of the most impressive fullbacks this summer has been senior Vinnie Polizzotto (5-8, 220).
“He was hurt for the majority of the season last year,” Kryzanowski said. “He’s looked good now that he’s healthy again.”
The Kards do have talented players at the receiver slots.
Leading the way is senior Diego Torales (6-0, 180).
“He didn’t play football before last year and he impressed us last year,” Kryzanowski said. “He has good hands and good speed.”
Junior Mateus DaSilva (6-3, 185) is another top target for Witt to throw to.
“I can see that Travis likes throwing to this guy,” Kryzanowski said. “He’s a good target.”
And the Kards have the speedy, elusive Jeremy Calderon (5-7, 150) to line up at wide receiver or the slot. Calderon is so quick that he goes by the nickname “Cricket.”
The Kards have two tight ends to call upon, namely senior Mark Pose (6-1, 185) and junior Omar Ruiz (5-8, 190).
The Kards have the Mauricio twins to bolster the line, namely sophomores Andrew Mauricio and twin brother Matthew. Both are 5-8 and 220 pounds.
Senior Lothar Torres (6-0, 210) is also in the mix at tackle. You have to respect anyone named Lothar.
The Kardinals have depth at guard as well, with seniors Chris Correa (6-2, 300) and Spencer Toledo (5-11, 300) and junior Brandon Castillo (5-11, 230) holding fort at that position. Not many teams can brag about having 300-pound bookends at guard. But Kearny can. Toledo returns after not playing football left in his junior campaign.
The center is three-year varsity veteran Paul Fadeski (6-0, 240).
“He’s been at this position his whole life,” Kryzanowski said. “He’s ready.”
Defensively, the Kards use a 4-4 formation.
Kryzanowski said that his defensive line is completely up in the air, except for his tight ends, Pose and Ruiz, are at defensive end. Fadeski, Correa, Toledo and Torres are all battling for time at defensive tackle. All four will play.
The outside linebackers are senior Alfred Cespedes (5-9, 185) and sophomore Kyle Ostanski (5-7, 175). The inside linebackers are Witt and senior Matthew Arantes (5-10, 185), who has come out for football for the first time.
Cordero and Torales are the cornerbacks and senior Jose Rosa (5-7, 170) is the safety.
“He plays that position well,” Kryzanowski said of Rosa, who also serves as Witt’s backup at quarterback.
The Kardinals open the 2017 season with two road games against Newark East Side and Belleville.
“We’re hoping to get out of the gates well,” Kryzanowski said. “The way the kids are working and the coaching staff is working, we’re bound to see a big improvement this year.”
The Kearny offensive line will hold the key to the Kardinals’ success this season. From left are Omar Ruiz, Andrew Mauricio, Spencer Toledo, head coach John Kryzanowski, Paul Fadeski, Matthew Mauricio and Lothar Torres. Photo by Jim Hague