It’s been a little more than three months since Stephen Andrews took over the football head coaching reins at his alma mater Kearny High School and the energetic 34-year-old Andrews is definitely getting more and more comfortable with every passing day.
“At this time, we’ve spent so much time together with my strength and conditioning program that we’re familiar with each other,” said Andrews, who was a standout football and track star at Kearny before moving on to The College of New Jersey. “I’ve taken total ownership of the program. It’s my team now. And the kids have so totally bought into that idea. They’re bringing a positive work ethic and attitude every day.”
Andrews, who becomes Kearny’s seventh head coach since the school was forced to discontinue football as a varsity sport in 2003, tries to do what has been virtually impossible since that dreadful disaster 15 years ago – namely try to turn the Kardinals into winners.
Kearny remains one of the very few New Jersey high schools to have never participated in the NJSIAA state playoffs. The Kardinals have not enjoyed a winning season since 1999. The highest win total during that stretch of time has been four wins twice – 2005 under Rich Howell and 2014 under Nick Edwards.
But Andrews, who replaces John Kryzanowski after three seasons, believes he’s the right man to bring the Kardinals out of the doldrums.
“They all wanted something to believe in,” said Andrews, who takes over after the Kardinals suffered through two straight 1-9 campaigns. “I’ve been trying to drill winning into their minds. If they put the hard work in, they can be successful.”
In fact, Andrews reached into the old football archives and found a quote from the legendary coach from Notre Dame folk lore.
Leahy’s quote was “People who want to win stand a very good chance of doing just that.” Andrews has placed that quote from Leahy in the Kardinals’ locker room and into the deep corners of their brains. It’s hard to believe that a young rookie head coach could use a quote from someone who has been deceased since 1973 and who last served as a head coach 20 years prior to that, but Andrews is a big Notre Dame fan and believes in Leahy’s philosophy.
“It’s a great quote,” Andrews said. “Playing football is not something that you do just to have something to do. You have to have a goal in mind and you have to want to win.”
Andrews said that he has been getting a positive vibe from his team.
“These kids believe that success comes from hard work,” Andrews said. “I’ve been trying to instill that into them.”
Andrews said that he worked as a personal trainer with athletes from successful state championship programs such as Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic.
“Those kids put in the work and it lead to success on the field,” Andrews said. “I have been teaching that hard work leads to success.”
Before the Kardinals hit the practice field for the first time last week – on the beautifully renovated Kearny High facility, complete with a perfect FieldTurf surface – Andrews had his team working hard in the weight room and doing diligence with running and training.
“When I started with this team, we had only one kid who could squat 225 (pounds),” Andrews said. “Now we have five. The main thing with training kids is that they want to see their improvement. That helps their confidence level. If they see the results of their hard work in the weight room, then that will also help them on the field. I wanted to max out their physical potential. I think I’ve done that.”
The Kardinals will utilize a spread offense and the success of that offense will fall on the shoulders of talented senior Travis Witt (5-11, 180), who has been the starter for the last two seasons and saw a lot of action as a freshman in 2015.
“He’s a natural leader,” Andrews said of Witt, who is also a standout wrestler and baseball player. “He just has that natural ability to lead. The other kids seem to just fall into line behind him. He’s been pushing himself really hard.”
Andrews said that Witt has been putting in the time in physical training with Andrews.
Witt is not the lone quarterback in the Kardinals’ camp. Junior Chris Leimberg (6-2, 195) has all the tools to be a good signal caller.
“He has a lot of ability,” Andrews said of Leimberg. “He is a physical specimen.”
The main running back is junior Kyle Ostanski (5-8, 180), who saw significant playing time last season.
“I think he’s a lot like Christian McCaffrey,” Andrews said of Ostanski, comparing him to the multi-talented Carolina Panthers’ running back, who is equally deft in catching passes as he is running with the ball. “He’s a tough hardnosed running back with good technical ability. He’s put in a lot of work to get better.”
Junior Phil Biet (5-11, 195) is another Kardinal running back.
The Kards have a lot of people at the wide receiver position, led by senior Cristovao Miranda (6-1, 175), who has spent a lot of time working with the track and field team.
“He’s our smartest player,” Andrews said of Miranda. “He’s Ivy League material. He’s also very fast.”
Seniors Esteban Martinez (5-11, 190) and his brother Omar Martinez (5-10, 220), Kyle Solinski (5-10, 175) and Scott Miceli (5-11, 215) are in the mix of pass catchers, along with promising freshman Haven Ortiz (5-11, 180).
The offensive line features junior twin brothers Andrew Mauricio (5-10, 230) and Matthew Mauricio (5-10, 210). Andrew is a tackle, while Matthew is the starting center. Both enjoyed excellent wrestling seasons last winter.
Senior Brandon Castillo (5-11, 230) is a three-year starter at guard. Junior Brandon Loo (5-10, 210) has also benefitted tremendously from the offseason weight training and conditioning. Sophomores Gabe Santos (5-10, 210) and Devin Narvaez (6-1, 210) will get time at tackle. Junior Gabe Sarango (5-8, 190) and sophomore Aaron Ashime (5-8, 205) will also battle for playing time along the line.
The Kards use a 4-4 defensive set.
Sophomore Jack Cullen (6-2, 200) returns to his slot at defensive end, along with Leimberg.
Ashime and Sarango are the defensive tackles.
The linebacker corps features the team’s best athletes with Miceli and Witt at outside linebacker and Omar Martinez and Biet at inside linebacker. Andrew Mauricio gets into the mix at inside backer.
Miceli and Witt have the ability to drop back and act as defensive backs if needed.
“Travis could technically be a middle linebacker, but he’s very good at linebacker,” Andrews said. “They are both like the perfect hybrids (linebacker/defensive back).”
Ostanski and Solinski are the cornerbacks with Esteban Martinez serving as the safety.
The Kardinals open their season on Thursday, Aug. 30 against Millburn at home at 7 p.m. The new coach gets to make his debut at home on the shiny new turf.
“I’m excited because the kids have worked so hard,” Andrews said. “I know how much time they’ve put into it and buying into the system. I want success for them, because I know how much they want it. I’m getting to see what the hard work can do for Kearny football. I’m beyond excited.”
After the last few years, the Kardinals needed the shot in the arm that a young, vibrant, energetic Andrews can provide.
The Kearny High School football program welcomes a new head coach in alumnus Stephen Andrews (center). From left are Gabe Sarango, Gabe Santos, Matthew Mauricio, Andrews, Brandon Loo and Devin Narvaez. Photo by Jim Hague