By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The 2012 high school football season was rapidly approaching and the status of the Queen of Peace program was hanging in the balance. Because of a lack of participation numbers, school officials didn’t know whether to pull the plug on the program or allow the remaining players to continue. It was late August. Time was running out.
“We were in the grave and they were throwing dirt on us,” QP head coach Steve Romano said.
The situation was dire and the rumors were flying fast.
“We had other schools reaching out to our players, telling them to come there if the season was cancelled,” Romano said. “We had five or six kids who were ready to go. The kids were coming to me and asking what they should do. I was always honest with them and told them that I couldn’t stop them from leaving. But they wanted to see it through.”
How worried was Romano?
“I was very concerned, not just for myself, but for the coaches and for the kids who put 10 months of work into it,” Romano said. “I really didn’t know what to expect.”
The school administrators gathered right before Sept. 1 and decided that they were moving forward. Queen of Peace without football would be like taking away the school’s green and gold. It simply could not function without the sport.
Flash ahead to last Saturday afternoon. The Golden Griffins were slated to kick off the 2012 season against Manchester Regional in Haledon. No need for cancellations, postponements, what have you. The Golden Griffins had survived the tough times. They might have been left for dead, but they weren’t dead yet.
The Griffins opened the season with a resounding 40-6 victory.
“It was quite huge,” Romano said. “Normally, in Week One, you need about six minutes of the game to get into it. But these kids were ready. In fact, they were more than ready. If there was ever a group of kids who deserved an outcome like this, it was this group.”
The Griffins received 242 yards and four touchdowns from junior running back Kevin Momnohin, one of two twin brothers in the QP backfield. Momnohin, who amazed everyone by winning the NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship in the 400-meter hurdles in the spring after never having competed in the sport, scored touchdowns of 70 and 52 yards in the first quarter and 30 and 25 in the second.
“He had another 80-yard touchdown called back (because of a penalty),” Romano said. “He was amazing.”
Fullback Tajier Jefferson also scored a touchdown. Quarterback Anthony Villano threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Danny Douelfakar. It was a perfect day.
“I’ve been saying since January, telling the parents, that this was the best group of kids I ever worked with,” Romano said. “They’re all always happy. Their work ethic is tremendous. I knew we could be competitive. It was nice what we did last year. I thought we could build on it.”
The Golden Griffins were 5-5 last season and qualified for the NJSIAA state playoffs in Romano’s second season. The program looked as if it was moving forward.
That’s probably the reason why the players didn’t bolt when times got tough in August.
“They all rallied to it,” Romano said. “They all stuck it out.”
The Griffins feature a roster loaded with juniors, including returning starting quarterback Villano (6-2, 190), who threw for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
“He’s a gamer,” Romano said. “He gives us leadership and poise. When you have a young group like this one, you need that.”
Kevin Momnohin (5-9, 180) is the halfback. What he did on Saturday needs no explanation.
“He’s the real deal,” Romano said. “I watched him in a drill for 10 seconds and I knew he was the real deal. The great thing about him is no matter what, he’s always smiling. He’s the most coachable kid I’ve ever had.”
Jefferson (5-8, 200) is the fullback. He had four receptions for 36 yards to go along with his touchdown run.
“He moves very well for his size,” Romano said. “He runs well and can run you over.”
The wide receivers are Keith Momnohin (5-9, 180), the identical twin brother of Kevin, and Justin Thomas (5-9, 180).
“Keith has good hands and speed,” Romano said. “Justin is a possession-style receiver.”
The tight end is Douelfakar (6-2, 210), whose older brother Rahim was a three-sport standout at Harrison High and is currently playing volleyball at Rutgers-Newark.
Take notice: All of the Golden Griffin skilled position players are juniors.
Senior Bobby Keegan (6-3, 265), currently out of action with an injury, is a four-year starter at offensive tackle. Keegan is getting his fair share of looks from Division I-AA schools (now called FCS schools) as well as Ivy League and Patriot League schools.
The other tackles are juniors Michael Akanbi (6-3, 190) and Peter Lorfink (6-5, 330). The guards are juniors Andrew Gonzalez (5-11, 215) and easily the best name around, Babatunde Ojo (6-0, 210) and the center is – what else? – junior Jesus Martinez (5-8, 185).
Defensively, the Griffins feature Akanbi and Ojo at defensive end, with Lorfink, Gonzalez and fantastic freshman Chima Dunga (6-0, 205) at defensive tackle. Keep an eye on Dunga. He’s a player and a half.
“He has a lot of promise,” Romano said. “I like what I see from him already.”
Thomas, Jefferson and Douelfakar are the linebackers, with Kevin Momnohin and junior Justin Esteves (5-7, 140) at cornerback and Keith Momnohin and Villano at the safeties.
There’s no question that the Golden Griffins cannot afford to get injured.
“Depth is definitely a concern,” Romano said. “But this is a confident group of kids. They’re going to keep focused and keep smiling, that’s for sure. I don’t know a lot about the other teams we’re facing, but I do know we’re going to face some talented teams.”
The Griffins will face Hasbrouck Heights Saturday in a home game at Harrison High School at 1 p.m. The Griffins will play most of their home games at Harrison this season instead of Rip Collins Field, except for when they face North Arlington Oct. 26. That game will be played at Belleville’s Doc Ellis Stadium under the lights.
“I absolutely feel good about this team,” Romano said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”