By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Nick Edwards will try to go somewhere not many in his position have gone before him.
The new Kearny High School head football coach will try to lead the Kardinals to respectability. It’s not an easy task, considering that the Kardinals haven’t been very competitive over the last decades.
But the 32-year-old Lyndhurst resident and elementary school teacher at Franklin School is eager to give it a try.
“Just to be able to give back to Kearny and help the kids have a better future,” said Edwards, who played high school football at St. Peter’s Prep and attended St. Peter’s College. “I want to be able to build a program, build a solid football base in Kearny.”
Edwards replaces Pete Llaneza, who tried to bring respectability to the program in his two years as head coach. However, Llaneza’s quest for respect ended abruptly last season, when he decided to take a forfeit loss against St. Peter’s Prep instead of playing the game.
That debacle brought a ton of negative attention to the Kearny football program, even making some nationally produced websites, criticizing Kearny for not playing the game.
“I know what I’m getting into,” Edwards said. “I want to be here. Anyone who walks in and takes over this program has to know what has happened here.”
Edwards also knows, because he spent five years as an assistant coach under the last three coaching regimes, namely Rich Howell, Oscar Guerrero and Llaneza.
Edwards was the defensive coordinator at Wood-Ridge last year.
Edwards credits his background in football, playing for St. Peter’s Prep and its Hall of Fame head coach Rich Hansen.
“I had a great head coach in high school in Rich Hansen who molded me into becoming a coach one day,” Edwards said. “He taught me about discipline and character. Coach Hansen always put in the time to help a kid.”
It’s Edwards’ relationship with Hansen that helped him secure the head coaching job. It will definitely go a long way to help heal the wounds suffered with last year’s forfeit.
“What occurred in the fall is something we want to get past,” Kearny athletic director John Millar said. “Nick is a graduate of St. Peter’s Prep and has a good relationship with Coach Hansen. The other coaches in the county know Nick and respect him as a hard working guy. He’s going to go a long way to project a positive image of Kearny football.”
Edwards believes that his relationship with opposing Hudson County coaches will also help. He played against people like Wilber Valdez of Union City and Czar Wiley of North Bergen. Edwards was a high school teammate of John Conroy of Ferris.
“First and foremost, I’m a Hudson County guy,” Edwards said. “I have a lot of respect for the coaches in the county. I played against most and coached against others. I hope they have the same respect for me that I have for them.”
Edwards did say that if he had been the head coach last year, the Kardinals would have played the game against Prep.
“Strap on the chinstrap and play the game,” Edwards said. “It would be the same way if it was St. Peter’s Prep or Snyder. I truly believe that football players play football.”
Edwards said that he already has a coaching staff in place, so now the hard work begins. He has to get kids interested in playing football.
“I can see the day where we have 50 or 60 kids on the team, all working together for one goal,” Edwards said. “I think it’s important to get kids interested in grammar school to get them prepared for high school. My main job now is to get a good relationship with the Kearny Generals (the youth football program) because those are the kids of our future. If we bring kids and they’re buying in at an early age, then that’s the first step.”
Edwards said that he plans to have a host of free football clinics to help teach the kids. He also said that he welcomes the Generals’ coaches to come and watch his practices.
“They should come and see for themselves,” Edwards said.
Edwards held the first team meeting Thursday with the prospective players, many of whom he was already familiar with from his days as an assistant.
“I think I have a good relationship with these kids,” Edwards said. “If they can understand that if I can change the culture of the program and put football back on the map, then they’ll be with me.”
Millar liked that approach.
“We’ve been without a head coach for three months now,” Millar said. “The kids are anxious to get going. They’re looking for discipline and guidance. They’re anxious to get to work. I can see it in their eyes. They’re ready to have a new coach. Sure, Nick has a lot of work ahead of him, but the numbers are already good.”
Millar thinks that the future looks bright with Edwards.
“At this time in his life, Nick is well prepared,” Millar said. “He’s ready. He’s desired to be a head coach all his life. Hopefully, he achieves all of his goals. We’ve had a lot of good guys who have tried to turn this thing around and make us a successful football program. Down the road, we will be successful. Nick is going to make this successful, not just for the school, but the whole community. I hope that Nick is a long-term guy and he’s here for a very long time.”
“I know what I’m getting into,” Edwards said. “I want to be here. I’m well aware of what has happened in the past. I plan on being here for a long time.”