The Kearny High School football team made major strides in 2019, winning four games and staying in contention for an NJSIAA state playoff berth in November.
But the Kardinals lost many of those key players of last year’s success to graduation, putting third-year head coach Stephen Andrews in a bit of a quandary.
“We could have done a better job evaluating our backups last year,” said Andrews, a former standout player at Kearny and The College of New Jersey. “We’re so youthful at this point. We’re developing a lot of our players. Right now, it’s all developmental. That makes this season a true challenge.”
Especially when it’s a truncated six-game schedule that begins Friday night at 7 p.m. against Teaneck.
“I have an excellent coaching staff,” Andrews said. “That’s our one saving grace. We all have a very tough job, getting this team ready. But we have the right people in place. It’s the best coaching staff I’ve ever had.”
The Kardinals’ quarterback is senior Michael Rivera (5-foot-11, 180 pounds), who was the backup signal caller last year. Rivera earned some playing time last season.
“He looks better in games than he does in practice,” Andrews said. “He’s a good manager of the game. He throws the ball pretty well. He has an accurate, tight spiral.”
The main running back is sophomore Adonis Chong (5-8, 165).
“He’s still progressing,” Andrews said of Chong. “He’s learning the game, learning our schemes. But he makes the right decisions.”
Freshman William Polizzotto (5-10, 170) will play varsity football right away and will be part of the Kardinals’ backfield.
The receiving corps features basketball standout Ryan Gil (6-4, 175), who is playing football for the first time. The junior has made quite an impact.
“He’s been fantastic,” Andrews said of Gil. “He works his tail off. He’s intelligent in football. He’s like a rebounder going up for the football. I’m very excited to see what he can do.”
The other receiver is returning senior Jack Cullen (6-2, 210).
“He has great hands,” Andrews said of Cullen. “He’s a good leader who can catch the ball well.”
Junior Israel Ormaza (5-11, 175) is back to be part of the receiving group.
“He has deceptive speed,” Andrews said of Ormaza. “He might be the hardest worker we have. He’s a pleasure to coach and does everything we ask him to do.”
The tackles are led by senior Devin Narvaez (6-2, 225), who is a three-year starter along the line.
“I never have to worry about our quarterback getting hit by the blind side because of Devin,” Andrews said of Narvaez. “He’s the heart and soul of the team.”
The other tackle is sophomore Brian Paulino (6-0, 215), but he’s being pushed by junior Steven Barreira (6-2, 265).
“Barreira is new to football,” Andrews said. “He has to learn the game, but he has a lot of potential.”
Junior Matthew Udis (6-0, 220) is one of the guards.
“He loves football,” Andrews said. “He could become a coach, because he’s always studying film.”
Freshman Jayden Martinez (6-0, 245) is the other guard. Andrews has no qualms in starting a freshman along the line.
“He has the potential to be one of the very best linemen we’ve ever had,” Andrews said. “He’s huge.”
The center is junior Jaden Figueroa (5-11, 180), who is a standout on the Kearny wrestling team in the winter.
“He has good feet,” Figueroa said. “He is very athletic. We’re working on his technique. But he has a solid frame.”
The defensive alignment is changed from a year ago. Andrews plans to take advantage of his speedy team, so he’s employing a 3-3-5 defense, with five defensive backs.
The defensive ends are Narvaez and Paulino. The nose tackle is between Martinez and sophomore Michael Charney (5-10, 230).
The middle linebacker is Cullen, who has enjoyed moments of brilliance on defense,
“We moved Jack from defensive end,” Andrews said. “He’s been chomping at the bit to play there for a while. He’s going to do well at defensive end. I trust him there.”
The other linebackers are Polizzato and senior Donovan Da Silva (6-2, 220).
If the Kards are going to win this season, they need solid play from their linebacker corps.
Sophomore Ariel Martinez (5-11, 170), a first-year football player, and sophomore returning starter Gabriel Ferreira (5-9, 165) are the cornerbacks.
“Gabe was fantastic last year for us,” Andrews said. “He’s a good football player.”
Chong returns as the important free safety/linebacker. He had a fumble recovery for a touchdown last year.
“He’s a natural leader there,” Andrews said of Chong.
The safeties are Ormaza and Alexander Amorim (5-10,175).
Andrews has reserved hopes for the season, which at times, he thought would never happen because of the pandemic.
“I didn’t know if we were having a season,” Andrews said. “But our seniors have worked so hard. They deserve a season. We’re going to continue to develop our young guys and our program.”
Sounds like a truly committed young man. After watching him through high school, college and beyond, one would never expect anything less from Stephen Andrews.
The Kearny High School football team will go as far as the Kardinals’ offensive line takes them. From left are Juan Zavala, Steven Barreira, Jayden Martinez, head coach Stephen Andrews, Jaden Figueroa, Matthew Udis, Devin Narvaez and Brian Paulino. Photo by Jim Hague
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”