Without sugarcoating, bluntly, last season just did not go quite as intended for the Montclair State football program. Coasting into the season with high expectations, the Red Hawks under whelmed in 2016 finishing with a losing record of 4-6 . As a result, storied Division III head coach Rick Giancola and his Red Hawks found themselves smack dab in the middle of the pack in the New Jersey Athletic Conference’s Preseason Coaches Poll, predicted to finish seventh out of the ten teams. Yet, being overlooked will just add more motivation for the Red Hawks who are positioned perfectly to surprise their NJAC foes with a big bounce back season. Flying under the radar, Giancola’s squad is poised to sound the alarm on the critics snoozing on them.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Red Hawks major priority will be seeking a more efficient, balanced attack in the air and on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Adzima is in line to start the season under center with junior John Apicella serving as the backup as well as being mixed in on certain situations during games. Last season, Adzima completed 47 passes on 115 attempts while throwing for 6 touchdowns, 796 yards and 7 interceptions. Adzima’s offensive line will be anchored by all-conference lineman Kevin Merkle, one of the Red Hawk’s heart-and-soul leaders.
Versatile wide receiver and Adzima’s top target, senior Julanee Prince, sets out to build upon his impressive 2017 campaign where he racked up 501 yards and hauled in 6 touchdowns. Fellow senior receivers Joe Schultz, Taj Huggins and Stefen Fleming along with a plethora of underclassmen wide outs (the Red Hawks welcome six new recievers to the nest this season) will battle for position on the pecking order as Adzima will try to spread the wealth.
Junior running back, Anthony Traviasano, is dealt the tough task of filling the cleats of the former First-Team All NJAC workhorse running back, John DiStefano, who led the conference with 1,379 all-purpose yards and rushed for 125.7 yards per game. Virtually the only true competitor to the heavily fed DiStefano for touches last season, Traviasano managed to turn his 36 attempts on the ground into 116 yards. The Clark, N.J. native will be eager to make the most out of his new featured role while other backs in the stable such as junior Willie Barr, sophomores Craig Merkle and Robert Coursey along with incoming freshman Nick Sodano vying for snaps, too.
Flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, the continued solid performance carrying over from last season on part of the fearsome foursome of seniors that includes defensive lineman Vincent Cordasco, defensive back Shaon Stephenson and linebackers Joshua Betts and Nick Catalano will be key to the unit’s success. Cordasco dominated last season for the Red Hawks, leading the team with 76 total tackles and finished second on the team with 7.0 total sacks. The Cedar Grove alum will once again be mightily counted on to be a constant disruptive force in the trenches. Stephenson hopes to elevate his game to another level in 2017 where he had an interception as well as 63 total tackles. The Red Hawks will tout a bevy of hungry players on defense ready to contribute significantly, including sophomore ‘ball hawk’ defensive back, Dylan Elliot, who led the team with 4 interceptions last season, along with junior linebacker Mauro Altamura, who chipped in with 46 tackles and 6.0 tackles for a loss of 17 yards.
In 2016, the Red Hawks committed 84 penalties for 753 yards compared to their opponents 67 penalties for 673 yards. Also, the Red Hawks seemed to start and finish games strong as they outscored their opponents 68-48 in the first quarter of games and 48-33 in the fourth quarter but lacked in the second third quarters of games, being outscored 79-44 and 36-14. If the Red Hawks pledge a more disciplined approach on both sides of the ball in 2017 and piecing together complete game at full throttle, there is no reason for Rocky to NOT wing his way back into the playoff hunt in 2017 with the reliable core of players returning.
The Red Hawks kickoff their 2017 road to redemption this Saturday, September 9th, trekking up to Rhode Island for a clash with the Salve Regina Seahawks at 12 p.m at Gaudet Field. The Red Hawk’s home opener is scheduled for Saturday, September 23rd versus the Christopher Newport Captains at Sprague Field at 1 p.m.