Change is underway in the Montclair State University football program. As the team enters the Mike Palazzo era, another new face is looking to make a splash at quarterback for the Red Hawks.
Enter sophomore Andrew Sanborn.
The 2019 New Jersey High School Offensive Player of the Year had one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in New Jersey high school football history, leading Union High School to a North II Group V Championship, throwing for 2,903 yards and 27 touchdowns. His 7,166 career passing yards placed him fourth of all-time in the state.
After two seasons at Division II American International College, Sanborn said that he is looking towards a fresh start at Montclair State.
“So when I decided I was going to leave American International my mind was set to Montclair State because I’m from Union and two of my close friends who are also my coaches in high school, [Jimmy Melody and Chris Deandrew],” Sanborn said. “They came here and I knew they had a relationship with [Head Football Coach Mike Palazzo] so I kind of asked him. I said put a word in for me and they kind of made it happen. I got in touch with Coach [Palazzo] and I got here. This is where I’m supposed to be so I’m happy.”
However, he was certainly not handed the keys to the offense right away. In training camp, Sanborn had an intense battle with established starter, junior Mason Murdoch, to determine who would be leading the Red Hawks into battle. Offensive coordinator Steve Scirriappa said that the competition in the quarterback room was able to elevate Sanborn in the preseason.
“[The quarterback battle] is very competitive and it still remains very competitive,” Scirriappa said. “We’re very fortunate we have a really good room of quarterbacks right now. [Quaterback coach Jon] Toye been with us for a few years now. Day by day little by little and the room as a collective has really gone upward every day and I think because of that it has elevated everybody in the room’s game, so when you look at Andrew, you know what he’s been able to do is just continue that climb every day and just little by little outpace just everybody who’s next one just by that one step”
When Sanborn was named the starter, he emphasized how much it meant for him to win the job.
“It meant a lot to me,” Sanborn said. “You know I came here, I knew it was going to be a battle you know there’s other guys in the room that are pretty good too so I knew it wasn’t going to be handed to me. I had to earn everything I get but you know I had to have the mentality that I was going to get the spot. I was expecting it so I didn’t want to settle for anything less so when I heard it I was like cool, great. I heard it’s set in stone they told me so now it’s time to go out there and play.”
Sanborn’s play style emphasizes mixing in the passing game with physical running ability. Through the first three weeks of the 2023 campaign, he has had three touchdown passes in the air and four on the ground. He said that he wants to bring his style of play to the team.
“I just hope to bring me,” Sanborn said. “You know I’ll bring the things I can do. I’m pretty good with my feet and my arm is pretty good too so I’m about to just bring as much as I could to this team to help them win a championship. I’m just excited to be here.”
Quarterback Coach Jon Toye said that as the season progresses, Sanborn is becoming more and more comfortable on the field, which can set the team up for big moments late in games.
“We realized you know as he gets more comfortable in the offense he just becomes more of a leader,” Toye said. “And then you see him out there and he gets the guys motivated man so when we’re down we feel comfortable. We feel confident [Sanborn] can go out there and get those guys going and ready to go and go get it come back going and then not on top of we feel like he’s a kid who has the ability to go out there and when it’s a game if you need to.”
Beyond their play on the field, quarterbacks are looked to as leaders for the offense. As a leader, Sanborn prefers to lead by his actions. Toye said that the team benefits from this style of leadership.
“He’s accountable, and the person he’s most accountable to is himself.” Toye said “He holds himself to the highest standard. When he messes up, he’s the first person to get on himself and the other guys take note of that.”
“I like to think that I’m a good leader and I like to lead by example,” Sanborn said. “So just being myself and kind of reasoning away for these guys having these guys lead the way for me you know, it’s not one man so everybody helps everybody.”
It’s no secret that in the past, Montclair State’s offense has struggled to put points on the board, only averaging 14.2 points per game in 2022. More often than not, the Red Hawks had found themselves on the wrong side of possession games, losing five games by less than a touchdown.
Sanborn is now in a position where he can potentially be a crucial piece of an offense that is now on the rise. Scirriappa said his abilities can help open up the playbook for the Red Hawks.
“Well we certainly hope he can be an X Factor, and we hope that for all our guys,” Scirriappa said. “Last year we were a little bit younger across the board on offense and this year we got guys for a little bit better and a little bit more seasoned and that is really certain, so we’re starting to be able to get those one possession games down to hopefully 0 possession games. [Against] Franklin & Marshall, we started slow but we were able to get that rhythm going and kind of find our groove. So that’s really when you think about what he’s going to give us over anybody else in the conference and give us confidence to just go out and call what we want to call and let the players play.”
When asked about his role in a changing team culture, Sanborn credits the coaching staff for bringing the right energy into the locker room.
“Well you know I like to think that I have a role in the whole thing but really, Coach [Palazzo] is changing the whole culture.” Sanborn said. “Coach Palazzo is doing a great job having these guys really be locked in, having us just be together and having a team atmosphere. It’s been really great so far.”