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Talented Syracuse recruit David Thom-Rogers (top photo) can get high above a crowd to make a big catch and fellow junior, QB Drew Pfeifer (5), is another talented player to watch in the Montclair offensive attack this fall. Pfeifer and Thom-Rogers (8) have been lifelong friends as well. First-year head coach Jermain Johson (right, bottom photo) has brought in solid veteran assistants such as O-Line coach Ron Anello (left) to help ease transition for young Mounties who open new season on Sept. 2nd vs. West Orange. (SC photos and also by Gene Nann and Wil Young)

Montclair Has Talent On Hand
As Johnson Era Is Set To Begin

By Steve Tober

MONTCLAIR- There may not be a lot of margin for error when it comes to depth on its 62-man roster, but if Montclair can maximize the talent it does have on hand then perhaps first-year head coach Jermain Johnson can indeed see some nice progress for his young Mounties as the 2022 season nears its opener.

Montclair, which was 5-5 last fall, kicks off the new campaign by entertaining a strong West Orange team, 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 2, at Montclair State University’s Sprague Field.

“We definitely have some talent and good underclassmen as well, but the most important thing is staying healthy with the schedule we have ahead,” said the new Mountie head gridiron mentor during his team’s Media Day on Saturday (Aug. 13). “Once everyone learns the system on offense and defense that we’re trying to teach and just goes out and does it then I think we can really compete.”

An area of strength for the Mounties could be their potentially high-powered offense including the outstanding pass-catch junior tandem of quarterback Drew Pfeifer (6-2, 185) and wide receiver David Thom-Rogers (6-3, 180).

Senior wide receiver Isaiah Holm (6-3, 190), senior slot back-running back Semaj Adams (6-0, 170), senior RB Justin Bernal (5-9, 205) and sophomore RB Ja-khi Chance (5-8, 150) are among the other talented skill position players to watch.

“We have a lot of talented guys, no doubt about it,” said Adams, who is an excellent receiver but also an elusive running back and terrific defender at either outside linebacker or in the secondary. “The new coaching staff has been great and we’re developing a good chemistry out there.

“We know that the schedule is a tough one, but we look forward to the week-to-week challenges ahead.”

Pfeifer, who is also a college lacrosse recruit, is just tapping his potential as a high school QB having wet his feet in the fire last fall with a couple of key starts as a sophomore, albeit both in defeat, 35-21, in his debut on Oct. 15 at West Orange, and also in the 20-14, triple-overtime North 1, Group 5 playoff loss at Passaic Tech to end the 2021 season.

He suffered a shoulder injury at West Orange which limited his reps over the next couple of games, but he is a definite, young signal caller to keep an eye on in Essex County and doesn’t turn 17 until next month.

“I had a lot of work done on the shoulder, which was a weak point for me last year, but I had a great off season to build up that area and it’s now a strength for me and I’m feeling great as this season is about to begin,” said Pfeifer. “I really love this coaching staff and everyone has done a great job implementing all their philosophies with the players which is really helping our culture build as we come together as a team.

“I look forward to working with (Offensive Coordinator) Coach (Rob) Stern in making our game plan work in a big way and I know I have some weapons alongside me in the backfield and at receiver.”

Thom-Rogers, who already has an FBS offer from Syracuse University, looks forward to teaming up on a full-time basis once again with his longtime friend delivering him the ball.

“I’ve been best friends with Drew since we were in kindergarten,” said Thom-Rogers. “We’ve always been close and we have that great connection both off and on the field.

“I see him having a big season at quarterback and I will continue to work hard to do my part on the receiving end.”

Along with the skill kids, Montclair’s offense also has a solid O-Line building as new assistant coach Ron Anello works with a good mix of veteran and young talent to try and mesh as a wall of protection in front of Pfeifer and company.

“Coach Anello is really good at teaching us about line play and he’s a great motivator,” said junior left guard Wesley Mathis. “He’s a Hall of Famer and to have him here working with us this season is just tremendous!

“We’re ready to lean forward and be physical and I have some really good guys around me, that’s for sure.”

Mathis ( 5-10, 220), who started three games last fall, is one of the veterans on the O-Line along with senior left tackle Richard Fortune (6-3, 235).

Three potential additions to the starting unit are powerful junior right tackle Samir Cortez-Clark (6-2, 280), sturdy senior right guard Tylor McAuley (6-0, 230) and quick-a-foot senior center Chris ‘Mondy’ Moderoy (6-2, 260).   
Looking to provide strong blocking and also be another very adept receiver is senior tight end Jahaad Williams (6-3, 210).

“Pfeifer at QB and our receiving corps are amazing,” said Williams. “I also think we’ll have a solid defense which means a strong Mounties season.”

Former longtime Montclair State linebackers coach Bill Johnson, who worked most recently on the St. Peter’s Prep staff, is another superb assistant coach that Johnson has brought in for his inaugural season at Montclair High.

Bernal, who is a big hitter at linebacker, and Adams and Holm , who are part of an opportunistic and potentially very strong secondary, will help lead the Mounties’ unit of resistance in the new season.

“I knew that I wanted to bring in very qualified coaches to help make this first season flow as well as it could and it’s great to have some hard-core great veteran coaches to work with some younger guys I also brought onto the staff,” said Johnson. “We’re going to learn and grow together.”

On special teams, an area of strength will definitely be in the kicking game where senior Gage Hammond (6-0, 185), who is coming off a great off-season of work, should be one of the better field goal kickers and punters in the state.

“We want to win football games and I’ll do whatever I can to help us,” said Hammond. “I feel that I’m punting with more height with a bigger leg to keep the ball in the air for better coverage, and now the idea is to have my placekicking be more consistent which I’m intent on doing.”

It all gets going on Sept. 2 vs. West Orange, a team that is stockpiled with FBS talent and under the guidance of a top coach.

“West Orange is a juggernaut,” said Johnson. “And Darnell (Grant) is a great coach.

“Our schedule is unforgiving but as they say, ‘To be the best you have to beat the best, and now we just have to keep preparing each day to be ready for each challenge ahead.”

NOTES- While a number of last year’s assistant coaches have joined John Fiore’s staff at Elizabeth, holdover coaches still with the Mounties include Anthony Maffucci and Aubrey Lewis III, the grandson of the immortal Aubrey Lewis, whose uniform No. 17 is painted on the Woodman field pressbox…Johnson, who was last the head coach at Belleville, also was previously a head coach at Paterson Eastside and also the defensive coordinator at Wayne Hills. He played for coaches Chet Parlavecchio and Mike Carter at Bloomfield and then starred in the secondary for coach Rick Giancola at Montclair State…Stern is the former longtime OC at St. Joe’s of Montvale….Also working with the Mounties this fall is former star back Alvin ‘Ace’ Bowen, star of the 2002 playoff championship Montclair team who also had a brief stint in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills…Gage Hammond’s dad is longtime area soccer coach Ashley Hammond, who currently directs the Mountie girls soccer team. Gage has entered the commitment process to Wesleyan University, a top academic school in the New England Small College Athletic Conference…Anello retired last winter as the athletic director at Ramapo High School and is a former head coach at both West Essex and Clifton….Montclair will be at Red Bank Catholic on Wednesday (Aug. 17) where JFK-Iselin will also be part of a tri-scrimmage...Bernal rushed for 374 yards and 6 TDs last fall, while the youngster Chance showed his immense potential as he picked up 117 yards and scored a TD as a contributing back as a freshman in the final three games of the 2021 season...Adams did a bit of everything as a back and receiver with 839 all-purpose yards, including 223 yards and 3 TDs as a receiver and 273 yards and 3 more TDs as a back. he also returned 12 kicks for 244 yards and on defense had two interceptions with 68 yards in return yardage.

Montclair’s 2022 Schedule:
Friday, Sept. 2, vs. West Orange (at MSU), 8 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 10, at Nutley, 1
Saturday, Sept. 17, vs. Union City, 1
Friday, Sept. 23, at Livingston, 7
Saturday, Oct. 1, vs. East Orange Campus, 1
Friday, Oct. 7, at Irvington, 7
Friday, Oct. 14, at Ridgewood, 7
Saturay, Oct. 22, vs. Columbia. 1            

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Seniors Semaj Adams (2) and Justin Bernal (30) along with sophomore Ja-khi Chance (34) are among the running backs to watch for Montclair as they work under Rob Stern (right, bottom photo), who is team's new offensive coordinstor, and Ron Anello (left), who is the O-Line coach in upcoming season that starts Sept. 2 vs. West Orange at Montclair State.


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