When you think of a team what is the first thought that pops in your head? Most people will say a group of big jocks in pads trying to score the winning touchdown or a duo running up court to set up an alley-oop. When it comes to Montclair State’s football team, those assumptions can be thrown right out the window. With just one game left in the season and still in the thick of the New Jersey Athletic Conference playoff race, the Red Hawks have looked to shock the world, and so far they have succeeded.
Last year didn’t go how the Red Hawks wanted, ending the year with a 5-5 record. Even with the down year, many on the team felt it was not indicative of the type of team Montclair State was. This only made the team hungrier coming into this year, looking to prove some of the doubters wrong. “When we were chosen to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason, we took that to heart.” said sophomore quarterback JaQuill Burch, “The entire team took it personally, we want to prove that Montclair can play in this conference, it was almost disrespectful of them to give us that ranking.” It became very obvious that the team taking that ranking to heart, because from the very start of the season they worked together in order to shock people. Starting the year off on the right foot with a 37-14 win over Salve Regina University, Montclair picked up momentum each passing week, all the way to a 5-0 record halfway through the year.
The new attitude of the team is one of the reasons why the Red Hawks have been so impressive this year, but it can’t take all of the credit. The offense is new and improved following an up and down year, averaging an entire touchdown more than last year. “This year is so much different, we aren’t butting heads in the huddle like we were last year, we’re all one team and one family which we have really bought in to” says starting left guard Matt Schnoll. That much can be seen by more than just the entire roster, it shows on gameday for everyone watching, “The difference is night and day compared to last year.” says play by play broadcaster Anthony Fastiggi. “As a broadcaster this year has been much more fun, the offense is dynamic, and that can mainly be attributed to new quarterback JaQuill Burch.”
Jaquill Burch and Matt Schnoll interviewed on 90.3 WMSC (picture taken by Tyler Monahan)
Burch has been a team first player for as long as he can remember, saying that he puts the success of everyone over personal success, and that is shown by the way he leads his offense in his first year as a starter. “It’s a family, and you never want to let your family down. If we all click on offense we are a dangerous team” says the quarterback. In his first year as a starter he sure has been able to make the offense click, giving the entire team a new dimension that was lacking in previous years. Fastiggi, who has seen both the good and the bad of Red Hawks football over his three seasons as a broadcaster, has been amazed at what one player does for an entire unit. “Burch gives the offense something new, he can extend the play in the pocket and force defenses to make mistakes using his huge arm. It is a breath of fresh air and a change from the very basic offenses of the past.”
While no one player can make a team, Burch is a great stepping stone for a young Red Hawks team. Since there is such a strong top of the conference, Montclair State is on the outside looking in at a possible playoff berth, but that doesn’t take away from the tremendous steps the team has taken to get back into contention. “We want to send a message to the rest of the New Jersey Athletic Conference that Montclair State is back and you better bring your game if you want to come to Sprague Field” says Burch.
The Red Hawks look to bring back a strong cast of players for next season, starting with Burch and his “bodyguard” in Schnoll, and if you ask the two, that gives them enough to win right there. “That’s my little brother” says Schnoll, “no one gets to hit him, and if we can keep him on his feet we know he is going to help us win the game.” For all of the negative conotations that the game of football may bring, this Red Hawk team is trying to buck that trend. A sense of family and hard work brings them together and has led to massive improvements on the field, something that is sure to continue into the future.
Tyler Monahan is a junior at Montclair State University studying Communication and Media Arts. He is currently the Sports Director at 90.3 WMSC and works as a freelance writer for libertyballers.com.