by Andrew Garda
Moments after Shawn Collins had picked off Livingston quarterback Jack Ernst near the end of the first quarter of Montclair High School’s 41-0, coach Dan Roberts turned and said “Collins is going to be the next D1 prospect.”
While the statistics aren’t exactly eye-popping right now — Collins has just two tackles to go with his pick — watching him throughout the game and on film gives you an appreciation for the potential the defensive lineman has.
Head coach John Fiore loves to see young players step up, as it only helps the Mounties on a weekly basis. He agrees with Roberts’ assessment.
“Shawn’s gonna be a D-1 player,” Fiore said after the game. “It’s good to see him blossom, and he’s a sophomore who gives us depth.”
That depth, as any coach will tell you, can be the difference between a great season and a disappointing one. When you have it, you can replace a winded or injured player. When you don’t, you’re trying to patch holes with whatever and whoever you can grab.
Senior Jaire Gray agrees the depth that a player like Collins brings is critical and very welcome.
“We have a lot of young kids coming up,” the Mounties strong safety said. “It’s nice to see that they can play on the same level as some of the older kids. It’s good for us because, down the line when we go, somebody will be able to step up.”
For seniors like Gray and linebacker/offensive guard Finn Jensen, a guy like Collins makes him excited for the future as well.
“It’s great to see young kids getting in because it means when we all leave next year, we’re leaving he program to some good players,” Jensen said.
And for guys like Collins, the best appears to be yet to come.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but apparently you can teach a senior linebacker how to be a guard on the offensive line.
At least, that’s what the Mounties have asked Jensen to do this season.
“It’s a whole different scenario,” he said of transitioning between the two positions in game. “I was outside linebacker and then you have to get down in the trenches where everyone is a little bigger. You just gotta work a little bit harder [to adjust].”
It’s not a complete readjustment, as Jensen has been on the offensive line earlier in his MHS career, but it has been a while. So it makes sense that he approached the whole thing with some trepidation.
His initial experience in the preseason left him a tad overwhelmed.
“I was really worried to begin with. When we started off the preseason, we played a very hard scrimmage schedule and I went up against some kid going to Notre Dame,” he recalled. He survived that initial test, and found that starting off against a D1 prospect right away made everything else seem manageable.
“Since then it’s all been a little easier than that.”
His extra responsibilities haven’t slowed him down at linebacker; Jensen has compiled seven tackles and broken up one pass.
We haven’t seen much of quarterback Tarrin Earle’s ability this season, as the Mounties haven’t had to throw a ton. What we have seen has been pretty impressive though, and none more so than the 32-yard throw to Charles Murphy late in the first quarter of the Livingston game.
The play call comes on 4th and 24, after the Mounties had been pushed back 5 yards due to a flag for an illegal man downfield, the second time MHS had been called for that in three play attempts.
The formation is often referred to as “Muddle” and consists of the bulk of the offensive line shifting over to one side (in this case the left sideline) with a player (often a running back, in this case Danny Webb), set just behind the abbreviated line. Meanwhile the quarterback, and another running back (Willie Matthews for this play) line up behind a center with a receiver set just off to the right of them.
It’s a play you see a lot in Mounties games, usually on point-after attempts. In this case, it’s a fourth down call, and the coaching staff has moved two linemen to shore up the center.
The idea is to make the defense choose. Do they cover the back to the left with a brace of blockers in front of him, and risk the ball remaining with the quarterback? Or do they keep the defenders closer to the quarterback and risk a screen pass to the back on the left?
Most teams split the difference, leaving most of their defensive line to one side against the offensive linemen, with the more athletic linebackers and defensive backs responsible for containing the quarterback, along with the other running back and receiver.
If it makes your head spin reading about it, imagine how it looks to a defense.
In this case, Earle likes what he sees and calls the snap. The receiver to his right takes off down the field, as does the running back lined up next to him.
Webb also heads downfield, as does Murphy, who had lined up along the offset line as a tight end. His route is pretty simple, a post route which he crosses with Matthews. Both receivers do a good job of getting inside on their coverage, so that they are between Earle and the defender. That gives Earle the cleanest look to get them the ball and creates the least amount of opportunity for the defensive back to disrupt — or worse, intercept — the pass.
While the throw is a little bit high, Murphy is in perfect position to make a play and Earle clearly trusts his receiver to do so. Murphy leaps up, extending his body to aggressively make the catch — what is often called “high pointing” the ball — and the defender can’t do anything about it as Murphy’s body is between him and the ball.
Murphy then simply allows his momentum to send him into the end zone.
It’s a great catch and a nice throw, one that highlights how much chemistry there is between Earle and his receivers.
“It’s really great to have a quarterback who trusts you like that,” Murphy said after the game. “We’ve worked really hard on it.”