by ANDREW GARDA
The NCAA has changed things up for high school seniors looking to declare where they will be playing football next season, setting December 20 as an early signing day for athletes to put ink to paper on their Letters of Intent. Five Mounties did just that, continuing MHS football’s strong tradition of sending kids to play at the collegiate level.
And not just sending them to any schools, but very academic institutions.
“If you’ll notice the five schools these young men are going to attend are extremely high academic institutions,” head coach John Fiore said during the ceremony on Wednesday. “And [those schools] are getting some of the brightest and finest young men we have to offer in Montclair. We’re very proud of them.”
All five schools — Bucknell (Tarrin Earle), William & Mary (Marcus Crowell), Wesleyan (Danny Banks), Claremont McKenna (Matt Niemann) and West Point (Danny Webb) — are will challenge the Mounties attending them.
Neither the players nor Fiore are worried though, as they know Montclair High School has prepared them for what lies ahead.
“I’ve been saying for years — eight years of combating losing kids to private schools — educationally, Montclair is extremly sound,” Fiore said as he sat in the Athletic Director’s office, where he is temporarily handling the AD job before Patrick Scarpello starts in the position. “It’s one of the top academic institutions I’ve ever been affiliated with and I’ve received tenure in five school districts. And the year I left Marlboro, we were the highest in SAT scores that year.”
Quarterback Tarrin Earle agreed, but also credits his coach for pushing the team to do better in the classroom.
“Coach always expects us to get B’s or better. We don’t strive for C’s, we strive for B’s and A’s. And if we don’t get good grades he won’t play us — it’s that simple. So, we all know the classroom is just as important as the football field and we all hold ourselves to high standards.”
And the results of that, Fiore said, speak for themselves and not just in football but across the board.
“How many kids have we sent off to Ivy League schools [as well as] the Little Ivies? Football is just a microcosm of that.
Fiore insists that if you want a good education, Montclair provides that. There’s no reason academic reason, in his mind, to go to a private school. And as far as success on the football field, he feels the record speaks for itself.
“I’ve been here eight years, and we’re 77-17, [with] three undefeated seasons, two 11-1 seasons, and four state titles,” he pointed out. “We’ve probably, as of now, [have sent] somewhere between 25-30 Division 1 scholarship kids when when this recruiting class is done, which is second to no public school and right there with the big parochials.”
The strong academics of the high school make Fiore’s job easier too, he said.
“When you have the academics that Tarin Earle, Danny Webb, Marcus Crowell, Matt Neimann, and Danny Banks have — and we have a few others like Harry Wiley and Finn Jensen who just haven’t made their decision yet — a lot of doors open for you, as you can see by today.”
There will be another signing day in February and Fiore said he wouldn’t be shocked if any players signing then went to other high academic schools.
Many Mountie players have said they look at college as a long term investment — planning the next four years for the next forty some of them have said — and they choose schools which will help them when they are done with school.
For Matt Niemann, heading out to California’s Claremont McKenna College was attractive for just that reason.
“[Claremont McKenna] seemed like it gave me the best opportunity after college,” the senior linebacker said. For Niemann, it will also be a return to home of sorts, as he lived in California until he was five or six years old and his family returns on occasion.
“Just going back is always nice,” he said. “I love the weather and it’s good football.”
For Danny Banks, playing both football and baseball in college wasn’t on his radar before this year.
“In all honesty, I never thought I would play college football, though not for any particular reason,” Banks said after the ceremony. “Starting last year I kind of did it for fun, and to just get back on the field. But coming this year with coach pushing a little bit more and a little bit more, I started to give myself a shot. I mean, why not?”
So when Weslyan gave him a chance to play both sports, Banks didn’t hesitate.
“I jumped at it. I thought it would be great opportunity to take.”
For left tackle/defensive tacle Marcus Crowell, it was a relief to be secure in his destination for 2018 and after speaking with coach Jimmye Laycock Wednesday morning, was even more excited.
“Obviously we didn’t have a great year, but that was due to injuries in some bad spots,” Crowell said of his new program. “I think we’ve got a really great group of freshmen coming in and the group coming back next year is really talented as well.”
Crowell believes the Tribe can improve greatly in 2018 and looks forward to being a part of it.
Danny Webb is also looking forward with anticipation. It’s been a year of firsts for Webb, setting both school and County records on his way to a State title, but what he didn’t realize was by signing with Army he would be setting another new record.
Webb was informed at the signing that he is the first Mounties player to sign with West Point over fifty years.
As with many things to do with Webb, though, he was looking at the bigger picture.
“Ultimately, the reason I chose West Point was to be part of something bigger than myself,” he said.
Along with excitement for the future, the Mounties who signed on Wednesday were also happy to have ended their MHS career on top and by achieving a huge goal for themselves and the team.
As Earle will tell you, to leave the program on a high note is a special thing. But, he said, it’s also not the end for any of them.
“To be able to go out on that high note and still have four more years of football left, with more high notes to finish out on and more accomplishments to have is really a great feeling. I accomplished a lot in high school and this is the closing of that chapter and I get to start fresh in Bucknell.”