by Andrew Garda
It may still be early in the preseason for the Montclair High School football team, but in reality it’s always football season. Even as the school year comes to an end, because it’s at that point that New Jersey plays two storied football All-Star games for graduating seniors.
Montclair High’s Matt Battle and Jacob Manthey will be representing MHS at the Paul Robeson All-Star Football Classic this Thursday, June 13, a 7 p.m. kickoff at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange; while Gary Robinson Jr. will play in the Phil Simms North-South Football Classic on Monday, June 24, a 7 p.m. kickoff at Kean University.
Manthey will serve as the East All Stars’ kicker/punter for the 26th Robeson game, while Battle will play on the defensive line. Head coach John Fiore will also be on the East coaching staff.
The Robeson game matches up the East, comprised of graduating senior from Essex and Hudson counties, against the West All-Stars, comprised of players from Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties.
The Mounties had two other selections for the Robeson Classic, but defensive back Walter King and linebacker Amarae Witter are unable to attend.
As for Robinson, who will take part in the North-South game as a defensive lineman, he will be one of 89 players statewide to be picked for the prestigious 41st annual all-star contest.
As always, the Mounties are well-represented as New Jersey celebrates its senior football players one last time before they attend college.
SUMMER SWEAT, FALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
The Mounties are already hard at work. As of Monday, June 10, the team has officially started off in the weight room, and will be meeting after school all June for conditioning, lifting and some light non-contact drills.
With Fiore spending his days with the Robeson All-Stars in the lead-up to Thursday’s Classic, assistant coach Jaime Bittner and the rest of the staff will be putting the team through its paces.
The team will practice until the week of July 4, which is a dead period, after which the group will be back at Woodman Field. Practice will be from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., as was the case last season. The Mounties had done some practice in the late afternoons and early evenings prior to 2018, when Fiore’s responsibilities also included overseeing the weight room at the Furlong Field House.
The Mounties could be more of an unknown quantity than usual in 2019. Montclair went 7-5 and reached the North 1, Group V sectional final in November, but will have to see players step up at a number of positions to replace graduating seniors — most notably in the footsteps of Charles Murphy at quarterback and Willie Matthews at linebacker.
“We’re going to have a lot of positions to fill,” Fiore said. “Like Bitt says, we’re just getting to know the boys.”
Looking ahead to the 2019 schedule
The 2019 MHS football schedule will feature a familiar set of opponents. The Mounties will play eight of the nine teams they played a season ago.
The one exception is, naturally, Washington High School of Massillon, Ohio, which was a one-off road trip last fall. In its place, Montclair will host Bayonne (7-3 last season) on Sept. 21 — one of three non-division games on the schedule this year, the others being Seton Hall Prep (5-6) and Irvington (8-4).
As usual, MHS has sought out a challenging slate of opponents during its preseason. The traditional preseason quad scrimmage is set for Wednesday, Aug. 21, beginning at 10 a.m. at Woodman Field. Montclair will host powerhouse programs Elizabeth and St. Joseph of Hammonton, as well as a fourth team to be determined.
The second summer scrimmage will take place Saturday, Aug. 24, a 10 a.m. kickoff at Hamilton West High School in Mercer County.
Finally, the preseason will wrap up with the Mounties’ game scrimmage, set for Thursday, Aug. 29, 10 a.m., at Woodman Field against Sayreville.
The regular season gets going the following week, as Montclair hosts West Orange (3-7) Saturday, Sept. 7, a 1 p.m. kick at Woodman.
Four of the Mounties’ first six games are at home, including the Bayonne game on Sept. 21, Columbia (1-9) on Oct. 5, and Seton Hall on Oct. 12.
The two early-season away games are at Nutley (4-6) on Saturday, Sept. 14, and at rival East Orange (7-3) on Saturday, Sept. 28.
MHS will play its only two scheduled Friday night games in consecutive weeks in late October, first heading to Foley Field for the neighborhood rivalry game with Bloomfield (4-6) on Oct. 18, and then busing down I-280 to visit Livingston (7-3) on Oct. 25.
The regular season wraps up Saturday, Nov. 2, at home against Irvington.
The first two rounds of playoffs taking place Nov. 8-9 and 15-16, with sectional finals to follow on the weekend of Nov. 22-23. The “regional championship” games pitting the North 1 and North 2 sectional champions (as well as the Central and South champions) against each other will be played either Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 29-30, or the following weekend, Dec. 6-7.
New to the playoff system for 2019 is a new “snake” bracket, an attempt to balance out the strength of each playoff section. Under this format, the No. 1 overall seed in North, Group V will be placed as the No. 1 seed in either the North 1 or North 2 section, while the No. 2 and No. 3 overall seeds will be placed in the other sectional bracket.
This is a change that could affect the Mounties — in 2018, MHS earned the fourth-highest power ranking in North, Group IV, but they were the No. 1 seed in the North 1 bracket because of geography. Had this year’s system been in place last year, Montclair would have been the No. 2 seed in Piscataway’s section.
Meanwhile, the playoff seeding system will undergo a minor overhaul. As with last year, teams will be seeded in part by how many power points they accumulate. New this season, the NJSIAA will factor in a new metric, “Opponent Strength Index,” into the seeding.
The OSI replaces the Born Power Index ratings which were used last year. Similar to the Born ratings, the OSI will fluctuate from week to week depending on results, and will reward teams playing tougher schedules.
However, unlike the Born ratings, the mathematical formula to determine the OSI ratings is publicly available and transparent. Updated OSI numbers will be released following each week’s games.