by Andrew Garda
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, student-athletes all across the country put pen to paper and signed their National Letters of Intent, signifying both their desire to pursue both a high education and a higher level of competition on the field.
It was no different in Montclair, where seven athletes from both Montclair High School and Montclair Kimberley Academy, made their decisions on where they will compete and learn official.
For MHS, this year saw three football players, a soccer player and a swimmer decide to compete in college.
Offensive lineman and four-year starter Sebastien Fortune and wide receiver/defensive back Donovin Bell will be attending and playing at American International College, while offensive guard Patrick Barr will be playing and attending Fordham University, where much of his family has attended college.
The AIC Yellow Jackets are a Division II school which plays in the Northeast-10 Conference and went 4-6 in 2019.
The Fordham Rams are a Division I FCS program which competes in the Patriot League against schools like Colgate, Georgetown and Bucknell, where former MHS quarterback Tarrin Earle plays. Fordham is coming off a 4-8 season but is looking to make big strides over the next few years.
Fortune was named to the All-Essex County First Team offense this past season, while Bell was named to the First Team defense as a defensive back. Barr was named to the Second Team offense on the offensive line.
Mateo Neighbors will be just a short drive or train ride away playing soccer at St. John’s University in Queens, where he will play for Montclair’s own David Masur, the longtime head coach of the Red Storm. St. John’s is coming off of a 14-5-1 season, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament third round.
Neighbors had 10 goals and a pair of assists for the Mounties this past season, including a game-winning score against Caldwell in the Essex County Tournament semifinal.
Tommy White, whose two individual wins and two relay wins helped propel the Mountie boys swimming team to their second NJSIAA North 1, Group A final in a row this past Monday, will be heading to St. Bonaventure in upstate New York.
The Bonnies compete in the Atlantic 10, a Division 1 conference.
Each Mountie talked a little bit about how the coaches at MHS helped them prepare for college, from an academic standpoint as well as an athletic one.
“I think I had a very good relationship with the coaches,” said Bell. “They treated me like family, and they motivated me and made sure I stayed on task.”
“Coach Fiore, he’s been with me since freshman year, ever since I joined the football program,” Fortune said. “He told me I could be one of the best players on the team and pretty much go to whatever college I’d like. He’s been on me about school and everything and I’ve been following that the whole time.”
White said much the same about swim coach Edward Koenigsfest.
“For swimming, Coach K has pushed me from freshman year all the way until now to be the best swimmer and individual I could be,” he said. “He’s been a great role model, he’s pushed me to do well in the classroom as well as in the pool, and I’m just thankful for all he’s done for me.”
For Barr, it’s also about being surrounded by high-intensity, very focused student-athletes as well.
“I think you can kind of look at Montclair High School in a wider scope,” he said. “Montclair really offers everything from academics to athletics, and if you look at it, we’re successful in almost every sport year in and year out. So being around other athletes, that are competing at a high academic and athletic level, breeds that and is a very positive and helpful environment to be a successful athlete and student.”
Before this season, Neighbors hadn’t plays soccer at Montclair High School, but he said this past has been a huge benefit for him after the grind of playing soccer at Development Academies.
“The thing with playing DA is that it’s a grind,” he explained. “And sometimes you find yourself not really enjoying what you’re doing anymore. And I think coming back and playing high school with these coaches and my friends, it re-infused my love for the game. And I’m grateful for that.”
College Bound Cougars
The other two local athletes intending to play in college signed at MKA, and both will be playing softball at the next level.
Amanda Mack will be playing softball next season at Penn State in the Big Ten Conference.
Her MKA teammate, Emily Talkow, will be playing at Washington University in St. Louis.
The Bears are a Division III program and play in the University Athletic Association.
Talkow has been a tenacious infielder for the Cougars team the last two years, and excelled as a leadoff hitter during the 2019 season. She drove in 26 RBIs, but crossed the plate herself 39 times, and had a .443 batting average. Mack has been a big bat for MKA during her tenure and last season hit eight home runs and drove in 33 runs while hitting for a .541 average. Mack also called pitches from behind the plate for pitcher Geena Pacifico the last two years.