Juan Garcia was just looking for a chance, any chance, to be a head football coach. Even though he is still only the tender age of 27 years old, Garcia felt like he paid the sufficient dues to get the opportunity to lead a high school football program.
“Honestly, I felt like I was ready a couple of years ago,” said Garcia, a former standout quarterback at Ferris High School, playing when current Union City head coach Wilber Valdez had just taken over there.
“I started coaching when I was 21,” said Garcia, who graduated from Ferris in 2003 and had stints at both Dickinson and Ferris as an assistant. “So I was ready.”
Garcia was even more ready when Marist athletic director Ron Hayward reached out to Garcia to see if Garcia had any interest in the head coaching position at the school, after former coach Dwayne Williams resigned at the end of last season.
“I was very excited,” Garcia said. “I didn’t think it could happen. But Marist reached out to me, so I was glad that someone had faith in me and recognized all the hard work I’ve been doing. If you work hard, I guess word travels.”
Garcia said that his experience as the head baseball coach at Ferris for the stint when Mike Hogan had to step aside helped him get recognized as a football coach.
“I guess they wanted to see what I could do with a football program,” Garcia said.
Garcia inherits a program that qualified last season for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoffs for the first time since 2005.
The first days of Garcia’s tenure didn’t exactly go smoothly.
“In the beginning, it was a little tough,” Garcia said. “I’m a young coach coming in and I was making demands of them. But now, they’re starting to trust me and listen to me.”
Garcia also realizes that he has a very young roster to work with.
“We have so many underclassmen starting,” Garcia said. “I think it helps that we don’t have a lot of kids with varsity experience. We have kids who just didn’t know what to do.”
That inexperience showed in the Royal Knights’ season-opening loss to Morristown-Beard, but they recovered a week later, defeating Montclair Immaculate, 40-33, thanks to an absolute offensive explosion by the team’s top returning player, senior running back D’Ondre Robinson.
Robinson had 144 yards rushing and scored the Royal Knights’ lone touchdown in the loss to Morristown-Beard, but that was nothing compared to what he did in the win last Saturday.
Robinson had 206 yards rushing, 58 yards receiving and 196 yards in return yardage. It means that he compiled 460 yards and scored five touchdowns – two rushing, one receiving, two on kickoff returns.
Robinson (5-11, 190) is clearly one of the best all-around players in the county. Garcia said that Robinson is getting looks from colleges like Temple and Monmouth, especially after Robinson was timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
“He’s a legit 4.4, because he’s done it more than once,” Garcia said. “Temple has asked for him to come down and see how college football is played.”
The Royal Knights’ quarterback is junior Myer Armstrong (6-3, 195), who looks like he has the tools to be a good one. A transfer from St. Peter’s Prep, Armstrong has a strong arm.
“He has poise and has a good handle of the offense,” Garcia said. “He throws the ball well and has a very good arm.”
The Royal Knights have good depth in the backfield, with senior Justin Burnett (5-10, 190) returning. Senior Allon Wiggins (5-10, 170) is another capable back, with sophomore Torrence Williams (5-7, 185) and freshman Isaiah Gordon (5-11, 200) also getting carries.
The Knights’ fullback is KeShawn Greene, a 5-10, 220-pound junior who rushed for 86 yards in the win over Montclair Immaculate.
The Knights’ main wide receiver has a lot of potential. Sophomore Fritz Moncion (6-5, 210) has all the physical tools a big-time receiver should have.
“He definitely has a lot of promise,” Garcia said. “He basically needs another year to come along, little by little. But he’s getting it. I like where he’s headed.”
The tight end, sophomore Steven Harper (6-1, 220), is another player with a tremendous upside.
“He has the ability to be a Division I player,” Garcia said. “He’s just so strong. He’s already getting noticed.”
The offensive line features only one returning starter in senior tackle Andre Hodge (6-3, 260). The other tackle spot is being shared by two freshmen, namely George Robin (5-9, 240) and Alvin West (6-1, 260).
The guards are sophomore William Yuknalis (5-11, 240) and senior Ed Oresta (5-7, 215), with senior Christian Ivery (5-8, 270) at center.
Defensively, the Knights play Moncion and sophomore Matthew Newsome (6-0, 165) at defensive end, with Yuknalis and sophomore Lionel Peterson (5-10, 190) at defensive tackle.
The linebackers are Greene, Harper, and Burnett, with Gordon at one cornerback and sophomore James Herron III (5-7, 150) and junior James Harris (6-0, 160) sharing time at the other corner. Williams and Wiggins are at safety, although Robinson manages to get on the field for some plays at safety to capitalize on his athleticism.
The Royal Knights are a lot better off at 1-1 than they would have been at 0-2, so last week’s win, the first of Garcia’s career, turned out to be a huge one.
“I feel a lot more confident now with a win,” Garcia said. “They’ve managed to battle through some adversity and get a win. It’s a confidence booster and one we need, because the bulk of our schedule is coming home, facing Hoboken, Lincoln and St. Anthony. If we were 0-2, we’d be in a lot of trouble. I feel much better now.”
Although he’s young, Juan Garcia certainly knows the rigors of being a head football coach already after just two weeks.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.