I spoke to Rob Schwartz at this time last year to write a story about him being named the new coach at Kennedy, long a Section 1 football doormat. He had coached the JV team for nine years and understood progress would require a major change in culture. In this vein, Schwartz pulled a Herman Edwards, throwing up a few fresh coats of paint and installing some new equipment in the locker room. His goal? Make Kennedy football something students wanted to be a part of.
Whether it was smart thinking or good luck, Schwartz’s plan worked. Immediately. The Gaels turned their program around, going from 3-6 in 2008 to 5-3 last year. They not only qualified for the playoffs but advanced to the semifinals where they lost to eventual champ Nanuet in a competitive game, 21-7.
Kennedy hopes last year wasn’t an anomaly but graduation presented some serious challenges to overcome. The Gaels lost 14 seniors who helped build the program into a winner. Leading rusher Dylan Schuck (Union) and two-way star Marc Palmer (Franklin and Marshall) both went off to play in college. Key classmates were lost as well: QB Tyler Trodden, QB/DB J.T. Flanagan, RB/DB Boomer O’Dell and OL/DL Steven Conte.
Despite the graduation of his quarterbacks and Schuck, Schwartz believes he can fill the backfield with both quality and quantity. Senior Danny Girolamo will shift from receiver to QB and also start at strong safety. Senior RB Tim Kazinduka and senior FB Noah Gitta will be the main ball carriers, with emerging sophomores Robbie Yurkowski and Matt Kern providing some spark there.
The line is more of an issue. Senior LG/DT Sam Limatta is the only returning starter on the offensive line. The other key returning player expected to fill a role is Tom Angelilli, who played defensive end last year, but the rest of the line will be inexperienced on varsity.
Four starters return on defense to provide a little more comfort. Gitta has already proven himself as a solid LB. Limatta, Angelilli and Kazinduka provide some know-how along the defensive front, and Girolano will anchor the defensive backfield. Kazinduka, the main tailback, is so quick that he’s a key player in Kennedy’s pass rush as a DE, despite weighing less than 200 pounds.
A couple seniors could help: FB/LB Brooks Lawrence and WR/DB Zach Furman. Lawrence didn’t play football last year but should contribute.
Although the Gaels are still searching for an identity, they learned a few answers during a busy, if inconsistent summer. Their workouts included camps at Carmel, John Jay and Somers and a day at Champions Camp at New Rochelle.
Considering the position the program was in before he took over, I asked Schwartz if he fears a return to Kennedy’s previous form. “I hope so,” he said, but plenty of signs today showed the turnaround is real, even if the Gaels don’t make the playoffs or reach the semifinals in Class B again.
The varsity and JV teams have fielded a roster of 78 players combined — so many that they borrowed a couple helmets from Somers after running out of equipment. The school also has plans to build a turf field in time for next season, which, I imagine, would provide a Catholic school like Kennedy with a boost.
As for this season, it’s like I mentioned with Briarcliff and Pleasantville yesterday: The Class B landscape is pockmarked with uncertainty. Pleasantville and Croton-Harmon will provide Kennedy with its first challenge, but Schwartz wasn’t sure what to make out of that — or really out of the season in general.
“Who knows?” he said. “I think everyone going in isn’t sure what they have.”
Schwartz said he and his coaches have established last year as the bar they hope to reach, even if it seems lofty.
“We don’t want to take a step back,” he said.