By: Record Sports, Nick Ganataifis
Relevant and consistent.
Pompton Lakes has managed to maintain these two traits that other small schools have struggled with due to lack of size and numbers.
The Cardinals qualified for the postseason last year despite a slow start in which they went 1-3 the first month of the season. They were 2-4 before turning it up a notch by winning its final two games of the regular season.
Last fall marked the third straight year the Cardinals qualified for the postseason, and a first-round loss to rival Butler resulted in a 4-5 overall record.
“We came into last season really young and it showed early on,” coach Scott Mahoney said. “We didn’t have much experience and the team was mostly made up of sophomores and first year starters. But we came a long way as the season wore on.”
The Cardinals are young, at least on paper, but they’re veterans in terms of experience. Of the 38 players on the roster, 18 are juniors and 13 are sophomores.
“Qualifying for the playoffs and fighting for a spot really helped the younger players grow up,” Mahoney said. “Although we lost in the first round to the eventual sectional champions, it showed everyone what needs to be done to win and the commitment involved.”
Mahoney has a challenging scrimmage schedule lined up this summer with match-ups against Montville, Morris Knolls and Johnson.
Pompton Lakes has won six NJSIAA sectional titles in the modern playoff era (1974-present) and has made 25 postseason appearances.
In a nine-year span, the Cardinals claimed three North 1, Group 1 championships in 2005, 2011, 2012 and added a North 1, Group 2 crown in 2013. They won their first title in 1982 and second in 1997.
But Pompton’s history and tradition runs deep, dating back as far as 1932 when the football program debuted under the guidance of Charlie Benson.
At that time, Pompton Lakes was one of the few schools in the area that fielded a team. Several surrounding towns and communities would send students to Pompton Lakes High School.
In 87 years, Pompton Lakes has had only five head coaches.
It almost always comes down to numbers.
Though the Cardinals are still considered young, the majority of players have at least one year experience with significant playing time recorded since their sophomore year.
Pompton Lakes needs to fill some significant holes left behind by graduation, with their biggest challenge replacing All-Passaic running back and three-year starter Frankie Negrini.
But Mahoney believes he has a trio of workhorses in the backfield in juniors Justin Garcia, Dan Malkinski and sophomore Zach Maksimiak, who will all platoon and rotate throughout the season.
“With three moving in and out of the backfield, we’ll be well-rested and at full speed throughout most game,” Mahoney said. “I’m not saying we’re going to replace Negrini. He was a tremendous athlete and hard-worker. But we’ll have a new look this year and go with something different.”
Mahoney expects his team to take it a step further from last season and compete come late November.
After turning it up a notch in the second half, expect the momentum to carry into 2019.
With a battle-tested crew back in action, the Cardinals should compete for a conference title and qualify for the postseason for a fourth-straight time.
Seniors Philip Latora and Kyle Kleinot are three-year starters and will man the front line on both sides of the ball. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Brian Woodard is coming off a breakout junior year and gives returning junior quarterback Michael Eberhart a big-time target.
Senior Jason Testino settles in at strong safety and will move to the offensive line after playing numerous positions the last three years.
“Jason is beyond his years and he’s very mature,” Mahoney said. “We have experience at key positions and that’s always a positive.”