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Jan 14, 2020

Monmouth University Football Brings Winning Spirit to the Jersey Shore

By Tim Morris

All Photos Courtesy of MU Athletics: Recruiting has taken on a whole new approach for Monmouth University football Coach Kevin Callahan now that the Hawks have gained national exposure.

Recruiting has taken on a whole new approach for Monmouth University football Coach Kevin Callahan now that the Hawks have gained national exposure.

“We’re more of a household name now,” Callahan pointed out. “I used to have to explain who we were, but after the last three seasons, we’re more of a commodity.”

Indeed, the Hawks have become a well-known commodity to would-be recruits, and this year’s early-signing class is proof. The Hawks have received commitments from three players from Maryland and two from Pennsylvania. The 2019 roster featured players from Texas, Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Monmouth University football Coach Kevin Callahan garnered Coach of the Year honors after leading the Hawks to their greatest season on the gridiron that included the Big South Conference championship and a home victory in the NCAA FCS playoffs.

Callahan hasn’t forgotten his own backyard either with 17 Hawks coming from the Shore Conference.

The last three seasons that Callahan mentioned are responsible for Monmouth football’s arrival on the national stage. It started in 2017 when the Hawks earned an At Large bid to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) tournament for the first time. They followed up that 9-3 campaign with an 8-3 season setting the stage for their historic 2019 campaign.

The Hawks captured their first-ever Big South Conference championships, finally conquering their nemesis Kennesaw State, the team that had prevented them winning the conference title the previous two years. With the conference championship came another program first, hosting a FCS playoff game. Monmouth made the most of the opportunity by beating Holy Cross, 44-27, with junior running back Pete Guerriero rushing for 220 yards and three touchdowns.

Monmouth’s season ended in the FCS quarterfinals with a loss to No. 2 James Madison, finishing the year with an 11-3 mark (a single-season record for wins) and the No. 11 ranking nationally.

The Hawks’ success on the gridiron has meant more than name recognition; it has brought a whole new level of talent to the program. The Hawks who have made their way onto NFL rosters in recent seasons – including Reggie White, who played for the New York Giants in 2019 – are testaments to the program’s talent level and another selling point for recruits.

“We’re drawing from a different pool of talent,” Callahan said. “Doors are open that weren’t before. We play a high level of football.”

That talent pool helped Callahan’s team produce its historic, record-setting season in 2019.

“It was a special year, a special group of players, and I’m so happy for them,” Callahan said of the ’19 Hawks. “What stood out was the mindset they developed during the winter. They never got too high or too low. Their concern was always the next opponent. The goal was to be 1-0 this week.”

Monmouth University quarterback Kenji Bahar led the Hawks to the Big South Conference championship and was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

The season-highlight was getting by then-No. 4 ranked Kennesaw on the road, 45-21. Quarterback Kenji Bahar passed for 332 yards and ran for 92 more as Monmouth scored 42 unanswered points en route to the win.

“It was a dominating performance,” Callahan said.

That victory propelled Monmouth to the conference crown and a home game for the FCS championship tournament.

Since Monmouth’s home field, Kessler Stadium, was reopened in 2017, Monmouth is 15-1, including 6-0 in 2019.

“Playing in a new stadium our guys have a sense of pride in defending our home field,” said Callahan.

There was more to the record-setting season for Monmouth players. Major individual post-season awards were the reward for several Hawks starting with Callahan, who was named the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference FCS Coach of the Year and quarterback Bahar, who was named the ECAC Offensive Player of the Year.

Callahan also earned the title of Big South and AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Region II Coach of the Year.

Bahar was the Big South Offensive Player of the Year.

Five Hawks were All-Americans, including Guerriero, who led the nation in rushing yards (1,995) and made several All-American teams.

Joining the running back on the AFCA All-American Team were defensive back Tymere Berry and offensive linemen John Gallina.

The Associated Press named Guerriero to the All-America First Team and offensive lineman AJ Farris to the Third Team. Hero Sports named Guerriero, Bahar and Gallina All-Americans.

When Monmouth fielded its first football team in 1993 it was not a given that the Hawks would bring championship football to the Jersey Shore. In fact, there were many doubters.

“It’s satisfying to look back and see the entire evolution of the program,” Callahan remarked. “We started as a non-scholarship program and moved up to the NCAA. It’s very satisfying. We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the [Jersey] Shore community. It has taken pride in our success.”

A look at Monmouth’s 2020 schedule tells you all you need to know about how far the program has come. The Hawks open the season in September at Rutgers University. No one would have thought that back in 1993, but Callahan made it happen by bringing winning football to the Jersey Shore.