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The Journal magazines are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Sep 29, 2021

Monmouth University Football Faces Pressure of National Ranking

By Tim Morris

Photo by Mark Mohrman, Monmouth Athletics. Monmouth University running back Juwon Farri was the Big South Conference’s Pre-Season pick for Offensive Player of the Year.

Getting to the top is one thing; staying there quite another. That is the task for the 2021 Monmouth University football team.

“Monmouth football is in the national conversation,” said Head Coach Kevin Callahan. “The challenge is to make sure we stay there. The bar has been set high.”

This past spring’s pandemic-shortened season (just four games) may have been Monmouth’s most productive not only because the team defended its Big South Conference title and played in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national championship playoffs, but the Hawks received their highest-ever national ranking among FCS programs, No. 10. With that, national ranking expectations around Monmouth football have certainly changed. The team has started the season off ranked No. 12 nationally. Coach Callahan, who begins his 29th season as the helm of the Hawk program with a record of 166-125, knows fully well what his team is up against but is confident his players have what it takes to stay on top. 

“We have a lot of experienced players who played significant time,” Callahan reported. The squad has 21 of 22 starters returning.

The spring season and its success had a carry-over into the team’s training camp this summer.

“It paid dividends,” noted Callahan, the 2019 conference Coach of the Year. “The camp went very well. They are physically well-prepared. It allowed us to get into game mode earlier.”

The spring season did more than physically prepare Monmouth for the 2021 campaign; it created a team bonding that is vital for any football team looking for success.

Just what the Big South coaches think of the Hawks was evident in the pre-season rankings. The Hawks are picked to win the conference championship again.

“It’s flattering we are picked No. 1 in the conference, but the target just got bigger,” said Callahan.

Not only was Monmouth picked to win the conference, the Hawks had the pre-season Players of the Year picks in Offensive Player of the Year junior running back Juwon Farri and Defensive Player of the Year senior defensive back Anthony Budd.

Farri, from Germantown, Maryland, was the Big South Offensive Player of the Year this spring, leading the conference in rushing (130 yards a game). He was second in the nation in rushing and No. 1 in points per game (15.0). Budd came to Monmouth from Riverdale, Maryland, and was First Team All-Defense last season when he had two picks and 26 total tackles, including 14 solo. Hawks were also sprinkled all over the Pre-Season All-Conference Team.

On the offensive side of the ball, Monmouth is represented on the First Team by quarterback Tony Muskett (So.), Farri, wide receivers Lonnie Moore IV (Gr.) and Terrance Greene (Jr.), tight end Gene Scott (Sr.) and offensive linemen Just Szuba (Sr.), AJ Farris (GR.), Mahmoud Shabana (Gr.) and Manny Christian (Gr.).

In addition to Budd, the Hawks on the First Team Defense include lineman Kahari Scarlett (Gr.), linebackers Eddie Hahn V Da’Quan Grimes (Gr.) and defensive back Justin Terry (Sr.). Kent Vines (Sr.) was named to the Special Teams as the long snapper.

As verified by the number of Hawks on the Pre-Season All-Conference Team, there is a lot of talent and experience on this squad with playmakers on both sides of the ball. With Muskett, Farri and receivers Moore and Greene returning along with the four veteran lineman, the Hawks could be more explosive than they were in the spring season when they averaged 35 points per game.

Defensively, the Hawks allowed 18 ppg last year and figure to be just as stingy this fall.

Although the Hawks are now a nationally recognized program drawing athletes from throughout the country, Callahan still looks close to home for talent with Shore Conference players throughout the roster. Locally, there’s ex-Red Bank Catholic star Hahn V. Also on the roster are: Dominick Spano (Sr. DL, Saint John Vianney) and Austin Fischer (Jr. OL, Holmdel) among the bevy of conference players.

While there is a lot to be excited about Monmouth football, there is something else that has the players fired up: the fans will return to the stands at Kessler field.

“They’re excited about having fans at the games,” Callahan pointed out. “There’s a special feeling at home games.”

Monmouth’s games will be televised on ESPN3 and ESPN+ this season as part of the Big South Conference television package.