Monmouth University didn’t need to try too hard to recruit Howell High School’s all-purpose football standout Eddie Morales III. The Rebel, it turns out, had a pretty good idea of where the Hawk program was headed: upward.
“I saw it coming in high school,” said the Howell High grad. “It was just a matter of time before it happened.”
It was Monmouth football raising its national profile. The Hawks took another step forward nationally by joining the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), perhaps the top Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) conference in the country this year.
At the CAA’s media day, the ex-Rebel expressed how happy he was at the prospects of playing for Monmouth in the CAA.
“I’m glad it happened while I was still playing for Monmouth,” said Morales.
Monmouth Head Coach Kevin Callahan noted that everyone in the program is looking forward to playing in the CAA and the challenges ahead. The 13-school conference has national powers like national championship winners Delaware and Villanova.
“Everyone is excited,” said Callahan, who is in his 30th year as the only head coach of Monmouth football. “We’re excited and honored to be joining the CAA which is one of the elite conferences in the FCS. It puts four, five or six teams in the playoffs. We know that we’re going to be challenged each and every week.”
Because of the top-to-bottom quality of the CAA teams, Callahan, who brings a 173-129 career record into the season, pointed out that developing roster depth will be crucial for Monmouth.
“We have to have a lot of depth,” said Callahan. “[The CAA] can be a war of attrition. We spent the off-season and summer working on our strength and conditioning programs.”
Monmouth quarterback Tony Muskett expressed the excitement the Hawks are experiencing.
“It’s a great conference to be a part of,” he said. “They put a number of teams in the playoffs. We play great teams ever week. Every week we have to prove ourselves.”
Monmouth moved to the CAA from the Big South where the Hawks made their big breakthrough winning conference championships, making the FCS playoffs and winning a playoff game and earning a top 20 national ranking (as high as No. 12).
The CAA showed the respect it has for Monmouth’s program by placing four Hawks on the its pre-season All-Conference Team. Morales, named to special teams as punt returner, and quarterback Muskett made the first team with running back Juwon Farri and punter Ryan Kost given honorable mentions.
“It’s humbling,” Morales said of being a pre-season pick, adding that “it’s only pre-season, and the focus is on the team.”
Callahan said that the Hawks will be relying on Muskett, who led an offense that averaged 32 points a game while going 7-4 in 2021, and running back Farri. Both were All-Big South First Team picks last fall.
“Tony makes us go,” said Callahan. “He’s cerebral and a great leader.”
Muskett, a junior, passed for 2,651 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2021. As a three-year starter, he brings valuable experience to the position which will be important moving into a new conference against teams the Hawks haven’t faced before.
Farri, a redshirt senior, ran for 705 yards and eight touchdowns.
Although the Hawks graduated their entire starting line, Callahan doesn’t expect the team to miss a beat this year. The return of two-time All-Conference tackle Justin Szuba (Gr.), who missed last year due to injury, is a big reason. He was a two-time All-Big South pick.
Defensively, Monmouth’s strength is the secondary led by fellow grad student Morales. The corner back had a team-high three interceptions and six pass breakups in ’21. He recorded 57 total tackles, including 35 solo.
Returners Tyrese Wright (Sr.) and Mike Reid (Jr.) are proven tacklers in the secondary. Wright led the team in tackles with 71 (49 assisted and 22 solo), and Reid had 39 stops.
Da’Quan Grimes (Gr.) leads the line-backing unit while
Nick Schoemaker (Gr.), Pat Hayden (Sr.) and Dominick Spano (fifth-year Sr.) lead a deep defensive line that can pressure the quarterback.
Kost is a weapon with his punting. He averaged 44.4 yards a kick in ’21.
Monmouth kicked off its first CAA season on Sept. 1 with its CAA debut at New Hampshire. The Hawks’ first home game at Kessler Field was on Sept. 10 against Fordham of the Patriot League. Monmouth’s first CAA home game is Saturday, Oct. 8 against Albany.