There was very little time between when Alex Vega accepted the head coaching position at John F. Kennedy Campus, and when he actually took the reins of the football program last season heading straight into the opening kickoff. There was barely time for introductions, never mind learning new offensive and defensive schemes.
The fact that Kennedy wound up with a winning record and a playoff spot was a testament to Vega and his staff’s diligence — and the Knights’ dedication.
But things are different this year. Vega now begins his second season as head coach in a much more relaxed — and confident — frame of mind. What a difference a year makes.
“Last year we just kind of rolled with the punches, but this year we were able to have an offseason and I was able to put them through a weightlifting program,” Vega said. “Plus we installed our offense and defense in the winter and spring, and that was a big plus. Last year when I got the job here, we only had about a month to install everything to kind of get going.”
So what is the result of Vega’s endeavors?
“We’re bigger, stronger, faster,” the coach said. “You’ll see the difference in this team when you see them in person. We look the part.”
It was hard to decipher what area of his team Vega was most excited about. Ask him about his offense, and he’ll expound on a deep and talented bunch. Defense? He tends to go on and on singing its virtues. But one step at a time.
So what’s to like about the Knights’ offensive unit?
“We have Chris Boadi back, and we also have Karamogo Sylla back as well,” Vega gushed. “I feel like we have the two best running backs in the entire city on the same team. They could definitely start for any other team.”
OK, but what about the offensive line? Can they open up holes for Boadi and Sylla?
“We have three starters from last season back on the offensive line,” Vega said. “I have my center, Jose Rodriguez, coming back. Our right tackle Rafael Rodriguez is back, and so is our right guard Aury Fernandez.
“But I also have another kid, Isaac Desena, who got significant playing time on the offensive line last year because of injuries. So it’s like we have four guys coming back on the line. They’re going to be very good.”
The Knights also return starting right end Alberto Olivo and sophomore fullback Mory Kourouma. Spoiler alert: Vega really likes Kourouma a lot as well.
“He is going to be a beast,” Vega said. “He’s a fullback and a nose guard (on defense). He’s going to be a real good one.”
Senior Chaze Milton will step in at quarterback to replace the graduated Franklyn Garcia.
So the cupboard is full on offense. How does the defense shape up?
“I’m actually more excited about the defense than I am about our offense,” Vega said. “We have a lot of guys who are physical and who have a lot of speed. I mean, we still have a long way to go to be a finished product, but I feel like we have the pieces to be really, really good on defense.”
Vega points to Boadi at outside linebacker and Kourouma at nose guard as two players to watch this season.
About the only time Vega seemed a bit subdued was when he was asked about the loss of the Kennedy-Clinton rivalry due to Clinton moving from the PSAL’s City Conference to the Bowl Conference. Vega had mixed feelings about the situation, especially as he also coached at Clinton between 2011 and 2016.
“We do regret not being able to play them because it’s such a good rivalry,” Vega said. “The Kennedy-Clinton game is a big part of Bronx football. It’s sad, but at the same time I feel good for the kids at Clinton that they are going to get a chance to be competitive again. So whatever they need to do to rebuild their program, I’m all for it.”
Expect Vega to get even more stoked as the Sept. 6 regular-season opener versus Fort Hamilton draws near. So how does he see 2019 unfolding?
“We want to improve on last year’s showing,” Vega said. “We want to make the playoffs again for sure. This year they changed the playoff structure, so if you make the playoffs, you’re automatically in the quarterfinals. Only eight teams make the playoffs and we’re hoping to be one of them.
“That’s the goal. Just get in, and once you get in, anything can happen.”