Alex Vega couldn’t wait for the start of the 2019 season. The Kennedy football coach knew he might have a special team on his hands, one he thought would benefit from a full year in his system and in his weight room.
But until that team took the field and started going head-to-head with rivals in the Public School Athletic League, there was really no way of truly knowing what he had just yet.
But last Friday night at a wind-swept Kennedy field — with gusts compliments of what was left from Hurricane Dorian — it took all of three offensive plays for Vega to see just how explosive these Knights could be when senior running back Karamogo Sylla sprinted 64 yards for a touchdown.
It proved to be just the first spark in a dominating night for the Knights, rolling to a convincing 26-6 victory over Fort Hamilton in their season opener.
“For game one, not bad,” Vega said afterward, coach-speak for “This is exactly how I thought this would play out.”
In fact, it appeared the Knights already had won the psychological battle even before the opening kickoff. Kennedy’s raucous pregame huddle reached a fever pitch as the Tigers from Brooklyn stared across the field with a look of “Who are those guys?”
That did not go unnoticed by Sylla.
“They seemed nervous,” the running back said. “But we weren’t worried about them. We can’t just stop doing what we do because a team is showing weakness. We just have to keep going and take advantage of them.”
Which is exactly what the Knights did.
Fort Hamilton answered Kennedy’s opening scoring drive with a long one of its own. But it stalled when the Knights defense — led by Caleb Hart, Howard Cohen and Nikolas Palomino, among others — stopped the Tigers on a 4th-and-goal at the Kennedy 3. One play later, it was junior running back Chris Boadi galloping 97 yards for another Kennedy touchdown and a 12-0 Knights’ lead.
“I got on the field, did my thing, got the ball, saw daylight, and I got the touchdown,” said Boadi, who celebrated his 17th birthday on game night. “I never got touched, so I want to give a shoutout to my (offensive) line.”
Vega promised this Kennedy team would be bigger, stronger and faster than last year’s model. And they didn’t disappoint.
“Physically this is kind of what I expected because of the kind of offseason we had,” Vega said. “The kids put in a lot of hard work, and I knew we were going to be a much more physical team than we were last year.”
Kennedy extended its lead to 20-0 midway through the second quarter when senior David Obeng-Agyapong scampered 39 yards for a touchdown, and Fort Hamilton looked shell-shocked.
But it wasn’t just the offense that was having all the fun. The Knights defense was relentless, keeping the wraps on the Tigers’ offense all night.
“I feel like our defense is going to be the strength of the team,” Vega said.
But don’t sleep on Kennedy’s offense. The Knights’ backfield of Sylla, Boadi and Emmanuel Nkwocha will strike fear into any opposing defense this season. Fort Hamilton was just the first to find out.
“Both Chris and Karamogo played a lot last year, so we knew coming into the season what we had with them,” Vega said. “And then with the transfer of Emmanuel Nkwocha, that gives us a three-headed monster. They’re all stout, they’re all strong guys. Arm tackles are not going to bring them down. I feel like all three of them could start for any team in the league.”
But both Sylla and Boadi were quick to credit the Knights’ massive offensive line with allowing them to wreak havoc on Fort Hamilton.
“People say we can be All-City, but we don’t say anything. We want to stay humble,” Boadi said. “We know what we can do and we know our abilities. But our line is so good they could be All-City as well.”
“This is my last ride with my guys Jose Rodriguez, Rafael Rodriguez, Isaac Decena and Howard Cohen,” Sylla said of his linemen. “Without them, we couldn’t do anything.”
Despite the lopsided victory, Vega said there are still things for his Knights to improve upon.
“We had too many penalties, and I felt like they kind of set us back,” Vega said. “Those are the things that could cost us a game down the road. But those things are fixable.”
It was a dominating performance, but at least according to Sylla, just the beginning.
“I felt like we did OK, but we could have done better,” he said. “Next week against Truman we will definitely do even better.”