HS Football Preview: Columbia boasts promising youth and enthusiasm

Photo by Steve Ellmore.
Luke Hayes returns at quarterback for the Cougars.
Photo by Steve Ellmore
Trey Harris is key returning wide receiver for Columbia.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ – When Gary Mobley took over the Columbia program prior to the 2016 season, Cougar fans had reason to feel excited. After all, Mobley came from Rahway where he coached the Union County team to tremendous success.

The Cougars, however, posted just one win in each of Mobley’s first two seasons. But as they embark on Year 3 under Mobley, the Cougars seem to fully grasp his system, which bodes well for a strong turnaround.

“What I like about the team is our youth and our enthusiasm,” said Mobley, who played for late legendary Union HS coach Lou Rettino before playing at Temple University. “We feel like, going into our third year at Columbia, we finally have our guys. Guys who have had no other voice or no other coach. Also, we feel the outlook is good, so we feel really good about the team; their demeanor, the way they work, and their prospects for the future are bright.

“We feel that the last two years, the guys on our team have learned our system and the level of competition,” Mobley continued. “They have really taken their preparation toward the season more seriously than they have in the past, and we, as a staff, know more about the conference and about the competition. But at the same breath, our goals have never changed since Day one, and hopefully now we can try and go ahead and accomplish something.”

The Cougars return senior quarterback Luke Hayes. The lefty-throwing Hayes has the look of a pro passer with good size and a decent arm.

The running backs are sophomore Al-Jay Henderson and senior Fred Holbrook.

The receivers are senior flanker Trey Harris, sophomore flanker Kai Arrington, and junior split ends Abdul Kone and Shamar Haughton. The tight end is junior Hudson Grumieaux.

The line consists of senior left tackle Ebuka Egwuonwu, junior left guard Jethro Pierre-Paul, junior center Jalen Davis, junior right guard Bernier Mercier, and junior right tackle Max Moore.

“Our most experienced returning offensive players are Luke Hayes, Trey Harris and Shamar Haughton,” Mobley said. “We hope to be able to add some really good pieces in Kai Arrington, Mike Haynes, Al-Jay Henderson. We feel as though if our young line can hold up, we’ll be very productive offensively.”

Defensively, Egwuonwu and Grumieaux are the defensive ends; and Davis and sophomore Justin Anderson are the defensive tackles.

The inside linebackers will be Mercier and Moore, while the outside linebackers are Kone and Haughton. Harris and sophomore Mike Caines are the cornerbacks, while Hayes is the free safety.

“We like the defense,” said Mobley. “We have a lot of experienced guys coming back that played for us. Some of the experienced players we have are Max Moore, Bernie Merceix, Ebuka Egwuonwu. Luke Hayes has played in the secondary for us. But we feel that the influx of talent that we got at the freshman and sophomore level that have come up to the varsity this year, will be able to aid us.”

Junior Drew Sinclair and sophomore Mike Aaron are the place-kickers, and Caines is the punter. Arrington, Caines, Harris, and freshman Steven Harris will return kickoffs and punts.

Mobley has high expectations for his team. With hard work and determination, the Cougars are poised to achieve those goals.

“Our goal is to be .500 and make the playoffs,” Mobley said. “The goal is have a winning season, a productive season, and to us, productivity at the end of the season results in a playoff berth and playoff wins. That’s always been the motto since we have been doing business elsewhere and will remain the same.”


August 31, Central, 7 p.m.

Sept. 7, at Memorial, 7 p.m.

Sept. 14, Bloomfield, 7 p.m.

Sept. 21, at West Orange,  7 p.m.

Sept. 28, Montclair, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4, at East Side, 6 p.m.

Oct. 12, Bayonne, 7 p.m.

Oct. 20, East Orange Campus, 1 p.m.

Oct. 26, at Livingston, 7 p.m.