During his four-year stint at Hudson Catholic, Kevin Albert has gone through as many head coaches as he’s gone through position changes.
In terms of coaches, Albert has gone from Chris Demarest to Leonard Marshall to Colin Eckert to finally Lou Zampella.
When it comes to positions, Albert has gone from wide receiver to running back to quarterback on offense and from cornerback to safety to linebacker on defense. That’s enough to make a teenager’s head spin.
“It’s been extremely tough,” Albert said. “There’s always a new coach and a new system to learn. I didn’t care. I just wanted to help my team out, but it wasn’t easy.”
Zampella recalled Albert enrolling in the school. That was at a time when Zampella was just leaving as a coach at his alma mater and the parade of others was just beginning.
“I remember that I thought he could be a pretty good football player back then, but he had some growing to do,” Zampella said.
When Zampella took over the head coaching reins at Hudson Catholic last summer, he knew one thing.
“Kevin was going to be our quarterback,” Zampella said. “I was told he was a quarterback last year. I watched him on film and it wasn’t hard to figure out. He was a very good athlete who was moved to quarterback last year and we were going to use him at that position.”
That was music to Albert’s ears.
“I wanted to be the quarterback,” Albert said. “I wanted to be able to take charge of the team. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted the ball in my hands. So when Coach [Zampella] told me I was going to be the quarterback, it was a relief. I was here for four years and I never really had one position.”
Zampella knew how vital it was for a new coach to have a quarterback he could trust.
“It was very important, because we needed a leader,” Zampella said. “Kevin is a smart kid, a tough kid who could be a leader. He brought all the intangibles you need as a quarterback.”
It wasn’t a tough transformation for the new coach.
“From Day One, Kevin handled that position well,” Zampella said. “He put all his knowledge and his athleticism into play. He had a great work ethic. If something didn’t go right, he wanted to be able to run the play again. He wanted to be successful and to go out on a high note.”
It wasn’t hard for Albert to put his faith in the new head coach.
“I could see he was a strict coach, a good coach with a lot of energy,” Albert said. “That was important here. I also knew that the last time he was here, he helped to bring the team to the state championship game [in 2008]. That’s something I wanted. And of course, he had faith in me.”
Albert has thrived during his senior season at Hudson Catholic. Not only has he been a stalwart at quarterback, but he’s been a terror on the defensive side. Again, Albert’s versatility has come into play, as he started the season as a strong safety with the Hawks, but recently was moved to linebacker.
“We moved him up to play linebacker a few weeks ago and he took to it,” Zampella said. “As a quarterback, he’s a very good runner and I’d say his throwing ability is very underrated. He has good speed and he’s very athletic. I’d say he’s very shifty and slippery as a runner. It was evident to me right away that when you look at his size and his speed, Kevin was going to be a factor on every play.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Albert played a vital role in the Hawks earning a berth in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoffs, the school’s first since that state championship game appearance at Rutgers Stadium four years ago.
And when the Hawks got to the playoffs recently against Morristown-Beard, Albert wanted to make sure that his presence was felt.
Albert rushed for 125 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns in the Hawks’ 15-9 victory. He also completed four passes for 75 yards as well.
On defense, Albert collected an astounding 19 tackles, breaking the school’s single-game tackle record set by current assistant coach Jon Wasielewski in 1998.
For his efforts, Albert has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“The 19 tackles he made were legitimate,” Zampella said. “I’m not a big stat guy, but Kevin played great. He was very inspired and he knew he had to play well. I knew that Was’ record was 18, but I didn’t let Kevin knew he broke it.”
“When Coach Z told me, I was extremely surprised,” Albert said. “I didn’t realize I had that many. I was extremely impressed. I was just out there, trying to have fun and trying to help the team win. We all stepped up and took care of business.”
Ironically, Wasiliewski was also a rare player, a quarterback who also happened to play linebacker, during his high school days – and was also once named Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week.
Albert said that he hadn’t said anything to Wasiliewski just yet.
“I might have to say something about it with him,” Albert said. “It’s a great feeling. We’re still playing and that says a lot. It’s exciting and amazing. It’s everything I’ve been waiting for all these years. It feels great. The hard work has finally paid off. It’s been four long years.”
“I told our players that big players play big in big games,” Zampella said. “Well, that’s what Kevin did. He’s arguably our best player.”
Although Albert does give a lot of credit to standout teammate Champion Smith.
“Champ helps me out a lot,” Albert said. “It’s good to know Champ is in the backfield with me, getting more than half the carries. But Champ is a big help.”
Albert was slated to lead the Hawks into action against St. Joseph of Hammonton in the Non-Public Group 1 state semifinals.
Zampella believes that Albert can move on to play football in college.
“I think he’s going to play in college,” Zampella said. “He has the size and the speed and that’s generated a lot of interest as the season has gone on.”
Zampella believes that Albert will also have just one decision to play in college, namely defensive back.
“That’s his future,” Zampella said. “I’m telling you, he’s deceptively bigger than he looks. When you see him in person, with his height, he’s much bigger than I expected. He’s also a very good student. He has a bright future. He’s been a pleasure to coach, the kind of kid you want to coach.”
Albert isn’t concentrating on college just yet.
“That can wait until the season’s over,” Albert said. “It’s good to know that schools are interested in me, but that can all wait. We have another game to play. It’s been four long years, but this is what I’ve been waiting for. It’s happening now, being in the state playoffs. It’s finally here.”
And Albert hopes that the season can continue into a state championship appearance next weekend. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.