Lamar McKnight and Sylvester Wright are childhood friends who were teammates with the Jersey City PAL football program when they were youngsters.
They went off to have successful careers as high school football players – McKnight as a quarterback at Lincoln High School and Wright as a two-way back at St. Anthony. Both earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors during their final years in school.
After going off to play college football – McKnight at NCAA Division I Tennessee State and finally ending at NCAA Division II Adams State University in Colorado, Wright at Morgan State and later Kean – the two went into the coaching field.
Both were once on the coaching staff with Wilber Valdez at Union City High School. McKnight remains there as the offensive coordinator, while Wright has branched out and became the cornerbacks coach at Morehead State University in Kentucky, the school that produced New York Giants Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms.
The two have also decided to teach high school players the finer points of their respective positions.
McKnight has the Lamar McKnight QB Academy, where McKnight goes all over the Northeast tutoring prospective signal callers, helping with technique, footwork, positioning and everything that goes with being a successful quarterback.
McKnight has about 75 or so students under his tutelage.
“I actually saw some of the quarterbacks we had in Union City and that really motivated me to become a trainer,” McKnight said. “It just happened that fast.”
McKnight said that it all began with a 10-year-old kid in Hazlet who was looking for a personal quarterback trainer. McKnight jumped at the chance.
“It just took off from there,” McKnight said. “I just started to promote myself on Facebook and Instagram. I then reached out to a lot of other coaches to get their feedback. I’m not a quarterback coach. A quarterback coach is someone who works on one specific thing. I’m a trainer who knows how to throw off the back shoulder, how to use proper footwork. It’s all part of creating the ‘It’ factor.”
In just a little more than three years, McKnight has developed his Quarterback Academy to where he’s on the go every single day.
“I’ve been able to get some high-quality kids,” McKnight said.
One of those kids was Zamar Wise, the former Barringer quarterback who played for Bayonne native Dwayne Williams. Wise has since signed a national letter of intent to play at the University of Massachusetts.
“Zamar has that ‘It’ factor,” McKnight said. “I think he’s like [former West Virginia quarterback] Pat White. He’s electrifying.”
At one time, Wise had given a verbal commitment to Rutgers, under former head coach Chris Ash. But when Greg Schiano decided to come back to Rutgers and once again coach the Scarlet Knights, Schiano said that Wise’s commitment was no longer valid.
“I think Rutgers missed a shot with this kid,” McKnight said of Wise. “He’s a game changer. He’ll shine in UMass. I like the fact he’s going to UMass. They run the kind of offense that is good for Zamar. It’s a great opportunity for him. He gets the chance to prove himself.”
Wise played some receiver at UMass this season and caught two passes. He worked with McKnight at Berry Lane Park in Jersey City almost every Sunday during the summer months.
McKnight also worked with Union City’s starting quarterback Damon “Wa Wa” Pallotto and St. Peter’s Prep’s Champ Long, all set to be Tajhamell Bullock’s heir apparent next season with the Marauders and new head coach Richie Hansen.
“Champ has a lot of upside,” McKnight said. “He’s going to be a good one. Wa Wa is extremely talented and will be a top guy for us.”
Another pupil that McKnight likes is Nutley’s Matt Harbison.
“I like Matt for a lot of reasons,” McKnight said. “He looks so good at it. He works well and moves well. I mention his name to college coaches and they all listen.”
McKnight said that the students all listen to him because he was once like them not too long ago.
“I’m 25 years old and not too far removed from them,” McKnight said. “I think they can relate well to me.”
And he’s a hard worker.
“I can’t remember the last time I slept past 7 a.m.,” McKnight said. “I’m constantly on the go. It’s something I take personal. I try to slow everything down for them. I’m doing my best to develop kids.”
McKnight said that he had no problems coordinating his academy and working at Union City.
“I’m lucky to work for a coach [Valdez] who understands me,” McKnight said. “He allows me to coach and train as well. It gives me the freedom to juggle the two. Football at Union City is a demanding position. It’s a 12-month a year job.”
Wright was able to get right into coaching at Union City after his playing days were done in 2016. He then got the chance to work with the cornerbacks at Morehead State while doing his defensive back training and mentoring, called Get Wright.
“When I was playing at Kean, I was the oldest guy in the weight room,” Wright said. “The younger guys used to lean on me a lot. I was always able to understand concepts. Even when I was in high school [at St. Anthony], Coach [Sean] Fallon [now the athletic director at Snyder] used to rely on me. We were on the same page. I was studying little things as the quarterback. I think those days helped me with being a cornerback and then being a coach.”
The training and mentoring aspect of his life has also flourished.
“When I first started, I had maybe five to 10 kids,” Wright said. “Now I’m up to 40-to-50 kids. I think the word of mouth helped get the word out, but other coaches helped me. Some parents trust me with guiding the young men.”
Sometimes, Wright’s students will team up with McKnight’s students.
“Sometimes, we puzzle it together and run a big group session,” Wright said. “It’s a way of giving back to the city. Half the kids we don’t even charge. It’s an awesome feeling to help these kids out. I wish we had these kinds of activities when we were kids.” – Jim Hague
For more information about the two academies, log onto www.lamarmcknightqbacademy.com and @Coach_GetWright on Twitter.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com