By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
He’s now 72. His health in recent years hasn’t been great, battling kidney cancer, diabetes and heart problems.
“I shouldn’t be here,” says Dennis McCarthy, a longtime North Arlington resident.
But McCarthy is still here, feeling better than he has in a long time.
“I feel like I’m hitting my stride,” McCarthy said. “I feel like I can keep going for another 20 years.”
McCarthy has been going full speed for the last 25 years and with the help of his son Dave, has been putting out The McCarthy Report, the top high school football scouting report in the country.
Disregard all these fly-by-night newcomers who claim that they have seen practically every high school football player in the world.
The McCarthys, Dennis and Dave, watch all of the players in New Jersey with a fine tooth comb and offer their evaluations for approximately 75 colleges, ranging from NCAA Division I institutions through the junior college and NAIA ranks.
At one time, the McCarthy Report was offered to the general public.
“That was for one year,” Dennis McCarthy said. “It was a mistake.”
Now, the McCarthy Report goes out only to the colleges and helps the New Jersey high school football player gain millions of dollars in scholarships.
“Every year, we have to keep up,” McCarthy said. “I call all of the schools.”
The entire operation for the McCarthy Report is run from the McCarthy’s tiny home in North Arlington. The living room looks like a library of VHS tapes, which are now outdated thanks to the advances in technology.
There was a time when Dennis McCarthy would run all over the Garden State –video camera in tow– to capture some of the top players on tape to enhance his report.
That’s not the case any longer.
“Because of the Internet, we do no filming at all,” McCarthy said. “Now, I just go to the computer. It saved my life. I couldn’t do it anymore.”
McCarthy said that he first started scouting prospective college players in 1956, when he was a 14-year-old high school student in West New York, helping his uncle, Angelo Amato, help local youngsters to get to the University of Notre Dame, where McCarthy ended up attending.
“I would go to games with my uncle and give him advice on players,” McCarthy said.
Two of those players, Frank Garguilo (currently the superintendent of schools for the Hudson County Schools of Technology) and Tom Liggio (a former Hudson County Freeholder), went on to play at Notre Dame.
Thus, the birth of a career.
“I knew in my mind, I always wanted to do something with football in New Jersey,” McCarthy said. “I remember going to the old Polo Grounds with my father to see the Giants play and he asked if I wanted to meet the players. I got all their autographs. That was when I got hooked.”
McCarthy went to Notre Dame in 1961 and tried to make the Irish roster as a walk-on.
“That’s when I realized everyone was stronger, bigger and faster than me,” McCarthy said. “But the interest was always there.”
The Notre Dame football coaching staff allowed McCarthy to remain as a tour guide for prospective players and go-fer.
“That’s when I was hooked for life,” McCarthy said.
He came home and tried working in the newspaper business as a public relations representative for the old Paterson Evening News. He was in the public relations business for municipalities like Paterson, worked in the Chamber of Commerce offices in Paterson and Newark. He was also a bartender for a long stint in Lyndhurst.
It was behind the stick that fueled McCarthy’s interest in getting back into scouting football full-time.
“I had a lot of college coaches come into the bar,” McCarthy said. “We had NFL guys stay there (the old Holiday Inn in Lyndhurst) as well. I became friendly with the coaches and would recommend players to them. I still went to all the high school games.”
Some of those games involved his son Dave, who was a fine football player at Lyndhurst High School and later Northeastern.
“Once my kids (McCarthy has another son, Ryan) got older, I needed something to do,” McCarthy said. The McCarthy Report, in its purest form, was born.
“This is what I was supposed to do,” McCarthy said. “Boy, oh boy, did it fit like a glove.”
McCarthy hit the ground running 25 years ago.
“In 1990, I sent it to the colleges for free,” McCarthy said. “I ran all over the state, taking notes, watching practices, games. I would go to Cape May, Camden, Atlantic City, all over. I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking with high school coaches and college coaches. I put out reports on more than 200 kids.”
A lot of time is now spent interviewing the players who end up in the report. If a prospective player says the wrong thing during the phone interview, it might be costly in terms of making the McCarthy Report.
“The interview is a big part of the process,” McCarthy said. “A lot of the kids have no idea that it’s why they were put on this earth, to be a football player and get a scholarship. They think it comes easy.”
Over the years, McCarthy has aided with colleges finding out about some of the most obscure players in New Jersey high school football. Several years ago, the McCarthy Report was the first to mention the talents of a defensive tackle from Westwood High School. His name was B.J. Raji, who then went on to play at Boston College and was a hero for the Green Bay Packers in their Super Bowl championship at the end of the 2010 season.
McCarthy was the first to find Leon Johnson out of Bound Brook, who is now a redshirt freshman at Temple University. McCarthy is convinced that the offensive tackle Johnson will eventually become a first round draft pick in the NFL.
Needless to say, it’s a tedious task rounding up the best high school football players in New Jersey.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” McCarthy said. “Make no bones about it, it’s now David’s business. I don’t get paid.”
While there are unfortunately no local products from The Observer circulation area that were fortunate enough to be included in the 2014 version of the McCarthy Report, the founding father of the scouting service thinks it should be a good year for the gridiron in the Garden State.
“I fully expect this to be a banner year,” McCarthy said. “As of right now, we have already 48 NCAA Division I commitments. The most we’ve ever had in New Jersey was 80 two years ago. I think this could go past that. It’s a phenomenal class.”
And McCarthy is already hard at work compiling the players who will grace the McCarthy Report in 2015. There is no sign of the genius slowing down.
“The time and effort that you have to put into it is a lot,” McCarthy said. “But I find now, with the way it is, I put even more time into it. I get up early in the morning, go to the computer and look at more kids.”
With his health fine, there’s no need for Dennis McCarthy to stop being the guru of New Jersey high school football, right from the comforts of his North Arlington living room.