By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When they were growing up in Harrison, Mike Gregory and Dan Hicks were more than good friends.
“We were together since sixth grade,” Hicks said. “By the time we got to high school, we were even more inseparable. If you saw one of us, chances are that the other wasn’t far behind.”
“We were like brothers,” Gregory said. “We lived in the same house.”
It’s true. When they were sophomores at Harrison, Hicks’ family moved to Matawan.
“But I missed my friends,” Hicks said. “Mike’s father always kidded with me that I could move in with them. So I took him up on his offer.”
So while the Hicks family headed south, Dan headed to a stint where he would live with the Gregory family.
“We became really close after my family took him in,” Gregory said. “We played football together for 12 years, since we were kids.”
Gregory and Hicks played together for four years at Harrison High, graduating in 2009.
“We didn’t have a lot of success,” Hicks said. “So it was hard to get noticed.”
“It’s not easy to come out of Harrison and play college football,” Gregory said. “So I think it became a motivation for both of us.”
Sure enough, both Gregory and Hicks moved on to play football in college – Gregory at William Paterson University and Hicks at Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham.
“I had a lot of fun,” Gregory said. “I came in freshman year as a linebacker and then got moved to fullback. I played fullback for two years, but then our team went to a spread offense this year, so my playing time got cut. I was pretty upset by it, but I went on to play special teams.”
Hicks remained solid as a linebacker for FDU-Florham.
“I was like a rolling safety and outside linebacker,” Hicks said. “I started last year and this year. I was playing for all the Harrison kids who never got a chance to play in college. When I first got to college, it was a bit of a culture shock, because all the others came from bigger programs and I came from a small school like Harrison.”
The two friends went their separate ways in college.
That was, until last Friday night, when Gregory and Hicks met once again on the gridiron, with a little assistance from Hurricane Sandy.
FDU-Florham and William Paterson weren’t scheduled to face each other this season. But both teams had their last regularly scheduled games canceled due to the super storm. FDU-Florham was slated to face Widener University on Nov. 3, while William Paterson was all set to play Cortland State that day.
Since Widener and Cortland State each had NCAA Division III playoff games slated for last weekend, it left the Knights and the Pioneers without a final game. Unless…
“The two coaches set up a game,” Hicks said. “We weren’t playing. Neither was William Paterson. The two coaches got on the phone and set up a game.”
So last Friday night, William Paterson traveled to Madison to face FDU-Florham.
And it meant that in the final college game for both, the two long time friends would face off against each other.
“It was pretty wild how it all worked out,” Gregory said.
“After the game was set, within five minutes, we were on the phone, trash talking with each other,” Hicks said. “It was really exciting. I really couldn’t believe it.”
After 12 years of being teammates and best of friends, even sharing a home together, Mike Gregory and Dan Hicks faced each other in their final college football game. Somehow, the football gods were kind.
“It’s remarkable,” Gregory said. “We both were able to stick it out at our schools for four years and this is how it ends.”
The bragging rights between the friends belong to Gregory, as William Paterson won the game, 26-6.
Hicks made three tackles, including one for a loss. Gregory was in on specials. The two didn’t get a chance to hit each other in the game, but they certainly embraced after it was all over.
“I was hoping to get a chance to go up against him,” Hicks said. “We’ve been hitting kids our whole lives, but never hit each other. It’s crazy. I told my Dad to get his camera ready to capture the moment, because we’ll be talking about this for a long time.”
Hicks finished the season with 25 tackles and one fumble recovery.
“It was awesome how it happened,” Hicks said.
The two will hopefully travel down the same path again. Gregory is a sociology major at William Paterson and hopes to become a police officer.
Hicks will graduate with a degree in criminology. His career choice? You guessed it, a police officer. “If we could become cops together, that would be awesome,” Hicks said.
Gregory has been busy with his career off the field. He’s part of a Core Leadership group at William Paterson where he ran a can drive, collecting cans of food for the needy.
“I’ve also been doing community service around school, like participating in a breast cancer walk and organizing a lecture about the Presidential election,” Gregory said. “I want to be a role model for other kids from Harrison. Maybe they can do the same thing like Dan and me and become college football players.”
“Coming from Harrison definitely motivated me,” Hicks said. “I can’t believe it’s over. It feels like yesterday that I went to college. Time flies by. It’s really unreal that it’s over.”
But the two lifelong friends will always have that one game to remember, the way they managed to end their college football careers together on the same field.