Blue Tide looks to roll with new coach Hinchcliffe

Amidst all the turmoil surrounding the hiring and then subsequent dismissal of Tom Ferriero as football coach at Harrison High School, Mike Hinchcliffe remained positive.

“At first, I was shocked,” said Hinchcliffe, who was elevated to the position of head coach following Ferriero’s arrest for driving while intoxicated. “I needed to get my head around it. I didn’t want these kids to be standing in limbo. Someone who knew them had to step in and take over.”

So Hinchcliffe, a Little Ferry police officer, took over the reins of being the interim head coach _ the school’s fourth head football coach in four years.

“I didn’t want all their hard work to go to waste,” Hinchcliffe said. “By the time I took the job, we had a little more than two weeks to get ready.”

Hinchcliffe was an assistant coach at Harrison under Dave Nankivell before stepping down to concentrate on his career. He continued to coach with the Harrison Recreation Pop Warner league. He’s also a Harrison High grad, having played with the immortal Ray Lucas in his heyday.

“No doubt about it, we expect to do good things with this group,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve been around these kids for a few years now and I think they’re ready to take the next step.”

The Blue Tide posted a 3-7 record last year. Hinchcliffe thinks the Blue Tide can improve on that mark.

“I think we’re going to have a pretty good team for the next 3-to-4 years,” Hinchcliffe said.

Leading the way is senior quarterback Mike O’Donnell (5-11, 175), who has played the position for the last four years.

O’Donnell deserves a break for all he’s been through.

“I think he’s a guy who can extend plays,” Hinchcliffe said. “He has good feet and has a good read of the field. He has the ability to pick us up when we’re down. He has a natural ability about him with a great skill set. He’s also battle tested. He knows what’s expected of him. I can see he’s ready in his eyes.”

The Blue Tide’s main running back is senior Dustin Huseinovic (6-1, 205), perhaps the best all-around athlete in the school. Huseinovic, who also plays basketball and baseball, will get his fair share of carries this season.

“Between Mike and Dustin, they have to carry the offense this year,” Hinchcliffe said. “I just love our team speed.”

Junior Mike Oeckel (6-0, 170) is one of the wide receivers and he has speed to burn.

Senior Jerry Rodriguez (5-11, 165) and senior Raphael Santana (5-9, 160) are other quality receivers.

“They all can run,” Hinchcliffe said. “Our team speed is phenomenal. They know how to find seams and they can get to the outside.”

Senior Jeffrey Cisneros (5-8, 180) is the team’s fullback.

The offensive line features senior Johanser Nunez (6-0, 240) at guard. Nunez has started along the Blue Tide line for the last three seasons.

Sophomore Christian Montilla (5-10, 195) is a promising tackle, where he is joined by junior Saul Santana (6-2, 190 and no relation to Raphael).

Junior Brandon Moreno (5-10, 200) is the other starter at guard, with senior Elvin Pina (5-8, 200) at center.

Defensively, the Blue Tide plays a 4-3 formation, with Nunez and Saul Santana at defensive end. Pina and Montilla are the defensive tackles.

Cisneros is the middle linebacker, along with Rodriguez, Huseinovic and O’Donnell at outside linebacker. The Blue Tide does not have a deep roster, so most of the players, including the quarterback, have to play both ways. Huseinovic is just as dangerous as a defensive player as he is on offense.

The cornerbacks are Oeckel and Raphael Santana, with senior Hector Rua (5-10, 170) at safety, but O’Donnell may drop back to play there as well.

The Blue Tide open this weekend with a game against Hawthorne at home Friday night.

Hinchcliffe believes his team is ready.

“I like the skill set this team has,” Hinchcliffe said. “I think we’re also a physical team. There’s a learning curve that we all have to handle this season. It wasn’t the easiest of circumstances. But these kids have truly shown the reason why they love the game. I think we’re going to shock some people this year.”


The Harrison football team will be as good as the play of their offensive line, shown here, namely, from left, Saul Santana, Brandon Moreno, Elvin Pina, head coach Mike Hinchcliffe, Johanser Nunez and Christian Montilla. Photo by Jim Hague

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”