Blue Tide begins new era with alum Hicks at helm

Danny Hicks literally grew up across the street from the new Harrison High School in the Harrison Gardens housing project.

And as a youngster, Hicks had one dream – to become the head football coach at Harrison. He attended the school and played football there, hoping to get the chance someday to be a coach at his alma mater.

Now, at the tender age of 26, Hicks is getting that opportunity. He’s the new head coach of the Blue Tide, bringing an air of energy and excitement never before seen.

“The kids have fully bought into our message,” Hicks said. “It’s great that I came from here. They understand that about me. I clicked with them. It wasn’t too long ago that I was one of them.”

For one, the practice sessions now have loud rock music being pumped through the stadium. The sessions are high octane, high energy practices with that energy transpiring with every snap.

“Anyone who sees me coach can see that I’m high energy,” Hicks said after a recent workout. “We’re also high tempo. Our offense is high energy. That’s who we are. That’s a huge piece of the culture change, the tempo. I tell our coaching staff that’s who we are. In the weight room, on the field, we’re teaching energy and passion. It has a trickledown effect throughout the whole program. We’re pushing the pace with tempo and athleticism.”

So the Blue Tide does not utilize a huddle. All the plays get sent in through hand signals from the sidelines. They run up to the ball and snap it.

“That’s our niche,” Hicks said. “We’re going to wear teams out with our conditioning.”

Hicks went out and plucked two successful assistant coaches from the Jersey City school system in former Lincoln High School offensive coordinator John Fannan and line coach Mark Everett, to join Harrison products Mike D’Errico and Rodney Antunes.

Hicks doesn’t think there will be an issue by playing fast and furious football.

“I think they’ve had so much of it now that they all love getting the hand signals and going,” Hicks said. “It’s not difficult.”

Leading the returnees is junior quarterback Mateo DeSosa (6-0, 175), who was the starting signal caller for the 1-7 Blue Tide a year ago under former head coach Mike Hinchcliffe.

“He’s really stepped it up and gotten on board with what we’re doing,” Hicks said of DeSosa. “We needed him to be a certain presence with this team. We named him a captain in the spring and put him in a position to lead the team, to learn and grow with the new offense.”

The Blue Tide will go from a triple option team last year to a spread set this year.

“He’s really been a breath of fresh air to our team,” Hicks said of DeSosa. “We give him a lot of leeway to make decisions on the fly. He’s not afraid to make plays and he’s mature enough to handle everything. He’s a very coachable kid and he’s much more comfortable with this scheme.”

The top running back is senior Landor Vallejo (5-8, 205).

“Landor is one of the strongest kids we have,” Hicks said. “He’s a hard runner. He’s a very seasoned back.”

The Tide will use junior Javian Olsen (5-8, 160) in the backfield as well.

“Our running backs are like thunder and lightning,” Hicks said. “They give us a burst of energy.”

The Blue Tide has a plethora of good receivers, which is essential with a spread offense.

Senior Mike Oeckel (6-0, 170) is a returning starter. Oeckel has been a part of the program for four years and works as hard as anyone.

Senior Ray Chico (5-10, 165) also started a year ago. Chico is also a standout baseball player for the Blue Tide in the spring.

Juniors Erik Feliz (6-1, 180), Anthony Zamora (5-8, 170) and Daniel Rueda (6-0, 175), along with sophomores Chris Mendez (5-7, 160) and Sergio Flores (5-5, 150) round out the receiving corps.

“We want to be able to have fresh legs on the field at all times,” Hicks said. “So we’re going to be shuttling kids in and out. We really don’t have a set of ones (starters). The others are just as good.”

The offensive line features returning senior Paul Mobus (6-0, 190) at tackle.

“Mobus is the hardest working kid in the program,” Hicks said.

Senior Jonathan Salazar (6-0, 210) is another tackle. Senior Elvin Pina (6-0, 230) is at one guard, with his little brother freshman Edward Pina (5-9, 240) at center. Junior Omar Veliz (5-8, 220) is the other guard.

The Blue Tide will line up with a 4-4 defensive front.

Mobus and senior Christian Montilla (6-0, 230) are the starting defensive ends, with big junior J.J. Ramos (6-4, 300) and junior Luiz Santos (6-0, 240) at defensive tackles.

The linebacker corps features sophomore Anthony Mascellino (5-10, 180), who started last year, along with Vallejo, Chico and Oeckel. Chico was a defensive back last year, while Oeckel was a defensive end.

The defensive backs are Rueda and Zamora with Feliz at safety.

The Blue Tide opens the 2018 season with a home game against Bogota on Thursday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

“My first game coaching will be right outside the Gardens,” Hicks said. “You have to love it. I’ve definitely taken ownership of this program. I always wanted to be a football coach and now I have that chance. I point out to the kids, saying, ‘Take a look of where I came from, right across the street.’ I remind them of that every single day. I think that makes this job easier and makes it exciting for me.”


The Harrison High School football program welcomes a new head coach in Danny Hicks (center), a Harrison alum who at age 26 has to be one of the youngest head coaches in New Jersey. From left are offensive linemen Jonathan Salazar, Elvin Pina, Edward Pina, Hicks, Omar Veliz and Paul Mobus. 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.”