Harrison reunion on college gridiron for Hicks, Huseinovic

When Danny Hicks departed his native Harrison to take an assistant football coaching job at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts over the summer, he knew that one special day appeared on the AIC schedule.

It was the November day that the AIC Yellowjackets traveled to New York to face the Setters of Pace University.

Why was it such an important day?

Well, the Setters’ defensive leader is none other than Dustin Huseinovic, the 2017-2018 Observer Male Athlete of the Year.

So it meant that game was like Harrison Day at Pace, with the two long-time friends reuniting on the college level after Huseinovic played for Hicks at Harrison High School and learned a lot from Hicks during his younger days growing up in Harrison.

“I was definitely looking forward to it,” said Huseinovic, the sophomore defensive back/linebacker for the Setters who has developed into a defensive force at Pace. “It was going to be a big bang for both of us.”
“I texted him Monday before the game,” Hicks said. “I said, ‘I’m so proud of you and what you’re doing,’ but that was the last friendly message I was sending him before the game. I told him that I was going to try to exploit him.”

In his first season as a college coach, Hicks has handled a variety of duties for the Yellowjackets, including some advanced scouting and handling the wide receivers.

So when the two teams met, Huseinovic said that it was different going up against Hicks for the very first time instead of being coached by him.

“It was a little weird,” Huseinovic said. “But a good kind of weird. He’s played such a key role in my life, like an older brother. He definitely helped me become a better player.”

“I knew it was going to be a super special moment,” Hicks said. “I couldn’t wait to see him. I looked out on the field and said, ‘Oh, wow, that’s really him.’ We didn’t talk pre-game. We just looked at each other and he gave me a look.”

Approximately 40 people from Harrison traveled to the Pace campus in Purchase, N.Y. to witness the slice of history, two kids from Harrison making the most of their respective lives, albeit on opposing sidelines.

“There were former players and current players,” Hicks said of the Harrison contingency. “There were a couple of Harrison Gardens guys there who yelled out, ‘Daniel,’ like the way my mother used to do. I heard that and it made me smile. There we were, just Danny and Dustin, two Harrison guys. I take so much pride in being from Harrison. I had such a full heart.”

And then the kickoff took place – and the player was going to do whatever he could to kick his old coach’s rear end.

“He was all over the place,” Hicks said of Huseinovic. “It was crazy. I never saw a player do some of the things he did. Dustin is everything that we wanted him to be. He’s a great player. Everything we used to talk about is coming to life.”

In the game, Huseinovic made 10 tackles, nine of which were of the solo variety. He broke up two passes, leading the Setters to a 35-25 victory. Huseinovic also handles the punting duties for the Setters. He’s just an incredible athlete.

“It was definitely good that we won the game,” Huseinovic said. “I’ll have the upper hand for a while in trash talking.”

Huseinovic had four tackles in the Setters’ 34-20 victory Saturday over Southern Connecticut State, ending Pace’s season with a 6-4 record. For the year, Huseinovic led the Setters with 76 total tackles, 54 of them solo tackles. He also had two sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery and for good measure, he punted to a 36.5 yard per punt average.

“We lost a couple of close ones this season,” Huseinovic said. “But we had a good season.”

Huseinovic is under consideration to be named as the Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year. If he takes on Hicks once again down the road, Huseinovic will do anything and everything within his power to win the game. That’s just his nature.

“He’s such a competitor,” Hicks said of Huseinovic. “I’m not surprised in the slightest with Dustin’s success. He plays with so much passion. To see him do what he’s done this year does not shock me.”

Huseinovic always had faith in himself as a player.

“In my heart, I always believed I was a good player,” Huseinovic said. “I believe in myself always. I’m really not surprised. Seeing Dustin do well is incredible. He’s like family to me. I try to text him every week.”

After the game was over, there was a brief reunion.

“He sort of snuck up on me,” Hicks said. “He jumped out of the player line and hugged me. We talked for a little bit, but we both had to get going.”

Hicks had to make sure he saw two of his former Blue Tide players in Anthony Mascellino and Danny Rueda.

“Nick Landy (the boys’ volleyball coach) was there,” Hicks said. “It was cool, because he remembers me as a player and now as a coach. We worked together at Camp Fatima (the summer camp in Warren County for special needs children). It really was great to see all those people. Yeah, we lost, but it was just a loss. These were people from Harrison. That’s important.”

It’s something that Huseinovic will never forget.

“It was great to see all the people there at the game,” Huseinovic said. “I’m expecting big things next year. We have a lot of good people coming back. But this was fun. This was cool.”

There are two other local products on the Pace roster from nearby Lyndhurst in freshmen Paul Cimicata and Benny Franchino. They’ll both get their chances to play.

This time, it was all about the boys from Harrison.




From left, American International College assistant coach Danny Hicks and Pace University linebacker/defensive back Dustin Huseinovic were reunited recently when the two college teams faced each other in Purchase, N.Y. Photo courtesy of Danny Hicks



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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.”