When Danny Hicks left Harrison High School last year for a chance to be an assistant football coach on the college level at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, he had no idea what was in store for him.
After all, Hicks was still under 30 and a brand new college football coach. He still had so much to learn about the game of college football, especially the recruiting side of the sport. Hicks had to be the one to sell his program to prospective college football players, telling them why they should choose AIC over other schools like it.
Before Hicks could even settle into his own digs in Springfield, getting to know the lay of the land and getting to visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (yes, it’s there), Hicks had to inherit the recruiting duties of his old home area – namely recruiting the New Jersey players.
“Everyone knows about the big-time schools like St. Peter’s Prep, Bergen Catholic, St. Joseph’s and Don Bosco Prep,” Hicks said. “But not a lot of guys know much about the other schools in New Jersey. Everyone would love to have a relationship with all the coaches in north Jersey football. I think I already have a relationship.”
So Hicks used his vast amount of contacts and friendships in the coaching profession in his home state to get in the door with the prospective college football players.
“Having all these relationships from the area really helped me,” Hicks said. “It’s made things easier. I tell the parents and the players, ‘Hey, I’m from Harrison,’ and their eyes grow wide.”
The results have been staggering.
Of the 2020 recruiting class (AIC Class of 2023), Hicks has received commitment from a whopping 24 players from northern New Jersey.
That’s 24 of the total 53 players – almost half of the entire incoming class will be from the Garden State and the majority of those will be from the northern portion of the state.
“It’s been awesome,” Hicks said. “It really has worked out perfect.”
Hicks said that before he ever walked onto the campus at AIC, he reached out to Dave McCarthy of Lyndhurst, who now solely runs the McCarthy Report, the premier scouting tout service in the Garden State. McCarthy and his late father Dennis ran the McCarthy Report for 25 years and Dave took over the business upon his father’s untimely passing three years ago.
McCarthy was a blessing to Hicks in his pursuit of players.
“I reached out to Dave McCarthy so I could get familiar with the names,” said Hicks, who spent two years at Harrison and two years at neighboring Kearny as an assistant coach. “I had to see if they were interested in AIC and if I was lucky enough to be invited into their homes, then I told them all about AIC. If they weren’t interested, then it was on to the next one. I was not going to be the one to miss out on a player.”
Hicks said that he had to recruit some particular positions.
“We needed to get interior defensive linemen,” Hicks said. “So that was the priority. We then had to identify the best talented players and get as many from this area as we could.”
Incredibly, Hicks was able to secure the services of seven players from Union High School, the NJSIAA North Jersey Group 5 state runner-up from last year, including brilliant quarterback Andrew Sanborn.
Hicks made Sanborn a priority – and deservedly so. Sanborn passed for 2,900 yards and 27 touchdowns last season with only four interceptions
“He makes every throw,” Hicks said of Sanborn. “He’s incredible. He’s a natural leader and knows how to lead and win. I watched him play basketball and he does that as well.”
Sanborn was the state offensive player of the year. He’s a huge recruit for Hicks and new head coach Kris Kulzer, who replaced Art Wilkins, after Wilkins retired after 26 years with AIC.
Hicks also called upon his relationship with Lyndhurst head coach Rich Tuero in securing the services of talented receiver John Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who also had a fine basketball career at Lyndhurst, breaking the school’s single game scoring record last year when he threw in 51 points against Harrison, will play wide receiver for the Yellow Jackets.
“He’s just a super athlete,” Hicks said of Rodriguez. “He’s actually a little raw, so he has to be fine tuned. I think his basketball talents will help him.”
Hicks also got a commitment from Montclair receiver Donovin Bell.
“He’s explosive,” Hicks said of Bell.
Norian Wilson of Lincoln in Jersey City is a great two-way player as a talented outside linebacker and offensive guard.
“He’s a very mature kid,” Hicks said of Wilson. “He has a lot of upside. He’s going to fill out. We’re really excited about him. He’s a Hudson County kid, so I look out for those kids.”
Jahir White, a speed demon from Hudson Catholic, will have a multitude of positions for the Yellow Jackets, as a slot receiver, as a third-down back and as a defensive back. But maybe White’s best position may be as a kick returner.
“He’s coming in to us as an athlete,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what his best position is, but he can fly. I think he’ll find himself on the offensive side of the ball.”
Needless to say, Hicks is pleased with his first recruiting batch, one that had his home state as a preference.
“There’s just so much talent here,” Hicks said. “We made it our Twitter handle, #JerseyJuice. Every time a kid commits, it’s a big thing for us.”
It’s a real big thing when you get almost half of your recruiting class from one state. Not a bad first year at all for a kid from Harrison Gardens.
Harrison native Danny Hicks, the former head coach at Harrison High School, had a phenomenal recruiting class for American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. 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.”