Brian Capriola was brought in last year to become the new head football coach at Harrison High School and Jonathan Jackson was excited for his friend and colleague.
Capriola and Jackson played and coached together at William Paterson University. Capriola gave Jackson the chance to be the defensive coordinator with the Blue Tide, despite the fact that he was only 25 years old and almost brand new to the coaching ranks.
“When Cap called me and told me he was coming to Harrison, I was all in,” Jackson said. “Cap brings energy every day. He’s a fun dude to be around. He’s a good guy. I think we complimented each other well. He has a great offensive mind and I took the defense. He would come up with a scheme and he would run it by me to see what I thought.”
So last December, when Capriola informed Jackson that he was resigning his position as head coach after just one season, Jackson was at a loss.
“It wasn’t so much that I was disappointed,” Jackson said. “I understand it’s all part of the game. I thought he would be the coach for another year or so.”
So when Capriola handed in his resignation letter, Jackson didn’t know what would happen next. After all, Jackson already signed on to become the freshman boys’ basketball at Harrison, so he wasn’t leaving right away.
“When Cap left, I was in the middle of basketball mode,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think I was ready. I had to talk myself into it.”
Jackson didn’t know if he should be considered as a candidate to be the new head coach to replace Capriola.
“I wanted to give the school an opportunity to find a head coach,” Jackson said. “I wanted the school to run the search (for a new coach) the way they would have. I wanted to stay on as the DC (defensive coordinator) under the new coach.”
The school’s athletic administration, headed by vice-principal and athletic director Kim McDonough Huaranga, did their due diligence in the search for a new coach. A few candidates were interviewed.
Then, the world as we knew it all changed. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, bringing the search for a new coach to a screeching halt.
But March turned into April and then April to May and so on. Jackson was keeping tabs of the returning players via social media meetings and saw to it that they were doing their offseason strength and conditioning on their own with safety first as a motto.
As August began, the school had yet to make a decision about a new head coach.
“As it started getting closer and closer, I knew something had to happen,” Jackson said.
At first reluctant to be considered as head coaching material, considering he was only 26 years old, Jackson never gave it a thought about throwing his hat into the ring.
“At the point where we were, I decided, ‘Why not?’” Jackson said. “I have a good relationship with the kids. I said, ‘Here’s my opportunity to be a head coach. With Cap leaving, it opened up the door.”
So last Monday night, when the Harrison Board of Education convened, they decided to act upon Huaranga’s recommendation to hire Jackson as the new head coach.
Jackson was approved at the meeting and has begun to meet with his players as head coach.
The team is currently on a two-week mandatory hiatus, commanded by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, to determine what the best course is going forward for the fall sports. So there are no workouts or practices allowed until September 15.
But it gives Jackson the opportunity to do some administrative work, like hiring assistant coaches, as well as developing a plan as a new head coach.
Jackson is a Hudson County guy, a native of Bayonne, an overall sensational athlete at Bayonne High School, where he played for football for former North Arlington head coach Rick Rodriguez. Jackson then went on to play wide receiver at William Paterson.
“Once my playing days were done, I knew I wanted to find a coaching position,” Jackson said. “I asked a lot of people if they were hiring position coaches. That’s when Cap called me. I was all in on coming to Harrison.”
When the chance to become a head coach arose, Jackson did a lot of soul searching.
“I wondered what my strength would be as a head coach,” Jackson said. “Maybe I could be a little like Coach Rod (Rodriguez). He’s someone I’d like to be like. Then maybe a little of Coach Cap and I can bring a part of Jamaal Lord (the former Nebraska quarterback from Bayonne) and Jerome Hayes (the former Penn State linebacker, also from Bayonne). Something they all had in common was they coached disciplined teams. They established a tough brand of football.”
The Blue Tide is slated to open their season, albeit abbreviated, Oct. 2.
“At this point, I wish they put me in earlier, but nobody thought there would even be a season,” Jackson said. “It’s a little tough to put everything together like this, but I’ll do it. At least the kids all know me. So that won’t take long.”
Jackson works full-time as a case manager at a halfway house in Newark, so he will be close in proximity to the school.
Incredibly, Jackson becomes the ninth head coach of the Harrison football team since 2008, The last two coaches, Dan Hicks in 2008 and Capriola last year, left after just one season, The previous coach, Mike Hinchcliffe, departed after just two seasons, but the 2016 season was the best Harrison grid season in 23 years, when the Blue Tide went 5-4 and qualified for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs.
There were also stints from Dave Nankivell, Matt Gallo, Rich Glover, Jr. and Tom Ferriero that did not last long. Ferriero never coached a single game.
So Jackson knows that the head coaching position at Harrison has been like a revolving door – one coach goes in, another goes out.
“I’m definitely excited,” Jackson said. “I’m amped up. Most coaches just dream of these situations. I am fortunate to get one. I just want to give the kids the best coaching they can get. I’m going to take all my best coaching experiences and bring them to my head coaching experience. I’m taking this all just one day at a time. But I’m definitely excited. And with excitement comes nerves. When I played football, I loved having those exciting nerves. I have them right now.”
Jonathan Jackson, a Bayonne native who played football at William Paterson, has been promoted to the position of head football coach at Harrison High, where he served as an assistant last season under Brian Capriola. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Jackson
Learn more about the writer ...
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.”