Not the first year rookie Harrison grid coach Jackson expected

When Jonathan Jackson was finally elevated to the position of head football coach at Harrison High School last August – incredibly becoming the eighth head football coach the school employed in the past decade – Jackson assumed that it would be just a bit easier of a transition.

After all, Jackson was an assistant coach under former head coach Brian Capriola last season. Jackson was also the head freshman boys’ basketball coach and was the strength and conditioning coach as well, so Jackson was more than familiar with the territory.

But the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow Jackson to take over as head coach until August. In fact, the 26-year-old Jackson didn’t even know if he wanted the job in the first place. He needed some coaxing and prodding from others to put his name into the hat when the interviews began.

So Jackson was given the opportunity in August, had his first Zoom meeting as head coach with his team – and then had to endure a two-week shutdown mandated by the NJSIAA until mid-September.

“Once Sept. 14 came, we had to get the ball rolling,” Jackson said. “We didn’t have time for conditioning. We couldn’t do anything. Not to make excuses, but we knew that we were going to have some challenges.”

Things got worse before they got better. Just as the season was set to kick off in early October, six members of the team simply walked away.

“They simply stopped showing up,” Jackson said. “I told them that they should hand in their pads.”

Jackson could have panicked. The rest of the Blue Tide could have done the same and quit as well.

“It helped me figure out the kids who wanted to be here,” Jackson said. “It gave me the opportunity to give the younger kids a better look.”

Jackson wasted little time and started moving people around.

“We had three sophomores who became starters on our offensive line,” Jackson said. “By the time we get to our offseason, we will have kids in the weight room with some experience. Those kids will get the chance to mature a little and be in the weight room for a couple of years.”

The 20 or so youngsters who showed the patience and the perseverance to remain deserve a world of credit. Jackson agrees.

“Those kids are tremendous for sticking it out,” Jackson said. “I can’t thank them enough for getting through it with me. I came from a tradition where you don’t beg kids to play football. If they don’t want to be there, fine. The easiest thing to do is to quit.”

So Jackson weeded out the softhearted ones and stuck with the hard minded fellows.

“I got to see the young kids get the nerves out,” Jackson said.

And Jackson got to see his young offensive line mesh together, his linebackers and secondary work well together.

“Most of them are sophomores,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have some nice pieces coming back. We’re rebuilding it back up.”

One of the most heartening stories of the Harrison saga is that of junior Jake Mulrenan. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Mulrenan started the season as the Blue Tide’s starting quarterback, but noticed that the team would be better served if he played another position.

“He’s the ultimate team player,” Jackson said of Mulrenan. “He saw the team move the ball better without him at quarterback, so he asked to move.”

With that, Mulrenan became a wide receiver. Junior Ryan Rodriguez (5-11, 175) moved over to call the signals.

“Jake wants to win,” Jackson said. “Ryan has stepped into the role well and has transitioned into the role pretty well.”

The running backs are seniors Anthony Mascellino (5-11, 195) and Sergio Flores (5-5, 150).

“They trying, but they’re running behind a young offensive line,” Jackson said.

Senior Chris Mendez (5-8, 170) heads a young receiving corps that features junior Jayden Galindo (5-11, 170) and sophomore Brian Castillo (5-8, 170).

“I give them credit, because they’re out there, giving it their all,” Jackson said.

The offensive line features senior Daniel Aguilar (5-10, 190) at tackle, junior Joey Rodriguez (5-10, 240) at tackle, junior Caleb Gomez (5-11, 190) and sophomore Ali Jomar (5-10, 280) at guard and sophomore Angel Pina (5-6, 180) at center.

Defensively, the Blue Tide utilizes a 4-3 defense with a lot of the same personnel. Aguilar and senior Sammy Diaz (5-10, 170) are the defensive ends, with Joey Rodriguez and Gomez at defensive tackle.

Mascellino returns to his starting spot at middle linebacker, flanked by Galindo and Ryan Rodriguez at linebackers.

Mendez and freshman Justin Langley (5-10, 150) are the cornerbacks, with Castillo and Flores at the safeties.

The Blue Tide had last week off because Hawthorne went through COVID quarantine, but will return to action this week against equal sized teams Ridgefield, Manchester Regional and Lodi upcoming.

“We were a little banged up,” Jackson said. “We needed a little time to heal. Having the week off was a good little breather. I think it was beneficial in a way.”

So 2020 hasn’t turned out to be the exciting first year that Jackson anticipated.

“It has definitely been a big learning experience,” Jackson said. “I learned about Xs and Os, but I learned about my coaching staff and how to handle players.”

And he learned who he could trust moving forward. Sometimes, coaching football just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.




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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.”