It was a day for pride at a few Hudson County high schools last Wednesday. It was a day for proud parents to pose with their children, administrators to stick out their collective chests, football programs to add another feather to their caps.
It was the national signing day for high school football players to officially move on to the next level of their lives, a time to place their autographs on documents that would then translate into full college scholarships.
And at three schools, namely St. Peter’s Prep, Hudson Catholic and Hoboken, it was a high school recruiting bonanza, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships being tossed around like carp at the old Fulton Fish Market.
At Grand and Warren, five members of the Marauders put their respective John Hancocks on scholarship letters.
That’s five players from the same team all going off to college to play football elsewhere, all holding a free ride as their tickets.
Khalil Wilkes signed a letter of intent with Stanford University. Yes, that Stanford. The fine Marauder offensive guard narrowed down his choices to Stanford, Wake Forest and Rutgers and was receiving a ton of criticism from online message boards and forums because he wasn’t truly considering his father Willie’s alma mater, namely Rutgers.
Wilkes said that he didn’t feel any undo pressure to sign with Rutgers.
“It wasn’t that bad, because basically I don’t read that stuff,” Wilkes said. “My father [who is also an assistant coach at St. Peter’s] just wanted me to pick the right school. He never said anything to me about Rutgers. If it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t.”
Wilkes said that he took to heart some advice he received from Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“He said it was a 40-year decision, not a four-year one,” Wilkes said. “That’s why I looked at Stanford. It was more of an academic decision. It was a lifelong dream to go to a big-time college, both academically and athletically. I’m really excited about it.”
Wilkes said that he will major in economics at Stanford and may pursue a new field of management science and engineering. Sometimes, it pays to go to a school like Stanford.
Wilkes’ teammate, Greg Kohles, also signed on with a legendary academic institution. Kohles signed his letter with Princeton. He had a tough decision to make, choosing Princeton over Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. Yeah, that’s what is called a real tough choice. It’s like choosing lobster over filet mignon.
“It really is a dream come true,” said Kohles, who will play safety at Princeton. “I think Princeton’s academics speak for itself.”
Nah, you think?
“There was a real family feel at Princeton and the coaches were great,” Kohles said. “I felt very comfortable there. Plus, it’s close, so my family can come see me play.”
Kohles said that he was leaning toward studying engineering at Princeton.
“When I was younger, I wanted to go to a place like Rutgers or Penn State,” Kohles said. “But when I kept getting good grades, the Ivy League schools became interested. So the grades stopped one dream and opened up this one.”
Can you fathom the idea that one school in downtown Jersey City sent two football players to prestigious schools like Stanford and Princeton? It didn’t stop there.
Quarterback Justin Perez signed with C.W. Post. Linebacker/running back Kenny Smith signed on with the University of Rhode Island. And Nyshier Oliver ended all of the controversy and speculation by signing his letter with the University of Tennessee, changing his mind at the last minute.
“Most schools get maybe one or two,” Kohles said. “We had five. It shows what kind of a program we have.”
Meanwhile, at Hudson Catholic…
A quick drive up Montgomery Street took the football signing caravan to Hudson Catholic, where there was another celebration taking place.
Four members of the Hawks were putting their signatures to scholarship letters, with 2008 Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player Jason Hendricks leading the way, signing on with the University of Pittsburgh.
It was the best signing day ever at Hudson Catholic, a real reason to celebrate, considering that the school was on the brink of extinction just 11 months ago.
“I don’t think anyone believed that this day could actually happen, especially after they announced the school was going to close,” Hendricks said. “But we did. We never gave up hope. We believed in ourselves.”
Hendricks will be a safety at Pitt.
“It’s a bit of a relief for me to start my new career and starting off fresh,” Hendricks said. “It’s the next step in my dream. I’ve been through a lot and come a long way, but this is a dream come true.”
Hendricks said that he hopes to study sports medicine at Pitt.
“Something having to do with sports,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks’ teammates Oliver McCall (Maine), Brian Eatman (Rhode Island) and Kadeem Williams (University of Albany) also signed letters Wednesday.
“It really is a reason for this program and this school to be proud,” Hendricks said. “We were able to bring something to this school that never happened before. We all did.”
Sure thing. The school’s first-ever trip to the NJSIAA Parochial state finals and the best recruiting class ever. Not bad for a school that should be closed by now.
Off to Hoboken
From there, it was off to Hoboken, when two Red Wings, Bernardo Nunez and Isaac Holmes were ready to earn their day of glory.
Having a big to-do at Hoboken on signing day is nothing new. In fact, it’s happened plenty of times over the years.
But this was different, because Holmes created a stir by signing with Rutgers, when it was believed the standout defensive tackle was headed elsewhere.
Holmes first was considering offers from Florida and Oklahoma first, then narrowed it down to Maryland and Pittsburgh and somehow ended up at Rutgers.
“It really excites me to be part of a growing Rutgers program,” Holmes said. “I wanted to be part of a program that’s on the rise and I want to be among the first to bring a national championship to the Garden State.”
So how did Rutgers get into the mix?
“Rutgers was one of the first ones to offer me and I always had them in my heart,” Holmes said. “At first, I wanted to go away to school. A lot of people wanted me to stay local, but I was thinking about going away. Even though I was leaning toward the other schools, Rutgers was always in the picture. I kept jumping back and forth with my decision almost every day. I thought about it and realized I just felt more comfortable at Rutgers. I also realized that if I go to Rutgers, I'll get a chance to play right away. And I will be close to home. If there was one reason, I'd have to say it was the loyalty they showed towards me.”
Nunez signed on with the University of Pittsburgh, where he will become an instant teammate of former rival Hendricks.
“He text messaged me last night and told me that we’re family now,” Hendricks said of Nunez. “He said he can’t hit me anymore because we’re teammates.”
“I told him that I didn’t want to make him fumble anymore,” Nunez said. “It’s a great feeling to have someone else out there that will make me feel comfortable.”
Former Prep running back Shariff Harris is already at Pitt, so it will make the Panthers a Hudson County power.
Nunez decided on Pitt after considering offers from Maryland and Michigan State.
“I like the fact that it’s a city school,” Nunez said. “It’s a lot like where I’m from. It’s also a great academic school.”
Nunez will be a defensive end with the Panthers. He’s excited to get the chance to play for former NFL coach Dave Wannstedt.
“It’s going to be an honor to play for him,” Nunez said.
Nunez said that he always dreamed about becoming the next in line of great Hoboken football players who went on to play big-time college football.
“Hoboken has such a great tradition,” Nunez said. “I saw all the others succeed and I wanted that for myself. I’m glad I was able to keep the tradition alive.”
The national signing day has become a major tradition in Hudson County sports. It may never have a busier day than the one the area enjoyed last Wednesday. It was truly a day to behold.