By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Nick DeNucci, Jake Brown, Jhadir Charles and Aidan Murray have played integral parts in the Pope John XXIII Regional High School football team’s rise to becoming a statewide contender on the gridiron since each one of them stepped on campus.
The hard work and dedication put in by these four outstanding Pope John XXIII Regional High School student-athletes led them to one of the best moments of their young lives on Wednesday, as they each signed their National Letter of Intent to compete and continue their education at a NCAA Division I university.
DeNucci signed his letter of intent to play for Boston College; Brown committed to play for Harvard University; Charles signed his letter of intent to play for Monmouth University; and Murray signed his letter of intent to play for the University of Richmond.
“We are proud of these four student-athletes,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School President and Principal Father McHugh said. “It’s great to recognize them for their wonderful achievements academically and athletically. They have worked so hard with their teachers, coaches and parents to get where they are today. It’s a day of celebration to see their success.”
"Three of the four have been with us from day one," Pope John head coach Brian Carlson said. "We knew they were going to be good ballplayers and they evolved with the program and they stayed the course, so it was great. And then Aidan (who transferred from Wallkill Valley last year) was a great, great pleasant surprise. He jumped on board and fit right in. They were impact players."
DeNucci, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound middle linebacker, earned his commitment to Boston College after being a star for the Lions on defense, racking up 250 career tackles, including a whopping 237 tackles over the last two seasons. This year, DeNucci was named a member of the All-State first team, All-New Jersey Herald first team and All-North Jersey Super Football Conference United White Division first team after making 115 ½ tackles, 6 ½ sacks and three forced fumbles.
For DeNucci, who became Pope John’s ninth player to sign with a NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision school since 2012, his commitment comes a year after making a verbal commitment to the Eagles following his junior season.
“It feels great,” DeNucci said. “I’ve been committed for a while now. Throughout the recruiting process, I always knew I was going to go to BC. Boston College felt right, it was a great fit. I liked the family environment it has. They obviously had a great season, as they are in the Pinstripe Bowl this year versus Iowa, so I'm really excited for where the program is going right now.”
Brown, a 6-1, 215-pound linebacker, earned his commitment to Harvard after also having a great career on the gridiron. A three-year starter, Brown made 101 of his 223 career tackles this season while also forcing four fumbles, registering two sacks and one interception for the Lions.
Brown, who was named to the All-New Jersey Herald first team, All-NJSFC United White Division first team and NJ.com All-Non-Public second team this year, was overjoyed about his opportunity to play at Harvard, a place where he feels he can keep growing as a student-athlete.
“It’s a great feeling,” Brown said. “A lot of hard work has been put into this decision. A lot of people have helped me along the way. ... The environment and the community at Harvard just fit me the best. It was something I wanted to be a part of.”
A lot of those people who Brown talked about were in attendance for his signing, as he had 17 family members witness this special occasion. Not only that, but they were all decked out in Harvard crimson.
“Family is everything with us,” Brown said. “Our family is very big, as you can see, but we’re all really close.”
Charles will head to Monmouth after being an outstanding athlete for the Lions, as the 6-1, 195-pound player shined as a cornerback, wide receiver and kickoff/punt returner. This year, Charles played primarily cornerback, where he had team-highs in pass deflections (13) and interceptions (three) while also making 29 tackles.
Charles, who was named to the All-NJSFC United White Division first team this year, chose Monmouth because, in his eyes, the school was similar to Pope John.
“I feel I can relate to them because of the history we had here at Pope John,” Charles said. “They started off not playing as great of competition as they wanted to. When I first started here at Pope John freshman year, we wanted to get better so we could play with the best teams in the state. Monmouth is playing with those top teams now and I can’t wait to compete with them.”
Murray made his commitment to Richmond after having a strong season as a defensive end in his only year on the field with the Lions after playing his previous three seasons at Wallkill Valley. The 6-4, 240-pound lineman had 50 ½ tackles and 2 ½ sacks en route to earning an All-NJSFC United White Division first team selection.
Murray was so happy with his official commitment, considering he had just made a verbal commitment to the Spiders just two days ago.
“This is nice,” Murray said. “I was a little nervous because when I transferred, I didn’t know what would happen this year. But when Richmond came along, everyone there was so nice. I knew that was the place for me. Now, I’m signed in pen on paper. I’m ready to go.”
Though they have their futures set, these four will always remember their time on the field, especially in 2017 when they helped lead the Lions to a 6-4 record and a Non-Public, Group 3 semifinal appearance for the second straight season. They will also never forget what they had to do in order to get to this spot in their careers.
“These are my brothers,” Charles said. “We didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but this is a testament to all of our hard work.”
“It was a long process we went through,” Brown said. “We had our goals. Our coaches have pushed us. This is the product of all of our work.”
Carlson said he hopes to have a handful of more players earn offers over the next few months. But, he said these players are prime examples that future student-athletes can look up to.
“This is a great opportunity for them,” Carlson said. “We always preach academics first and we always talk about how football can use you or you can use football. We do a great job here institutionally to help kids get opportunities through football and other sports. These guys don’t go to Harvard, Boston College, Monmouth and Richmond without a great academic institution behind them.”