By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — For the last four years, Nick Bello, Ronnie Fox, Ryan Greenhagen, Ty Hranicka, Terrance Jones, Jason Miller, Austin Pedersen, Joey Quitadamo and Gio Tricarico have played key roles in helping Pope John XXIII Regional High School’s football team become a statewide contender on the gridiron.
On Friday, these nine Pope John XXIII Regional High School student-athletes reaped the individual rewards from all the hard work they put into helping the program, as they each signed their National Letter of Intent to compete and continue their education at a NCAA Division I or Division II college next year.
Greenhagen, Hranicka, Jones, Fox and Miller each committed to a D-I school. Greenhagen signed his letter of intent to play for Fordham University; Hranicka signed his letter to play for Lafayette College; Jones signed his letter to play for Idaho State University; and Fox and Miller signed their letters to play for Towson University.
As for Bello, Pedersen, Quitadamo and Tricarico, they each committed to a D-II school. Bello signed to play for Assumption College, Pedersen signed to play for Kutztown University; Quitadamo signed to play for Stonehill College; and Tricarico signed to play for Merrimack College.
In doing so, these nine players helped the Lions make history.
The Lions will have 21 of their 24 seniors playing at the college level next year, with 14 of them competing at the D-I or Division II level — both of which are program records. This senior class also earned over $2 million in athletic and Merit scholarships.
"This has been a great year," Pope John head coach Brian Carlson said. "Each year, the amount of kids signing is growing more and more. This was a great class that walked through the door from freshman year to senior year. We are really happy for them. However, these guys don’t go to their respective schools without having a great academic institution behind them. The academic component here at Pope John is special.”
Greenhagen and Hranicka composed half of the linebacker corps on a Lions’ defense that allowed only 17.6 points this season during the team’s 6-4 season. Greenhagen, who was recruited by Towson, Wagner College, University of Maine and Wesleyan University, racked up 107 1/2 tackles en route to earning spots on the All-NJSFC United White Division First Team and All-New Jersey Herald First Team. Hranicka, who was recruited by Wagner and Marist, had 61 tackles and was named to the All-NJSFC United White Division Second Team.
Jones, Fox and Miller were key athletes on a Lions’ offense that put up 29.3 points per game. Jones rushed for 677 yards and six touchdowns on 133 carries while earning spots on the All-NJSFC United White Division First Team and All-New Jersey Herald Second Team; Fox caught four passes for 41 yards and a TD while being a great blocker for Jones and fellow running back Berrell Neal; and Miller had two receptions for 33 yards while also being a quality blocker.
These five were so excited to sign to their respective schools.
“Committing to Fordham is a dream come true for me,” Greenhagen said. “I could not be more thrilled to start my college career there. When I started playing football, my goal was to play at the division one level, and to get the best possible degree that I could. Fordham is the best of both worlds.”
“I could not be more excited to have committed to Lafayette,” Hranicka said. “It is a dream come true for me to be able to play Division I football while going to a phenomenal academic school. It was one of the best days of my life when I found out and decided this was a perfect fit.”
“I feel great to have my commitment official,” Fox said. “I feel like there is no more stress on my back. I chose Towson University because it isn’t just good at football, it is a great academic school.”
As for Bello, Pedersen, Tricarico and Quitadamo, they were unsung heroes for the Lions.
Bello and Pedersen anchored the Lions’ offensive line, helping pave the way for guys like Jones, Fox, Neal while allowing quarterback Niko Hroncich to find targets like Miller and wide receivers Taj Jones, Samuel Darrell and Ryan Dengler. Pedersen earned All-NJSFC United White Division First Team and All-New Jersey Herald First Team honors, while Bello was named onto the All-NJSFC United White Division Second Team.
Tricarico and Quitadamo gave the Lions’ defense solid presence in the secondary, as they combined for five of the team’s 12 interceptions. Tricarico had a team-high three picks and earned All-New Jersey Herald First Team honors, while Quitadamo had two INTs.
These four players were thrilled with their decisions for a variety of reasons.
“I feel extremely excited for the opportunities that are ahead in these next 4 to 5 years,” Bello said. “I chose Assumption because as soon as I stepped on campus, I felt that Assumption was home. Also, I knew that going to Assumption would enable me to live my childhood dream of getting a big time job in Boston and being able to live my life.”
“It feels great, a long road of recruiting coming to an end with a couple of signatures,” Pedersen said. “I chose Kutztown because the location suits me, the people are great and most of all the coaches seemed to actually care about me.”
“Finally being able to say that I am going to play college football at a high-level is a dream to me,” Tricarico said. “I chose Merrimack because the coaches and players on my official visit made me feel like I was a part of a family. After my visit, I knew this was the place for me.”
While they were all certainly excited to make their individual commitments official, they were also happy to see their fellow teammates sign and get a shot at playing college football.
“I could not be more proud to be a member of this team and to play with these guys,” Greenhagen said. “It is really a testament to Coach Carlson and the rest of our coaches who have put so much time and energy to get us to this point. We have so many guys going on to play at the next level, but I know for a fact no matter where we all are, we will always be a family."
“Seeing my other teammates commit is one of the coolest parts of the process,” Hranicka said. “Every one of them deserves to be where they are going. We all knew coming into Pope John that this freshman class was supposed to do great things, and we proved that to everybody through the colleges we are heading to next year.”