The last time I heard Dennis McCarthy’s voice was on a phone message he left me in January.
“JR, hi, it’s Dennis. I just got all the information you sent me, thank you very much.
“All is well here, no need to call me back. Tell your father I said hello and we’ll talk again soon. Bye, Dennis.”
I didn’t call him back. That’s the last time I don’t call someone back who is dear to me.
Dennis McCarthy was a good friend – a special friend – of mine for 25 years.
I am just about moved to tears writing now that he is no longer with us.
McCarthy, a renowned talent evaluator who went from writing an annual report on the merits of high school football players in New Jersey – all four classes – to then producing videos of projected college players with his sons David and Ryan, passed away Sunday at the age of 74.
Our last phone conversation – which took place during last football season – was one filled with which football teams were going to win state championships and which seniors were going to sign with what colleges in February.
Unfortunately, I never had the chance to say goodbye.
While I knew Dennis had health issues (cancer among them) he was dealing with, to me I thought he was doing fine and would be around for still many years.
Now I miss him. Truly.
He was born the same year my father was and in November would have joined my dad at age 75.
Like I said he was a good friend of mine and also a good friend of the family. My father introduced me to Dennis 25 years ago because of his passion for high school football and felt Dennis was someone I should get to know because of my own passion for covering the sport.
“We developed a friendship when I knew Dennis as a bartender,” my father, James Sr., said.
My father knew Dennis from the time he spent tending bar in Lyndhurst at establishments such as Boggs and before that the old Holiday Inn.
“Dennis knew his high school football,” my father said. “He was very knowledgeable on the subject.”
McCarthy would often bring up stories of how he worked out deals right at the bar with high school coaches of helping get certain kids into college.
I will dedicate the 2017 Union County high school football season to the longtime North Arlington resident. I know that over the years McCarthy dealt with quite a few Union County football coaches and spent time filming players at Union County high schools such as Cooke Memorial Field in Union, Williams Field in Elizabeth and Gary Kehler Stadium in Westfield.
McCarthy was Hudson County – he grew up in West New York.
McCarthy was Fighting Irish – he attended Notre Dame.
Hudson County, Notre Dame, hmm, just think of all the contacts he began with from those two corners of the country while he began to study and rank high school football players in New Jersey beginning in the late 1950s.
McCarthy was so proud of New Jersey’s history of sending players to college and the pros. He also always had good things to say about Rutgers football, despite the not-so-often winning that goes on there.
When I first talked to him about one of the most memorable plays in NFL history – the Immaculate Reception Dec. 23, 1972 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh – and the fact that there were two players from New Jersey, Franco Harris (Rancocas Valley) and Jack Tatum (Passaic), involved in it he was quick to mention a third player from the Garden State that was also in on the play: Oakland defensive lineman Art Thoms (from Teaneck and played at Brick and Wayne high schools) who was chasing Terry Bradshaw.
McCarthy ranked a lot of high school football players across the state of New Jersey for some 60 years. Every time I asked him who his No. 1 of No. 1s was he would never hesitate:
“Ironhead. Craig Heyward had no equal. He was a man among boys when he played at Passaic.”
Last August Dennis and I talked about the passing of Ray McCrann, who was one of Heyward’s coaches at Passaic.
McCarthy was so proud of New Jersey’s history of sending players to college and the pros.
I can vividly remember him talking about names such as Tamba Hali and Myron Rolle before they even attended high school. Hali (Teaneck High), starred at Penn State and will be entering his 12th season as a defensive standout with the Kansas City Chiefs.
McCarthy also knew whether a player had grades or not.
“Boy and is this Myron Rolle kid smart,” McCarthy said years ago, also talking about his academic prowess.
Last weekend Rolle, who played safety in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers and before that was a Rhodes Scholar, graduated from Florida State University School of Medicine with a degree in neurosurgery.
Rolle, born in Houston, Texas, played his high school football at the Hun School in Princeton.
The final No. 1 player in the state that McCarthy ranked last fall was also from the Hun School, defensive lineman Fred Hansard. Hansard first gave Florida a verbal commitment before changing his mind and signing on to play at Big Ten champion Penn State.
Here is an example of what Dennis did. Five years ago he ranked Anthony Cioffi of Dayton and P.J. (Phillip) Walker of Elizabeth as his top two Union County college-bound seniors for the 2012 season.
Both signed recently as free agents – Cioffi with Oakland and Walker with Indianapolis – after stellar, four-year careers at Rutgers and Temple, respectively.
DENNIS McCARTHY REPORT
This is his Top 12 Union County senior football players
for 2012 season, with their projected college positions:
1-Anthony Cioffi, (6-0, 180), CB, Dayton – verbal to Rutgers
“Quick as a jackrabbit and appears to play the game at a faster sped than everyone else on the field. Gets from 0 to 60 MPH in a hurry with his outstanding acceleration. Has run as fast as a 10.5/100 in track.
“Strikes fear into a defense with his ability to take the ball to the house at any time. Is super-elusive in the open field and consistently makes defenders miss.
“At corner he has great reactions, loose hips and ball skills you can’t teach. Had five interceptions and 51 tackles last season. Has a 33” vertical.”
40-dash time: 4.4
2-P.J. Walker, (6-0, 200), QB, Elizabeth – verbal to Temple
“Will be a four-year star at QB for a large school. Passed for almost 2,000 yards and 20 TDs and led Elizabeth to the North 2, Group 4 final.
“Throws with a quick, natural stroke and gets good RPMs on the ball. He’s a very accurate passer who places the ball perfectly so the receiver can do something with it after the catch.
“He sees the whole field and has great awareness. Can also hurt a defense with his legs and will use his 4.6 speed to keep the chains moving, averaging over seven yards per carry last season.
“Also handles the punting and has a strong leg, averaging 44 yards a punt, including six inside the 10-yard line.”
40-dash time: 4.6
I spent many times discussing high school football with Dennis, whether it was at a football field, restaurant or his home. I also published his Union County and State Top 10 college-bound seniors lists every year.
With the technology of the internet, it became easier for Dennis to do what he did at home, while one of his sons handled the video taping of players.
Still, Dennis managed to attend his share of high school games. Although he lived in Bergen County, he loved attending games in South Jersey.
This is what he said last August: “Hun vs. Peddie will be the game of the year or the prep game of the year. There will be so many Division 1 kids involved.”
I was also fortunate enough to be on Cablevision telecasts with McCarthy dating back to 1998 that were hosted by Steve Tober. Talking high school football on those shows included veteran reporters Jim Hague and Sean Reilly, who more than had Hudson County and Morris County covered and still do.
I can’t imagine what it will be like this August when I won’t be talking high school football with McCarthy.
One thing is for sure. Dennis was a good friend for many years and someone I respected quite a bit.
You will always be missed here, Dennis, and always in my prayers.