The 2008 high school football season was only two weeks old, but already Hudson Catholic was staring at the crossroads of the entire year. The Hawks started out the new campaign with two heartbreaking losses, something that never happened before in head coach Rob Stern’s career.
Another loss wouldn’t have only been devastating. It would have signaled the end. High school football teams don’t necessarily recover from 0-3 starts.
So when the Hawks prepared to face Lincoln last Friday night – mind you, a 2-0 Lincoln team that was flying high to start the season – they all knew their entire season was hanging in the balance.
“We definitely thought that way,” said senior running back Jason Hendricks. “It was our time to step up and show what we had. We had to prove that we were a better team than what we showed over the first two weeks. It really was like a playoff game for us.”
“There was an obvious sense of urgency,” Stern said. “Especially the way we lost the week before to Paramus Catholic [losing a lead in the final minutes]. It was disheartening. We knew that we needed some senior leadership to step it up and get us a much needed win.”
And to provide that leadership, well, there was no one better than Hendricks, who was the focal point of the Hawks’ offense a year ago, when they posted a school-record nine wins and won a game in the NJSIAA state playoffs for the first time, defeating Pope John of Sparta.
Hendricks had a junior year to remember, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area honors. He had already earned his reputation as the next in a line of top-flight Hudson Catholic running backs, falling right in line with the likes of prior All-Area performers Jonathan Calderon and Darius Kinney.
So Hendricks knew that if there was someone who was going to pick up the Hawks collectively and put them all on his shoulders, he was the one who had to do it.
“He needed to will us to a win,” Stern said. “He had to set a tone.”
It didn’t take long for Hendricks to make his presence felt. As the Hawks went into the huddle for their first possession of the game against Lincoln, Hendricks had a message to give to his teammates.
“I was determined to score on the first carry,” Hendricks said. “I told everyone in the huddle that I was going to score.”
It was a prediction in the tradition of Joe Namath and Mark Messier, legendary New York sports figures who guaranteed production and winning. Hendricks just told everyone that he was going to take the ball on the first carry and take it to the house.
Sure enough, Hendricks got the ball and took it 70 yards for a touchdown.
“When I did it, I said, ‘Wow, I really did it,'” Hendricks laughed. “Maybe I just had a little more confidence. But that was something we needed. We needed to get that swagger back.”
“I think he was a little fired up,” Stern said. “You can’t do any better than that.”
It was the beginning of a game to remember for Hendricks, who rushed for 204 yards on 14 carries and scored three touchdowns, leading Hudson Catholic to a 39-20 victory.
For his efforts, Hendricks has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Stern said that Hendricks didn’t rest on his laurels of a year ago and vowed to be an improved player this season.
“You always want to see improvement and increased production, but you can’t ask for more than what Jason gave us last year,” Stern said. “But he became bigger and stronger. He was always in the weight room. He is definitely more determined and able to do different things on the field than he did. He’s become more of a power runner, an in-between-the-tackles guy. He’s more of a complete runner now.”
Hendricks, who resides in Brooklyn and commutes daily to Jersey City, didn’t mind spending the long hours coming to school during the summer to work out.
“I needed to do it and needed to be there,” Hendricks said. “I think it shows my commitment to the team and to football.”
Stern has nothing but praise for his senior leader.
“Jason is able to will people to do things,” Stern said. “He’s truly a special individual. He is a great player, no doubt, but it’s the other things that he does. I have been truly fortunate and blessed to coach him.”
Stern believes that Hendricks has turned himself into a major college prospect. Hendricks has already received offers from Temple, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, with Pittsburgh and Maryland also showing interest.
“He’s a big-time player,” said Stern. “Most of the schools are recruiting him as a defensive back and he’s been outstanding defensively for us this year. His tackling ability is unreal.”
Hendricks said that the commute back and forth to Brooklyn can sometimes be a grind.
“Especially after a long day of practice,” Hendricks said. “I have to take that hour commute home and sometimes, it’s even longer. But I knew that this was the best way for me to get a good education and now a college education. That was the goal and now it looks like it’s going to take place.”
Hendricks has been such an inspiration and a trailblazer that 13 other youngsters from Brooklyn now make the daily trek to McGinley Square and attend Hudson Catholic.
“I guess I started a trend,” Hendricks laughed.
“Jason has made a tremendous sacrifice to come to us,” Stern said. “I can’t even imagine how those kids do it every day. But it was a sacrifice that is paying off for him. He’s going to get a chance to play at the next level.”
Added Stern, “I know that he only has a few more games with us. I know it’s getting close to the end. But I hope I get a chance to watch him play nine more times for us. I just enjoy watching him do the things he does. He’s one of the truly special kids, both athletically and socially.”
Now that the season has been saved, Hendricks has one last goal in mind.
“My high school career would be a huge success if we could win a championship,” Hendricks said. “That’s the way I want to leave my career here at Hudson. I want a championship.”
After his prediction about scoring on the first carry last weekend, who can doubt Jason Hendricks? – Jim Hague