Carlos Rodriguez remembers the glory days of Dickinson High School football. A standout quarterback during his days with the Rams, Rodriguez graduated in 1987 as one of the finest signal callers in the program’s rich and storied history.
“It never left my blood,” Rodriguez said. “I was always a Dickinson Ram.”
Rodriguez first went to Culver Stockton College in Missouri, where he played football and eventually wound up at William Paterson University, where he earned his degree.
From the minute Rodriguez became old enough, he was coaching the sport he loved. He started out with the Jersey City Recreation Department, then moved on to his alma mater for a stint. He’s been a physical education teacher in Paterson for the last 10 years.
When Rodriguez learned that Dickinson was discontinuing its football program in February, 2010, after more than 100 historic years on the gridiron, he couldn’t believe it.
“I was pretty much brokenhearted,” Rodriguez said. “It was almost uncalled for. Dickinson is a Group IV school with so much football history. I was shocked. It was like no one cared. Maff [former athletic director Roddy Maffia] passed away and with that, the life was gone with Dickinson football. It just wasn’t the same.”
Once Rodriguez got word that the Jersey City Board of Education decided to eliminate football at Dickinson in what was believed to be a cost-cutting measure, Rodriguez quickly went to work.
“Something had to be done,” Rodriguez said. “Once I knew the program was done, I started getting organized.”
Rodriguez formed the Dickinson Rams Football Association and in two weeks, had more than 200 followers on Facebook.
“I figured if I got the word out that members of the alumni cared and brought it to the Board of Education, that maybe something could change,” Rodriguez said. “We had 200 people in just a few weeks. I knew it wasn’t an ideal situation, but we had to do something to have a football program.”
Rodriguez then began his relentless pursuit to bring back football to Dickinson. He attended Board of Education meetings with the hope of having his plea heard. It mostly fell on deaf ears.
“We tried to get it on the agenda, but it kept being put on the back burner,” Rodriguez said. “Every day, I had people ask, ‘Carlos, what’s the tone from the Board of Ed?’ I had to tell them that I thought it was dead. I called the Board of Education a few times during the course of the year to find out.”
Last February, like it came from completely out in left field, Rodriguez got a call from then-interim Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker.
Before Walker made his ascent up the chain in the Board of Ed., he was once the highly successful head football coach at Lincoln and later became the athletic director there, so Walker had a deep background in athletics, especially football, a sport he played and coached.
“He called me and asked me if I was interested in running the Dickinson football program,” Rodriguez said. “He said, ‘If we brought back football to Dickinson, would you apply for the job?’ I told him, ‘Of course.’ That was the first idea I got that they were thinking about it.”
But for months, Rodriguez heard nothing. In fact, he had secured a deal to become an assistant coach at Passaic High School for the 2012 season.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Rodriguez said. “For months, we were in limbo.”
In late May, Rodriguez received another call from Walker, who was in his final days as the interim superintendent.
“He told me it was a done deal,” Rodriguez said. “I told him to please not lie to me, because I am a loyal man and already agreed to go to Passaic. But he told me he was confident in me to start the program.”
Rodriguez then sold his idea to a five-person committee established by the Board of Ed.
“I think they understood that I was a Jersey City guy, a Dickinson guy, who wanted to help Dickinson kids.”
With that, the rebirth of Dickinson football took place.
The 43-year-old Rodriguez was tabbed to be the new head coach of the program, which will run as strictly a freshman and junior varsity program to begin with. Rodriguez hopes to get five scheduled games for each team, although it’s not easy finding games at such a late date.
However, it’s a start. There will be Dickinson football this fall. In fact, the team has already begun practices and there were more almost 50 kids in attendance at the first workout last week.
Of the 50 or so, 10 are seniors who never really got a chance to play high school football when the program was dropped. They’ll get a chance now.
“They’re excited,” Rodriguez said. “They can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Rodriguez sent each kid a message.
“I told them that they are the ones who are starting it back up again and they’re the ones who will be watched,” Rodriguez said. “They have to come to practice and set an example, because they’re the ones who will be remembered.”
Rodriguez said he was encouraged by what he saw.
“There’s a lot of talent out there,” Rodriguez said. “I thought I’d get a bunch of skinny kids, but there are some big kids.”
As practice begins, there will be one important piece of equipment missing at the workouts, namely a football itself.
“We don’t need a football right now,” Rodriguez said. “I won’t let them touch a football. I won’t even let them look at it. When I put a football on the field, that’s when we have a program.”
Rodriguez is doing things the right way. He has a manual that each player will follow. The manual’s title reads: “An enthusiastic approach to developing a program for success.”
He even reads a slogan made famous by legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes.
“We win with people,” it reads.
“Right now, it’s a 100 percent positive program,” said Rodriguez, who will have former Dickinson head coach Rob Maffia and former Snyder head coach Bill Davis as assistants. “By the third year, I think we’ll have a full-fledged varsity program. Those are the plans in place. We have scrimmages lined up. By next week, we’ll have equipment and you’ll see a football team in a regular practice.”
Rodriguez has big plans for the program.
“I envision the day where we have 100 kids in his program,” Rodriguez said. “I promise you that will happen. I don’t see it as a pipe dream. Kids want to play football, they really do. I have three girls who are here every day. I have one thing to do and that’s coach this football team. This is my place. I know no one can match my enthusiasm for it. I just have to make sure I do a good job this year, because there are no guarantees.”
But there’s a start and Carlos Rodriguez is a strong representative of that good start. He can only go up from here. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.