Sickels leads group of Shore football stars on Signing Day


Garrett Sickels now knows he is a young man of his word.

The Red Bank Regional High School senior defensive end said for months he was going to honor his commitment to Penn State, despite the severe sanctions the NCAA levied on the school in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Sickels officially fulfilled his commitment early Wednesday morning when he signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Penn State.

He was one of five Shore Conference players to sign with Football Bowl Subdivision schools on Wednesday.

“I think I definitely valued character a lot more after the summer,” Sickels said. “I think I definitely valued my decisions a lot more. I definitely think I’ve matured. When I say something, I mean it.

“I’ve always been that way. But now, this really made me think, ‘Wow, I actually do mean what I say and I don’t go back on my word.’ When I promise something, I keep it. It definitely made me a better person.”

Sickels made his commitment to Penn State last March, which was about five months after the Sandusky scandal broke.

Then, last July 23, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the association’s decision to severely curtail the number of scholarships Penn State could offer and also ban the school from participating in bowl games for four years.

The hours immediately after Emmert announced his decision, Sickels’ phone rang off the hook. Numerous schools wanted to know if he was going to change his mind. He announced his intention to honor his commitment to Penn State that same day.

“In the summer time, when all hell was breaking loose, schools were contacting me left and right. It was about 10 per day,” Sickels said. “I was like, ‘Listen, I’m staying at Penn State. I’m not going anywhere else. Thank you for your appreciation of me, thank you for consideration of having me. This is the last time I’m going to talk to you.’

“I think some guys kind of took it and said, ‘Wow, this guy is kind of a jerk.’ But, I’m a nice person. When I say something, I mean it. I don’t try to waste words. I’d rather say it and get to my point.”

Penn State, even though several key players transferred out immediately after the sanctions under the rule the NCAA put in place that allowed Penn State’s current players to transfer without having to sit out a year, had a surprising season under first-year head coach Bill O’Brien. The Nittany Lions, led by their seniors, went 8-4 with a win over eventual Rose Bowl participant Wisconsin to close the season.

The job O’Brien and his coaching staff did in keeping the team together in the wake of the sanctions made him a hot candidate for an NFL coaching job. Sickels never doubted O’Brien was going to keep the commitment he made to him, the other recruits in his recruiting class and the current Penn State players.

“When I was in Texas (in January for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl) and everyone was telling me that, I had no worries at all,” Sickels said. “I didn’t call him or any of the coaches. I knew he was staying.”

Also Wednesday, Monsignor Donovan offensive lineman Brad Henson signed with the University of North Carolina. Red Bank Catholic defensive tackle Josh Klecko signed with Rutgers and St. John Vianney wide receiver Ishmael Hyman signed with Kansas.

Neptune senior wide receiver Keith Kirkwood signed with Hawaii, according to Scarlet Fliers’ coach Mark Ciccotelli after earlier in the day it appeared he had changed his mind from signing with Hawaii to go to Rutgers as a preferred walk-on.

Toms River High School North placekicker/punter Chris Gulla had made a commitment to Penn State in December as a preferred walk-on.

Henson had originally made a commitment to the University of Virginia last June, but he changed his mind to North Carolina in mid-December.

“It all started when my recruiting coach Shawn Moore (a former Virginia quarterback) was let go for reasons I didn’t understand,” Henson said. “After that happened, I decided to take a harder-look at North Carolina.

“Once I went down to North Carolina, I really felt it was the place for me. It had everything I was looking for. It has a great academic reputation. I love the campus and I got along great with (North Carolina coach Larry Fedora) and the players. Those are the things I was looking for in school.”

Among the players who signed with Football Championship Subdivision programs on Wednesday are Lakewood quarterback/’safety Tyrice Beverette (Stony Brook); Manalapan wide receiver Anthony Firkser (Harvard, where he will play football and basketball); Middletown South running back/defensive back Eli Smith (Wagner); Freehold lineman Ryan Kasten (Colgate); Freehold Township defensive lineman Manny Maragoto (Monmouth University); Rumson-Fair Haven linebacker Travis Clark (Villanova as a preferred walk-on); and Rumson quarterback Danny Roberto (New Hampshire as a preferred walk-on.)

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