For high school football players, there’s the dream of playing at the next level … and for some, even the next level. The NFL may seem like light years away, but the dream is very much alive for a lot of players.
Fear not, high school players: That far-off dream can become a reality. If the stars align and you work hard enough and long enough, you get … Michael Burton, the former West Morris standout who was not highly sought after high school but who is now with the Detroit Lions.
Anything is possible when it comes to making it into the NFL, according to 60-year New Jersey high school recruiting guru Dennis McCarthy, the author of the highly regarded McCarthy Report, a New Jersey football recruiting manual.
Burton, the 2009 Daily Record All-Area Player of the Year, walked on at Rutgers, became captain, and continued working tirelessly before sticking with the Lions.
McCarthy believes four Morris County players come to mind that fit in the mold of Burton: Chatham’s Ryan Barnett, Delbarton’s Sam Johnson, Morristown-Beard’s Alex Motley, and Roxbury’s Grant Dixon.
McCarthy didn’t label any of those NFL players in waiting. But they have shown enough on the high school scale to have a chance if they put enough time in.
“Why not?” says McCarthy. “There are some good seniors in Morris County. Where they go to college doesn’t really matter. Look at some of the colleges of guys playing in the NFL right now.”
Successful NFL veterans such as receivers Cecil Shorts and Pierre Garcon both went to NCAA Division III Mount Union. Running back Fred Jackson (Coe), kicker Steven Hauschka (Middlebury), and dozens of others played at I-AA or Division II or III schools.
“Look at some of those schools,” McCarthy said. “Look at Michael Burton and where he was when he was in high school.”
When it comes to good players becoming college players and then becoming pro players, Burton is Exhibit A.
Six years ago, Burton led the Wolfpack to the NJSIAA championship over Passaic Valley at Giants Stadium. But major colleges weren’t all that impressed. Professional football wasn’t even an issue.
Burton’s ascendance didn’t happen overnight. Very few players put in the effort he did to climb the ladder from a high school player who was not widely recruited by Division I schools to an NFL player.
And yet, McCarthy saw him playing on TV the other day.
The best candidate of the current group in Morris County, according to McCarthy, is Barnett, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker.
“I’d recommend him to any school, whether it be Division I or the Ivy League,” McCarthy said. “He’s very intense and athletic. He is in the mold of Michael Burton. Six years from now, it wouldn’t shock me at all if you turn on the TV and hear the announcer say, ‘Tackle by Ryan Barnett!’” That wouldn’t be a shock to me at all, whether he is at Yale or (Texas Christian University). He is under the radar, just like Burton was. He is a major college player.”
McCarthy said that Johnson (6-3, 210), a tight end-linebacker, is cut from the same cloth as Barnett.
“He plays very, very hard,” McCarthy said. “He’s all over the place. If he switched jerseys with Barnett, it’d be hard to tell them apart.”
Dixon (6-2, 190), a quarterback who is the reigning All Daily Record Player of the Year, hasn’t received a single scholarship offer.
“A lot of these college coaches can scheme an opponent or run a practice very well, but they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to who they offer scholarships to,” McCarthy said. “We were just talking about Michael Burton and how he wasn’t offered a college scholarship and he is in the NFL now. There are dozens of examples of that happening, all over the place. Grant Dixon is in the same mold. I’ve been doing this for 60 years and it makes me sick that someone like that doesn’t get an offer. All he needs is one offer and the rest of the colleges will follow because that is how they are. I think he is good enough to go to an Alabama. He is in the mold of the Alabama quarterbacks from the last 10 years. Not an All-American, but good enough to lead a team like that.”
Ivy League players do not make their way to the NFL too often, but McCarthy believes that the Yale University-bound Motley, a 6-foot-5, 289-pound offensive tackle, fits the mold if he chooses to put in the same time to hone his craft that Burton did.
Said McCarthy, “I know Morristown-Beard is having some trouble this year, but Alex is a major college lineman.”
Morris County Top 10
1. Roxbury (5-0)
2. Morris Knolls (4-1)
3. Delbarton (4-2)
4. Hanover Park (6-0)
5. West Morris (4-2)
6. Chatham (5-1)
7. Boonton (5-1)
8. Mountain Lakes (4-2)
9. Pequannock (5-1)
10. Parsippany Hills (4-2)