On Jan. 15, Ryan Dickens’ collegiate plans were shattered. On that night he was informed his scholarship offer from the University of Connecticut had been rescinded, leaving him scrambling to find a place to play with just 17 days left until National Signing Day.

The emotions felt by Dickens and his parents, Matt and Patti, have run the gamut from anger to frustration to doubt, but that all came to an end Wednesday inside the media center at Raritan High School.

Dickens, a senior who starred as a linebacker for the Rockets, signed his National Letter of Intent to continue his football career at Lafayette College. Surrounded by his parents , teammates from the football and wrestling teams, coaches, administrators and reporters, Dickens completed an arduous but ultimately satisfying journey to officially sign with a Division I college football program.

Raritan's Ryan Dickens signs his National Letter of Intent to Lafayette College. (Photo by Robert Badders).
Raritan's Ryan Dickens signs his National Letter of Intent to Lafayette College. (Photo by Robert Badders).

This time, the emotions felt by the Dickens family had them smiling.

“Relief,” Ryan Dickens said. “With everything that went down I was stressed. I didn’t know where I was going to go, so to be able to find a school that fits me perfectly as a student-athlete is really relieving for me.”

“For me, it’s pride,” Patti Dickens said. “I didn’t know where but I knew he’d find his way. I just feel so proud, I can’t describe it. I always knew he would play at a higher level and that he would succeed, he’s that kind of kid.”

Dickens, a second-team SSN All-Shore selection, led the Rockets with 83 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, one sack, two interceptions, four fumble recoveries and three defensive touchdowns during the 2016 season. As a junior he helped Raritan capture the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II state championship with a stunning upset of undefeated Lincoln. He set the program single-season record for tackles with 127 in 2015 and is the Rockets’ career leader with 342 tackles.

Dickens had committed to UConn in the middle of June when Bob Diaco was the head coach. Diaco was fired on Dec. 26 and Randy Edsall, who had been recently fired by Maryland and was a former UConn head coach, was brought back by the program. Dickens was assured his scholarship offer would be honored, but shortly after he was told there was no spot for him.

That left him with little time to find a place to call home for the next four years. Offers starting pouring in, however, starting with the University of Rhode Island. That’s when he and his parents were able to relax a bit and focus on the now short process of choosing a school.

“I was definitely stressed,” Ryan said. “When you’re committed for that long to a program it’s hard to get over it. But the next day (Raritan head) coach (Anthony) Petruzzi was at my house talking over schools. It was time to get back on the horse.”

“The beginning was a a tough blow for sure,” Patti said. “Then all these guys started coming in with offers and we knew we could breath. We just had to find the right one, but we were no longer wondering if there would be one.”

Dickens took his visit to Lafayette, which is located in Easton, Pennsylvania just across the New Jersey border from Phillipsburg, on Friday Jan. 27, the day before the Shore Conference Tournament wrestling final four. Dickens is the Rockets’ starting 195-pounder. On Sunday Jan. 29, Dickens announced his verbal commitment to Lafayette.

“I knew that first night I was on campus,” Ryan said. “Those coaches knew I had the Shore Conference final the next day and I needed to leave, and they accommodated me perfectly. They showed me they really wanted me. The biggest thing was I felt comfortable there and I felt wanted there.

“And on top of that I’m going to be getting a great education there. They’re one of the top schools in the nation and the facilities are next to none. It’s a great fit for me.”

The story of Dickens being dumped by the new regime at UConn gained national attention. ESPN analysts blasted Edsall and UConn, the Washington Post ran a story on it and even Forbes had coverage. That prompted hordes of people to reach out to Dickens and offer words of encouragement.

“With how it all went down and the story blowing up, I didn’t expect that,” Ryan said. “I had a ton of people reach out to me and I just want to say thanks. They gave me a voice. They told me to keep my head up and things happen for a reason. The biggest thing I learned this - someone reached out and said this to me - that no man becomes a man without adversity. This was just another case of having to go through it.”

Lafayette, which plays in the Patriot League with the likes of Lehigh, Fordham, Colgate, Bucknell, Holy Cross and Georgetown, will open the 2017 season in West Long Branch against Monmouth University. If Dickens earns playing time as a true freshman his first action will be back at the Shore.

“It’s totally a weight off my shoulders,” Ryan said. “I’m excited to start training for football and hopefully make an impact next year.”

The smiles on the faces of Ryan, Patti and Matt Dickens on Wednesday gave no indication the pain they felt three weeks ago. The path to securing a football scholarship where Ryan can also earn a top-notch education was far from a straight line, but the end result was nonetheless rewarding.

“This is an extra special feeling because of all we went through,” Ryan said. “The burden is gone.”


Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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