Ryan Dickens has dreamed about playing college football since he was in the eighth grade, according to this mother, Patti. So when the 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker verbally committed to the University of Connecticut seven months ago, it was proof that dedication pays off.
“He worked so hard to do the right thing,” Patti Dickens said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Even after U-Conn. fired its coach to rehire Randy Edsall, everything remained on track. Or so the Dickens family thought.
“Randy Edsall called us directly on New Year’s Eve,” she continued. “He said, ‘You have my word. We 100 percent want to offer you a scholarship.’ He said, ‘You are exactly the guy we want on our team.’ ”
But then he wasn’t.
“[T]his guy broke him,” she told NJ.com, referring to Edsall, who previously coached U-Conn. from 1999 to 2010. “It just blows my mind that a guy can take the wind out of your sails just with no regret. Nothing.”
Dickens told The Post that her son learned the news Sunday when Edsall called just as the family finished celebrating Ryan’s athletic, academic and community service achievements at an awards banquet at Raritan High School in Hazlet, N.J.
“[Edsall] said, ‘We decided to run a different defense and you’re just not going to fit in that defense.’ ” Patti Dickens said, recalling the phone call the family answered on speaker in the car on the way home from the event.
“Ryan said, ‘What do you mean? Because I’ve run just about every defense in high school,’ and Edsall said, ‘You’re just not going to fit in our plan,’ ” she continued. “He just said they’re going in a different direction.”
The call left the family, as well as Dickens’s high school coach, baffled. Adding to their upset, Patti Dickens said Edsall defied a request to wait until the next morning to give her son the bad news.
She said Edsall first informed her son’s high school coach about his change of heart during Sunday night’s awards banquet.
“You could see [the coach’s] face change,” Patti Dickens said, recalling the strange phone call the coach, who was sitting nearby, took during the banquet. “We learned later that our head coach said to Coach Edsall, ‘Please don’t call them tonight because they’re on a high. They’re being celebrated tonight. Please don’t break the family tonight.’ He said, ‘I’ll go there in the morning, call them tomorrow,’ and Edsall said okay.”
U-Conn. officials did not immediately return The Washington Post’s request for comment.
Ryan Dickens, 17, was supposed to visit U-Conn. on Friday, which also happens to be his birthday. The trip was to be his final visit to the school with which he was expected to sign officially on Feb. 1. Neither of those things will happen now.
While similar situations happen from time to time at all schools, one man who can particularly relate to Dickens is Demetri McGill. While coaching at the University of Maryland in 2013, Edsall rescinded his offer just three weeks before signing day, citing knee pain that McGill experienced in high school.
“It was such a surprise the way everything happened [in 2013],” McGill recalled during a phone interview Tuesday.
McGill committed to Maryland before his senior year of high school in 2012 and said that until Edsall called to pull his scholarship the following January, either Edsall or his recruiting coach at Maryland called him weekly to make sure he was still committed.
“It was hard feelings,” said McGill, recalling how he felt about Edsall after his offer was rescinded. “Once you’re committed to a school, then they tell you they don’t have room. It’s kind of upsetting. . . . It can break somebody’s spirit.”
McGill, who ended up signing with East Carolina University, said he had “moved on” from the situation in the last four years, but hearing about Dickens’s situation Tuesday stirred up some of those old feelings.
“Hearing that he’s done it to another player, the anger toward [Edsall] has probably grown even more than when he did it to me,” McGill said, adding that he reached out to Ryan Dickens on Twitter.
“I watched his highlight tapes and wherever he lands, I feel like they’re getting a very good player,” added McGill, who is currently in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., training for the regional combine.
Patti Dickens has no doubt her son will still play college football, just not at U-Conn.
On Tuesday, she said her son had already heard from recruiters at the University of Rhode Island who plan to visit Ryan at Raritan this week. (URI officials declined to comment.)
Patti Dickens also said the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of New Hampshire have shown interest in the past two days.
The renewed interest has helped restore her son’s confidence.
“[Ryan] is an optimist by nature,” Patti Dickens said. “This took him down . . . but he is an optimist. . . . I know him and I know he’s thinking bigger and better.”
She said her son even has a new dream now.
“[Ryan] said, ‘I would love to get recruited by a school that plays U-Conn.,’ ” Patti Dickens said. “I have no doubt that Edsall will regret this decision.”