DANVERS — James Hanley didn’t start playing organized football until he set foot on the St. John’s Prep campus four years ago. Fast forward to the 2018 season, Hanley’s senior campaign, and the Malden native emerged as a defensive leader for an Eagles team that won the Division 1 state championship.
Now Hanley’s gearing up to continue his football career at the collegiate level, and he’ll do so at Division III Hobart College.
“It feels so good,” Hanley, who played linebacker at St. John’s, said. “It’s obviously a big weight off my shoulders. I feel now that the rest of the year I can’t completely sit back but it definitely makes it a lot less stressful. “
Hanley searched for a connection with his next head coach as he weighed his options. Hobart’s Kevin DeWall, who was named the program’s 24th head coach before the 2018 season, was the one who met Hanley’s expectations.
“The one thing that I wanted to make a point of is I told myself that I wanted to find a coach that cared,” Hanley said. “I didn’t want to feel like just another recruit. I wanted a coach that kept in contact with me and asked about things outside of football, like what I was doing at home and how my grades were. Personally I knew that’s what I needed. I wanted a school that made me feel wanted.”
Hanley came away impressed with Hobart’s campus in Geneva, New York.
“I actually had never been to New York until I visited the campus a few weeks ago,” Hanley said. “It was a little bit new to me, that area of New York.
“I think the big thing for me is I wasn’t looking just at football. The coaches did a good job making it feel like home. There was just something about it. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The next step for Hanley is dedicating himself in the weight room before joins the Statesmen. Hanley knows the college level will bring its challenges in an elevated level of play but is looking forward to contributing at Hobart.
“I just have to really focus in the weight room,” Hanley said. “They sent me a strength program so I can get started on that. I’m going to really make an emphasis on getting in the weight room. That definitely will make a difference and it won’t hurt. They’re going to make me a strong safety so I’ll work on my speed in the offseason.
“I’m definitely going to go in there and give it my all. I think that’ll make a difference. It’ll factor into how I play next year.”
Hanley joins a list of seven St. John’s seniors who’ve made their college commitments. In addition to Hanley, they are Wes Rockett (Brown), Kevin Dewing (Union), Max Freedman (Bowdoin), James Taylor (Curry), Charlie Giunta and Coltan Tangney (Williams).
“I think J.T. will definitely be a contender at Curry,” Hanley said. “He’s an animal. I hate running into that kid in practice. Wes will do great as well. He’s a great football player. I think this year we were really blessed with such athleticism and leadership. That’s what made it a fun year with these guys.”
Hanley said he couldn’t have asked for a better senior season, which was capped with a 40-22 win over Catholic Memorial at Gillette Stadium in the Division 1 Super Bowl. The Eagles finished the season 10-2.
“I didn’t play football growing up,” Hanley said. “I’d always be on Twitter and I’d see these guys winning state championships. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I went to St. John’s to accomplish something like that. When it finally happened it was surreal. It was like it all came full circle. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”