"Hi, is this Dwayne?"
"No. It's John. I'll get him…
"…Just kidding. This is Dwayne. It was me the whole time."
Dwayne Hendricks lets out a deep laugh. He is proud of himself for pulling one over on the caller. Inside of the humor also exists a sense of relief. Security is knowing that you can hide behind deception when the crush becomes too heavy.
The Millville (N.J.) High defensive lineman has endured a year of constant recruiting pressure. He emerged as one of the top seniors-to-be at his position last fall and all of the top schools gave chase.
TheInsiders.com tabs Hendricks as the No. 4-ranked defensive tackle in the country. The 6-foot-3½, 251-pound tackling machine is awarded four stars on the service's five-star scale.
According to TheInsiders.com scouting report, Hendricks is a dominating presence on defense. He accumulated 65 tackles (15 for loss) and three sacks as a junior to earn first-team, all-conference laurels and a spot on the all-South Jersey team. He could play either tackle or end at the next level.
Hendricks has officially visited three schools – Iowa, Michigan and Virginia. He plans to take a trip to Miami of Florida in early January. He is still deciding between Notre Dame, Florida and possibly Tennessee for his fifth and final official allowed by the NCAA. He has eliminated Michigan from the process.
The Hawkeyes lose two all-Big Ten linemen this season in Howard Hodges and Jared Clauss.
"If you're an offensive coordinator, you're fully aware of where he is at all times," Millville Coach Dave Heck said. "Most of the teams that we've played this year, have tried to scheme every way they could to run away from him."
The Thunderbolts mainly have faced offenses that favor the run this season, and Hendricks needs to polish his pass-rushing skills, Heck said.
"As far as playing the run, he's been as dominating as anybody," Heck said. "About three games ago, we lost our other defensive end. So, it got even worse. Every game became a guessing game because we were moving him from one side to the other. Teams were trying to figure out where he was and then trying to trade their tight ends or switch the formation after they found out where he was lined up."
Most of those teams discovered that, eventually, Hendricks would find them.
"I'm more of a run-stopper because that's what I've played against the last couple of years," he said. "I can get to the quarterback."
Hendricks has benefited from excellent high school coaching delivered by Heck and his staff, who have had five Division I recruits in six years. Damian Hendricks, Dwayne's older brother, was their first D-I player. Damian attended Temple, where he started for two years at offensive guard.
Heck knew that Dwayne had good bloodlines from coaching Damian. And it didn't take long for Dwayne to push his way into the field. He started in the team's third game of his freshman season and has been in the lineup ever since.
"We had kept him up with us (on the varsity) because he was a good-sized kid," Heck said. "He didn't show too much in our practices. But when he played in the game, even as a freshman, he stood out. Then and there we knew that we were going to have a pretty good football player."
Damian also saw the potential in his brother. He told his younger sibling that big things were ahead for him. Dwayne, at first, was not sure what to think of his situation.
Recruiting letters started to arrive in Dwayne's mailbox during his sophomore year. He found the correspondence to be nice, but he was still tepid to the attention.
Then, everything changed for the young Hendricks during his junior season. He could no longer ignore the talk of recruiters. Last January, before the Class of 2003 had signed its letters of intent, college coaches converged on Millville.
"Man, what an ordeal," Heck said. "Before the signing day in February ('03), probably 8-10 schools came in. And then May was just bedlam. The phone has been…it was just constant."
NCAA rules limit college coaches to one phone call per recruit per week starting in May. Prospects can call the schools as much as they want.
"It was just like, ‘Coach, could you get him to call me? Here's my cell phone number,'" Heck said of the numerous calls from recruiters. "It just became crazy. It really did."
Heck was concerned about two things. He hoped that none of his other players would become jealous of the attention coming Hendricks' way. And the coach wanted to make sure his star kept everything in perspective.
"When you're hearing from the top coaches in the country, and they literally kiss your butt, they tell you how important you'll be to their program; how bad they need you; what a dominating force you are, it's hard to keep your feet grounded," Heck said.
The other Millville players handled Hendricks' status very well, Heck said. And the star, for the most part, kept his feet on the ground.
"He's handled the attention as well as you could expect a 17-year old kid to handle it," Heck said. "You talk to guys that have been in the business, and they'll tell you that sometimes they've got to recruit kids that they just really don't like. They're just so full of themselves. They're obnoxious. It's a business. He's a really good person. For that, we're fortunate."
While Heck and his staff were guiding Hendricks at school, Damian and the boys' mother, Elaine, made sure things were in order at home. Elaine, a single parent, has spent the last 20 plus years working long hours at a nursing home to raise her sons.
"She works hard," Dwayne said. "Seeing her going to do a job like that every day makes me work hard. Our situation is not the worst, but it could be better. I owe it to her to work hard because she has worked so hard for us."
Damian has filled the older brother, and to some extent, the father role for Dwayne. Damian has schooled his younger sibling in every nook and cranny of preparation to be a success at the high school level while preparing Dwayne for college.
"He has been helping me pretty much throughout high school," Dwayne said of his brother. "He was telling me what classes to take; what to do and what not to do. He told me not to slack off in my class work and to keep working hard. Every little thing that you could imagine, he was on it.
"He talked to me about the social aspect of college life because he had already been through it. I know what to look for when I'm looking at colleges."
Damian has allowed his brother to wade through and narrow his list of potential colleges without interference. It already has been decided that Dwayne will pick his final destination.
"He's just told me to follow my heart and to go to the place that I feel the most comfortable," Dwayne said of Damian's involvement. "When something goes off inside that says, ‘This is the place', that's where you should go."
Iowa could be that place. The Hawkeyes extended Dwayne Hendricks his first scholarship offer, and he reciprocated by taking his first official visit to Iowa City to watch the home team drop Minnesota, 40-22, on Nov. 15. New Jersey natives Albert Young and James Townsend hosted the recruit from their home state.
"(Iowa) came in on me early," Hendricks said. "They're winning, and they've got a lot of people from Jersey. I don't have to worry about being comfortable around the players. My social life will be easy because there are a lot of Jersey people on the team."
Hendricks told Iowa it would get one of his official visits because it was the first to offer a scholarship. But when the nationally recognized names like Miami, Michigan and Notre Dame came calling on him, the prep standout wondered if he should still come out to Iowa City.
"As it got bigger and bigger and bigger, he had some reservations like ‘Maybe I shouldn't have committed a visit to them.'" Heck said. "But I asked him when he got back if he was glad that he went and he said, ‘Yeah. It would have been a mistake for me not to go.' The whole atmosphere there was something that he really felt comfortable with."
Damian told his brother to make sure that he really took notice of everything on his official visits. The schools would show him all of the good stuff, but he needed to talk to players and check around town to see what the whole experience would be like.
"I liked hanging out with the guys from Jersey," Dwayne said. "They told me everything straight up. They told me it was a real nice place. I saw that for myself. There were just a lot of people that were like, ‘Hey, how ya' doing?' They wanted to have conversations with you. You don't see that much over here in Jersey. I was hearing that from people just in the town. They couldn't have fixed all of that up. So, it had to be for real."
Darrell Wilson was Iowa's lead recruiter on Hendricks. He coached in Southern New Jersey at Woodrow Wilson High in Camden, where he became acquainted with Heck.
"I've always found Darrell to be a very honest man that you would have no reservations about sending your son or one of your players to because you know he's going to take care of them," Heck said. "If he says something, you can take it to the bank."
Heck got a little worried when he got a call from Wilson on the night Hendricks arrived in Iowa City for his official visit.
"He said that everybody liked Dwayne so much that they might not put him on a plane and send him back," Heck said. "Darrell called me again (after Hendricks returned to Millville). They were just impressed on how (Dwayne) handles himself and how he presents himself."
Hendricks scored a 910 on his SAT and has compiled a 3.55 GPA in his core classes. His last report card had all A's outside of one B. He also has kept his success, on and off of the field, in prospective.
"I don't really let it fill my head up," Hendricks said. "I just go along with it. I don't get conceited or start hanging out with different people. I'm still hanging out with the same friends. The key is to not change. I'm the same person."
Except maybe when he gets too many phone calls from recruiters and reporters. Then, he might become "John." But usually only for a few seconds.
This article appeared in a recent issue of Hawkeye Nation magazine and is indicative of the in-depth feature style reporting that appears in each issue of the magazine.