Friday night is a special night in both Piscataway and Hillsborough with senior offensive lineman and linebacker Hayden Panagos as the centerpiece.
When Panagos, who is the son of Rutgers assistant coach Jim Panagos, plays what is likely his final game at Hillsborough (N.J.) High School, he does so with a confident future.
A do-everything athlete and valuable piece for the 2-4 Raiders football team, Panagos accepted a scholarship offer from Bryant via verbal commitment.
“It’s a great feeling,” Panagos said on the end of his college search. “I had friends who were on the team last year that were going though recruiting until February or March or even April. It’s cool to know that you don’t have to worry about it. I finished applying [Tuesday]. It’s cool knowing that’s my one and only college application.”
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior played center, guard and linebacker for Hillsborough this season, but his long snapping set him apart as a college football prospect.
Panagos, at the suggestion of his parents, took up the skill early in football and increased his value as a prospect. He committed to Bryant to play both long snapper and fullback.
“I’ve always wanted to major in business, and [Bryant has] one of the best business schools in America, so I’ve been told many times, which I believe,” Panagos said. “They offered me a scholarship and not just as a long snapper, but as a fullback. It’s great knowing that I’ll be able to play a different position because some colleges told me they only wanted me to long snap. It’s not disrespecting long snapping, but I always wanted to do more than just that.”
Friday night is senior night for Hillsborough, which needs a strong push to make the playoffs.
After a 29-18 victory last week over Union, Panagos and Hillsborough turn their attention to Elizabeth.
“I’ve had a lot of fun this year. It’s been great to play one last year of high school football and have fun at practice with my teammates,” Panagos said. “Our record isn’t great, but we’re starting to put things together and starting to win games. We’ve played well the last few weeks. It should be fun. We don’t have the strongest playoff field this year, and we want to make a run.”
Senior day will be a special moment for Panagos, who will have both parents – Jim and Maureen – in the stands for support.
“This is the first game all year where [my father] can see the whole game,” Panagos said. “He made a few where he came halfway through the fourth quarter. The ones he went to, the victor was decided by the time he got there. It will be crazy to have him see the entire game and get his comments about the game and have him enjoy watching me play football. That’s awesome.”
Jim Panagos coaches defensive line for Rutgers, where Hayden’s brother Jack is also a member of the men’s golf team.
“The credit should all go to my wife,” Jim Panagos said. “She’s done all of the work. In this profession, you have to have a strong wife. She did a great job raising the boys and I appreciate everything she’s done. For me and my wife, it’s a blessing that it worked out that he’s got a home to play, that he’s excited to go to Bryant and have a great career there. The coaches there are really good people, and we’re just excited that he’s got a great opportunity to play football in college.”
The Panagos family is excited to support Hayden on senior night.
“It’s a great thing for me and my wife,” Jim Panagos said. “It’s senior night for him. It’s very important to me and my wife to watch him play. For me to be there and actually watch the game is going to be awesome. I get to be a parent and root on the team, root on him and hopefully a victory over Elizabeth.”
The Rutgers football schedule worked out perfectly for the Panagos family.
If Hillsborough senior day came last week, Jim Panagos would have been in Indiana preparing for the Hoosiers. With an 8 p.m. kickoff Saturday against Ohio State, Friday night becomes a less significant meeting night for the coaching staff and allows Panagos to see his son’s final home game.
“We talk about our program being a family, and this is going to be a special moment for coach Panagos and his family,” said Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood. “I’m excited for him, and I’m excited for Hayden. I know that he’s already made his college choice and to get a chance to see your son on his senior day is something special.”