EAST ORANGE, NJ – As the new head varsity football coach at East Orange Campus High School, Rae Oliver wants to not only develop players on the field, but off the field as well.
To Oliver, building character is the main goal.
“The first thing that we are focusing on is changing the academic climate,” said Oliver.
“We have changed a lot this particular year at East Orange. We have a new principal, a new superintendent, a new mayor and a new coach. In none of those years, have the stars aligned for us like that. We have been able to revamp our educational (process) with the kids, putting them in clusters. They have mandatory tutoring.”
Oliver replaces Al-Majid Hutchins, who stepped down to pursue a career as a police officer. Hutchins, a 2007 EOCHS graduate, coached the Jaguars for the past two seasons, leading them to the state sectional playoffs in each of those seasons.
Oliver, who was named the Jaguars head coach in April, is an East Orange guy. Born and raised in East Orange, Oliver’s family has strong ties to sports in the city. But as much as they are involved in sports, he is the first one in his family to be a head coach.
Indeed, Oliver admits that being the new head coach for the Jaguars “is a surreal feeling.”
Oliver first became interested in the sport of football through his neighbor, Daryl White, who went on to become an All-American offensive tackle at the University of Nebraska.
Oliver’s family later moved to Orange. He graduated from Orange High School in 1986. Oliver then played football at Kean University in 1989 and 1990 and was on the team that won the school’s first conference title.
Oliver began his coaching career as an assistant at East Orange High School in 1995. After EOCHS was formed with the merger of East Orange High School and Clifford Scott, he remained as an assistant coach with the new school until 2005. In 2006, he went to St. Mary of Rutherford for just one season to serve as the assistant tight end/defensive end coach. St. Mary won the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state title in that year.
Since then, Oliver has been a defensive line coach. He served one year at Queen of Peace in North Arlington in 2007 and one year at Roselle HS in 2008. Oliver returned to EOCHS in 2009, the year the Jaguars played in the state sectional final in which they lost to Roxbury at the old Giants Stadium.
Oliver then coached three years at Bergen Catholic in Oradell from 2010-12 and two years at Montclair HS from 2013-14, appearing in six straight state finals from 2009-14, with Montclair winning the state sectional titles in both of his years on the staff. Bergen Catholic was runner-up in those three years.
Oliver was an assistant coach the past two seasons at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange under head coach Vito Campanile.
The Jaguars, coming off a 6-4 season, have been quite busy this off-season. They attended camps at Rutgers University and Monmouth University, and are working out at Robeson Stadium and at the high school, four days a week.
Oliver has kept some of the assistant coaches from Hutchins’ staff, and brought in some volunteers who are familiar with him.
The athletic talent here in East Orange is abundant. But over the years, some of that talent has left the city to go to other schools.
“East Orange has always had a lot of talent, and our job right now is to regain the trust of the parents of East Orange, who always opt or take their kids out of the city,” Oliver said.
And those kids are starting to return. Oliver said three students from DePaul Catholic in Wayne, one from Morris Catholic and one from Moore Catholic in Staten Island, have transferred back to EOCHS.
Oliver also is getting new players who didn’t even consider playing football before. Those kids come from a mentoring program that Oliver helps run at EOCHS.
Nevertheless, getting the players interested in academics is the priority. Oliver noted that there is a “college acceptance challenge” in which the student-athletics try to gain as many college acceptance letters as they can.
“They have all bought into it,” said Oliver about academics. “It’s that type of vibe that we haven’t had in a long time.”
Oliver’s long-term goal is to build a program that stresses character-building through the sport of football.
“Our goal is to create a program that is a model program in the state and hopefully in the country,” he said. “I am trying to combine a comprehensive program, along with our youth football in the city, that combines the services. What we’re trying is to get bang for the buck, financially; to make sure these kids are educated, so that not only can they run a 40 well, but can conjugate a verb. That’s exactly our goal. It’s not only about football; but football is the dangling carrot.”