It’s safe to say that Jamar Casey has played practically every position there is on the football field – with perhaps center on offense and nose tackle on defense.
But the versatility of the University Charter High School senior who plays football for Lincoln is astounding, considering Casey stands only 5-foot-7 and weighs only 140 pounds.
“I’ve had some time at quarterback and running back and wide receiver,” said the affable Casey. “I guess it’s been a good experience.”
Defensively, Casey has lined up at linebacker, cornerback and safety during his career. When asked where he feels the most comfortable as a player, Casey boldly said, “I’m comfortable wherever the coach puts me on the field. Having multiple roles helps us as a team. I’m not a one-dimensional player. Wherever you put me, I can make plays.”
“He came to us as a wide receiver,” said Lincoln head coach Robert Hampton. “I really wanted him to play quarterback. I thought he could help us out there.”
That was especially evident after Casey was timed in the 40-yard dash at two different college-level camps. Casey was timed at 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, which is a track and field-type sprinter time.
“I knew he was going to be a weapon for us,” Hampton said. “With his speed, he could do anything he wants. I guess his best position would be at wide receiver, but I knew that I was going to be able to use him all over the place. No matter where we put him, he was going to make plays.”
Hampton also knew that Casey could be a threat as a punt returner and kick returner.
So as anyone could see, Casey was a multi-faceted and talented football player, one who was going to make an impact, despite his lack of size and despite the fact that he doesn’t own one pure position.
As a sophomore in 2016, Casey was nothing short of brilliant at wide receiver, catching 32 passes, the third highest single season reception total in Lincoln history, trailing only Jason Harrison’s 43 receptions in 2015 and Frank Darby’s 35 that same season. Harrison is currently at Iowa Western University, while Darby is well on his way to becoming an NFL Draft selection next April after catching passes at Arizona State.
Casey was in great company and on his way to superstardom after his 32-catch sophomore year.
However, last year, midway through his junior campaign, Casey suffered a seriously separated shoulder that would eventually require surgery. Casey played through the pain and anguish and made it through a few games.
“Since he injured his shoulder, he didn’t play defense,” Hampton said. “We had him play offensive exclusively. But he had to wear a brace and didn’t catch passes the way he normally does, so we decided to shut him down, let him have the surgery and hopefully come back strong for his senior year.”
Needless to say, Casey, the football junkie, did not want to come off the field.
“It was very devastating to me,” Casey said. “I just wanted to play. I knew I wasn’t the same player trying to play hurt. So I decided to have the surgery.”
Casey was a fish out of water not being able to play while his friends and teammates all did. The Lions, traditionally the strongest of the Jersey City public school programs, struggled uncharacteristically last year, so the losing made sitting on the sidelines especially tough for the energetic Casey.
“It took quite a while to rehab the shoulder,” Casey said. “I went to physical therapy three times a week for five months. It was rough. The first week, I was miserable, but as the weeks went on, I started to progress and I healed pretty quickly.”
“He’s a very quiet guy,” Hampton said. “He doesn’t say much, so I didn’t know really how the rehab was going. But when he gets on the field, he’s so intense. He’s a totally different person.”
When preparations for the 2018 season began in earnest in early August, Hampton put Casey at running back. Hampton figured that it would be the best way for the speed burner to get his hands on the football.
“But from there, he could handle multiple roles,” Hampton explained. “He could obviously run with the ball, but he could catch passes, make plays without getting his hands on the ball.”
The Lions got off to a solid start with Casey at running back, but his coming out party took place on Sept. 21 against a very good Caldwell team, a traditional rival in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II bracket.
On one of Casey’s first carries, he took a straight handoff and broke free for a 99-yard touchdown run, the longest run in Lincoln High School football history.
“It was pure liquid mercury,” Hampton said. ”He took two steps and the guy was gone. It was a simple trap play and the blocking was outstanding. He hit the trap perfectly and he was gone. When ran right by me, it was like the second coming of Jesus. It looked like his feet weren’t really touching the ground. He was moving so fast. I think he wanted to show me who he was. I had nothing to say. It was my drop the mike moment.”
“From what I remember, I just saw the cornerback move up and I took it to the inside, then bust it to the outside,” Casey said. “I could hear the fans cheering and going wild.”
Casey was asked if it felt like he was actually flying.
“Yes, to be honest, it really did feel that way,” Casey said. “It’s a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time.”
Just about 10 minutes earlier, Casey made a mistake on a run, got tackled and heard the wrath of Hampton. But not on the TD dance. Hampton didn’t say a word.
“He shut me up,” Hampton said.
Casey rushed for 170 yards and scored touchdowns on runs of 63 and the famed 99-yarder. He also caught three passes for 81 yards and scored a touchdown on a reception of 42 yards. Casey’s 251 yards and three touchdown performance helped the Lions collect a huge 42-7 win over Caldwell to improve to 3-0 on the season.
For his efforts, Casey has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Although the Lions lost to West Essex, 34-13, on Sept. 28, the 3-1 start to the season is a sight for sore eyes for Hampton, whose team sputtered to a 3-7 record a year ago and failed to qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Casey is a big reason for the Lions’ turnaround. They have that home-run hitter style playmaker and that is huge to a team’s success.
“He’s been great,” said Hampton, who mentioned that the University of New Haven is one of the more prominent schools clamoring for Casey’s talents. “He’s definitely going to play in college somewhere. He’s only 5-foot-7, but don’t sleep on him, because with his speed, he makes plays. He’s a tough kid. He’s also loyal as all hell. He’s just a great kid. When he graduates, I’ll be sad to see him go.”
Casey is a good student and wants to major in technology, specifically video game development, when he gets to college.
“I grew up playing Grand Theft Auto all the time,” Casey said. “I wondered where that city is at that’s in the game, so I thought I could design one involving Jersey City, New Jersey with Jersey City streets and all in it. I think it can be done.”
For now, it’s all about getting the Lions back to the postseason.
“We have that positive feeling,” Casey said. “The win puts us in a good position for a playoff spot and that’s our goal, especially after last year. I think this kind of game gives us that extra push.”
Casey will keep on pushing all the way to December. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com