Robert Hampton said that he was enjoying his summer vacation on the beaches of Jamaica when the veteran Lincoln High School head football coach thought of what his current Lions’ squad reminded him of.
“I thought of the 1969 Miracle Mets,” said Hampton, an historian of practically every topic under the sun. “On that team, there were only two Hall of Famers in [Tom] Seaver and [Nolan] Ryan. That team brought out the excitement in the nuns that taught me in grammar school. That team had players like [Tommie] Agee and [Ron] Swoboda, who made those great catches. They weren’t expected to win, but they somehow won the World Series.”
Hampton made a correlation between the Mets of 1969 and the Lincoln High School football team some 50 years later.
“I watched our team over the summer, and they were making miraculous plays,” Hampton said. “They were making interceptions and catches and playing way over their heads. It reminded me of those nuns I had and how excited they were about the Mets. It was a beautiful part of my childhood.”
Added Hampton, “Well, that’s our team this year. We don’t have any superstars. We have a team of grinders. We haven’t jelled yet as a team, but these kids have been in the weight room and busting their tails, playing the kind of football that I want. There’s nothing flashy about them. They’re just hard workers.”
The Lincoln coaching staff has also gone through some major changes now that former assistant Matt Gallo has taken the head coaching position at Snyder and brought some former Lincoln assistants with him down Kennedy Boulevard.
Former Ferris head coach John Conroy has joined forces with Hampton, which should help the Lions this season.
The Lions also have a number of players whose fathers, uncles, or brothers have played football for Lincoln.
“We have a lot of legacies on this team,” Hampton said. “In this county, no one roots for Lincoln. But we root for Lincoln. We accept that for what it is. We have a good group of kids.”
Leading the returning players is senior quarterback Dyshawn Brooks (6-1, 185). Brooks is a three-year starter with all the tools to be a good one.
“He’s arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the county,” Hampton said. “He can do everything. He can run, he can throw. He’s a good leader. It’s like having a good point guard in basketball. He gets the ball to the right people.”
Brooks should have a spectacular senior season with the Lions.
The backfield is loaded with a lot of talented players who aren’t exactly household names – just yet.
Senior Jaylen Tucker (5-10, 190) is a speedster. He’s a transfer from Snyder who is eligible to play right away at Lincoln.
Senior Stephen Jones (5-10, 205) is a big, strong runner.
Junior Mekiah Monroe (5-11, 190) is a jack-of-all-trades kind of back.
“He’s like our Swiss Army knife,” Hampton said. “He runs, blocks, catches passes. He’s like having a receiver at running back.”
Monroe opened eyes last year when he broke free for a 70-yard touchdown run on his first carry against Snyder.
Senior Virgil Bryant is fullback. The 5-10, 195-pound solid blocker can also line up at tight end.
“I like our offense,” Hampton said. “It’s very diverse. We can play smash and pound football. I like our backfield. Those kids are hard to tackle.”
Senior Jaquan McDuffy (5-8, 165) is the top returning receiver. McDuffy is also an excellent baseball player, as was proven last spring.
Junior Zymill Speaks (5-7, 160) is another quality receiver.
Freshman Khalil “Paco” Forbes (5-11, 155) is the player to watch. When a reporter went to take pictures, Forbes introduced himself as simply “K.” Maybe that’s all anyone will need to identify Forbes.
“I love him,” Hampton said. “He has great energy and has great hands.”
The tight end position is currently being shared by juniors Shaihid Williams (6-3, 240) and Kevin Hebron (6-2, 220).
The tackles are senior Elijah Williams (6-3, 260) and junior Jershawn Freeman (5-11, 235). The guards are seniors Damian Martinez (6-2, 250) and Avery Williams (5-11, 275). The center is senior Norian Wilson (6-3, 250), another transfer from Snyder who can play right away.
Defensively, the Lions use most of the same personnel. The defensive ends are Elijah Williams and Wilson. The defensive tackles are Avery Williams and sophomore Diandre Smith (6-2, 275).
The outside linebackers are Tucker and Monroe, with the inside linebackers being Bryant and Stephen Jones.
The cornerbacks are Speaks and junior Jelani Ginn-Michael (5-8, 160). The safety is McDuffy.
The Lions posted a 7-3 record last season and participated in the NJSIAA Centrai Jersey Group II playoffs, losing to Bernards in the first round. The Lions hope to have a longer stay in the state playoffs in 2019.
The Lions open the season against Demarest Sept. 6 and face Hoboken at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium the following week. They will have a few games at Lincoln Park, including a showdown with perennial Group II powerhouse West Essex in October.
“People don’t realize that we always have players who step up and perform when it’s their turn,” Hampton said. “I think Brooks is going to have a monster year. I think our other players will step up when the time comes. We’ll compete and be there in the end.”
Just like the Miracle Mets did a half century ago. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com