Lincoln earns place among state elite grid teams for first time amid turmoil

Lincoln High School was getting ready to play its biggest football game of the season last week and there were a host of problems to deal with for head coach Robert Hampton.
While the Lions were preparing to face Union City – a team that the Lions had never defeated before – Hampton had to deal with some internal issues on his team.
His starting quarterback Zymire Gordon, the signal caller who guided the Lions to MetLife Stadium last December and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship game, had abruptly left the team for some reason.
Gordon just stopped coming to practice, then didn’t even show up for the Lions’ rout of Marist two weeks ago.
So Hampton had to make do with what he had on his roster.
Hampton and offensive coordinator John Fannan developed an offensive plan that featured three players taking snaps at quarterback, namely standout receivers Jason Harrison and Frank Darby and backup quarterback Keishawn Jones.
“Jones and Darby had been quarterbacks before on the younger levels, so that helped us,” Hampton said. “Jason was a quarterback on the JV team with us. They all knew the issue I had with the discipline and were willing to do whatever it took to help the team.”
Hampton knew that the Soaring Eagles’ defense had been a tough unit to run the ball on, so he implemented a few passing plays for his new quarterbacks to use.
“We had plans to throw the ball and thought we could throw on them,” Hampton said.
But then Mother Nature entered the situation and dumped six inches of rain on the area on Friday.
“I couldn’t predict the weather,” Hampton said. “It was so bad down there [Caven Point Cochrane Field]. The water was standing everywhere. So we knew then that we had to get them with our feet. We couldn’t throw the ball, so we tried to smash mouth them and run it right at them.”
So Darby and Harrison lined up as Wildcat quarterbacks, taking direct snaps and trying to dance through the rain and the puddles.
“The great thing about it was there were no negative snaps,” Hampton said.
Through the rain, senior center James Brunson, a.k.a. “Brun Dog,” managed to keep the ball dry enough so he could provide clean snaps out of the shotgun.
“The Brun Dog stepped up for us and the offensive line got some good blocks,” Hampton said.
The Lions weren’t explosive on offense, but certainly effective, collecting 280 yards on the ground, which was good enough to hold off the Soaring Eagles, 18-0, and improve to 4-0 on the season. Kamani Addison had 138 yards, including an 89-yard touchdown jaunt.
“I think it says a lot about guys like Jason and Frank,” Hampton said. “They sacrificed themselves for the good of the team. They made things happen. They knew that the issue with Zymire would be dealt with later on. They had to hold the team together.”
The Lions were also dominant on the defensive end, holding a Union City team that had scored 42 points in a win over Montclair and 36 more in a win over Bayonne the week prior to not a single point.
“We’re proud of our defense,” Hampton said. “They ran the ball 49 times and didn’t score.”
Defensive end Nyeem Riley had 15 tackles, including four tackles for lost yards, and one sack. Linebackers James Burgess and Alex Lozano, both of whom are juniors, had 12 tackles each. Defensive back Kareem Gaulden, headed for Temple next fall, was making play after play.
“Both of those linebackers are starting to get looks from colleges,” Hampton said of Burgess and Lozano. “Coaches are wondering who they are. It’s their first year starting on defense and they are fantastic defensive players. They both had outstanding games.”
In fact, Hampton loved the way the entire defensive unit played under the leadership of defensive coaches Tom Ferriero and Mark Everett.
“We had a complete standout defense,” Hampton said. “They were flying around with enthusiasm like I’ve never seen before her, with a level of enthusiasm I’ve never seen. The defense set the tone for the rest of the game. They’re a hungry bunch and it’s fun to coach them.”
The starting defense has not given up a touchdown all season.
“The offense gets all the glitz and glamour,” Hampton said. “But our defense has been phenomenal.”
More importantly, when the Lions face St. Anthony this weekend, they will be a state-ranked team. For the first time in school history, Lincoln is ranked among the Top 20 teams in New Jersey, moving to No. 17 in the rankings last Monday.
“It’s great for the kids,” Hampton said. “The kids are shocked and humbled by it. They never even knew what it meant to be ranked before. Just the fact that we’re mentioned is amazing. I think we all want to see how far we can take this. We don’t want to stop here.”
And as the new week began, a familiar face was back at practice, trying to make his way back into the team’s good graces again. Gordon was all apologetic and had to make amends with his teammates first, then the coaches.
“The other seniors were the ones who brought him back,” Hampton said. “They taught him the rules and read him the routine what he had to do.”
There are no guarantees now for Gordon in terms of playing time. He’s been away for two weeks and the Lions won without him. He has to bust his tail to get his starting quarterback position back _ and that’s not going to happen overnight. It has to be earned now.
“One thing you can say about our kids,” Hampton said. “They’ve always been resilient. We always have back-up plans, because you never know what’s going to happen. With this program, it’s always been more than one guy. There’s no one guy who is above the program.”
Hampton knows how to push all the right buttons. Now, after the big win in the rain, one that elevated the Lincoln High School football program to a different echelon, Hampton has to make sure he makes all the right moves right straight through the first week of December.

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