Lincoln looks to continue winning grid ways

The 2015 high school football season was a highly successful one for the Lions of Lincoln High School.

The Lions won 11 games, setting a new school record for wins in a season. They posted an 11-1 record with the lone loss coming to Raritan on the final play of the game in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II state title game. The Lions posted a 6-0 record inside the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League-White Division, earning the final divisional title in the league’s history.

But with the success comes a price, as the Lions lost a ton of their skilled position players to graduation, especially do-everything receiver Frank Darby, the Hudson Reporter Defensive Player of the Year last year who ended up going to Arizona State.

“Every year, we’ve had to replace a wide receiver and a running back,” said veteran head coach Robert Hampton. “We have players who might not be as electric as others we’ve had in the past, but they’re fast and can play. They could become electric in time.”

Hampton likes the athleticism of his current team.

“They are more athletic,” Hampton said. “They’re faster. In terms of experience, we may be lacking a little right now and I don’t know how they’re going to respond. But we have a bunch of guys who can run 4.5 [seconds in the 40-yard dash]. We never had that before. We had maybe one or two. These guys aren’t as highly publicized as others we’ve had. But these guys are pure rabbits. They can run.”

The quarterback will be one of three candidates, namely Darius-George Hilburn (5-10, 165), Shaquan Rush (5-10, 165) or Rajon Bigelow (5-10, 175).

Hilburn is a junior who is a first-year player coming out for the team for the first time. Rush is a sophomore who Hampton called “a tremendous athlete who shows moxie at quarterback.”

Bigelow is a senior who gained the nickname of “Skateboard,” because after he missed the team bus to a game against Weequahic in Newark, Bigelow actually skateboarded his way from Jersey City to Newark.

The running back is a pure stud in senior Kamani Addison (5-10, 175), who has enjoyed some moments of brilliance during his career, including an 80-yard touchdown run in the Lions’ state playoff win over Madison two seasons ago.

“He can play quarterback, running back or wide receiver,” Hampton said. “And he’s one of those 4.4 guys [in the 40-yard dash]. Our offense may run through him.”

Junior Jaiel Bethea (5-9, 175), sophomore Cory Lee (5-7, 160), junior Jawan Lesuer (5-8, 170) sophomore Felix Igiri (5-10, 190) and sophomore Christian Bautista (6-10, 190) help to round out a very deep and talented Lincoln backfield.

Senior Ethan Zayas (5-7, 165) heads a deep receiving corps. Zayas is another speed burner.
Junior Desmond Stevens (5-7, 155), junior Jeremiah Jamison (6-5, 210), and sophomore Jamar Casey (5-7, 160) are other targets for the quarterbacks to throw to.

The offensive line features some experience and size, namely junior Jalen Scott (6-2, 280) and senior Randy Antenor (6-2, 195) at tackle, with returning starter Markese Trent (6-0, 330) and junior Jakih Diaz (6-4, 335) at guard and senior Evan Lawton (5-10, 265) at center.

The Lions suffered a huge loss in preseason when Leo Wilson was lost for the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder.

“We miss his senior leadership more than anything,” Hampton said. “I loved what he brought. We’re going to miss that.”

Defensively, the Lions return Scott, who has already received offers from Syracuse, Pitt, Syracuse, Kansas, Pitt and Arizona State. He’s a returning All-Area honoree last year. It should be interesting to see how he interacts with others like him.

Sophomore Cottrell Hatchett (6-0, 240) is the other defensive end.

Seniors Mohamed Elola (6-3, 250) and Damian Aquino (6-3, 365) are the defensive tackles _ and that last number is no misprint. Aquino is one big boy and will be very hard to stop.

Senior James Burgess (6-0, 210), a Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree last year at linebacker, returns to that slot along with fellow senior Alexander Lozano (6-2, 210).

The corners are Addison and Stevens, but senior Kason Cason (5-8, 170) and junior James “Butterfly” Davis (6-2, 170) will see time in the secondary. We only write and report the names. We don’t make them up.

Junior Yasaan Jackson (5-8, 165) is the strong safety, with Lesuer and senior Ekene Nandinka (6-0, 175) sharing time in the secondary at safety.

The Lions will not face many Hudson County teams this season, but will get the chance to square off against perennial local giant St. Peter’s Prep at Rutgers University Oct. 29.

They open their 2016 new-fangled Super Football Conference schedule against Irvington Sept. 9 at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium at 7 p.m.

In week two, the Lions face off against Mountain Lakes, who defeated the Lions in the North 2, Group II title game at MetLife Stadium in 2014.

“We might be able to surprise some people this year,” Hampton said. “It’s an interesting group. These guys are looking for a leading actor, like a Marlon Brando or a James Dean or Denzel Washington. Right now, it’s a back-up group, a supporting group. It needs the marquee player. We’re a lot bigger, stronger and faster than last year. We’ll see how we’ll be when it comes to the hunt. We’re going to be good. We just need that lead actor to step up.”

Lights, camera, action. – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group