It’s safe to say that Robert Hampton wants to forget about the calendar year of 2012.
The Lincoln High School head football coach first faced adversity early last summer, when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a team workout. The injury forced Hampton to have surgery and be out of regular commission for months.
The year then got worse. Hampton was charged with withholding information, protecting one of his players in an alleged sexual assault case. The incident never went to a grand jury and the charges were eventually dismissed, but Hampton was suspended from coaching for the remainder of the season.
Through the process, Hampton’s lawyer and cousin, Terry Ridley, died after a battle with cancer.
“It helped me focus on the great things in life, like my friends and family,” said Hampton, who is back coaching his team, healthy and determined. “It was a humbling experience for me. I’ve been through a lot of adversity in the past year, but I learned from the entire ordeal. I gained a sense of balance and came through it a better person. I decided to change my attitude and spend more time with the people that matter, like my two daughters.”
Added Hampton, “I learned to handle adversity. I wasn’t going to come out of it bitter and vengeful. I wasn’t going to be a vengeful spirit. It happened. It’s over and we’ve moved on.”
Now that Hampton is back and manning the Lions’ sidelines, he’s ready to make some noise this season. The Lions are coming off a 7-3 campaign, including a tough double overtime loss to Caldwell, 34-28, in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs.
“We can make history this year,” Hampton said. “I told the kids that they could be like a band of brothers and that became our motto. They bought into that concept. The kids talk about it a lot. We have brothers and cousins on the team, so they just liked it and it stuck. We went through a lot as a team. We don’t have any bitterness or anger. We are just honest and aggressive and as athletic as hell.”
The Lions have a host of players that are being considered for college scholarship offers. They also have a ton of depth in the skilled positions, which has become a trait under Hampton, who is in his ninth year as head coach.
The Lions have three players sharing the snaps at quarterback, namely senior Tyrik Darby (5-11, 185), junior Darius Wade (5-9, 165) and sophomore Jay Harrison (6-1, 180). If needed, both Wade and Harrison could play wide receiver as well.
At running back, the Lions return standout junior Devell Jones (6-1, 205), who already has a host of college offers from Penn State, Nebraska and Iowa.
“I’m expecting a big year from him,” Hampton said.
Jones had big games last year and he’s still only a junior.
Senior Terry Linyard (5-6, 145) will also get his share of carries.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Hampton said of Linyard. “He’s a slashing kind of runner. We can put him in the slot or at running back.”
Junior Trevor Mayo (6-1, 215) is another player who will get time in the Lions’ talented backfield.
Junior Jarrell Payne (5-9, 180) and sophomore Frank Darby (6-2, 170), Tyrik’s brother, will be the receivers.
Senior Caleb Hebron (6-3, 240) is back at tight end. Hebron is considered to be among the top 150 players in the state and is fielding offers from Penn State, Temple and James Madison.
“I think we’ll surprise people with our athletic ability,” Hampton said.
Junior Daijohn Robinson (6-2, 275), a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree on defense, is the mainstay of the offensive line at center.
“He’s the captain of the team and I’ve never had a junior captain,” Hampton said.
Junior Terrence Barfield (6-2, 225) and senior Jahkeem Graham (5-10, 215), whom Hampton calls the “strongest kid on the team,” are the tackles.
Senior Javon Saunders (6-0, 305), whom Hampton affectionally calls “Meat Pack,” is at one guard and senior Damion Britt (5-10, 230) is the other. Hampton loves Saunders’ dedication.
“Since Javon has been with us, he’s lost over 100 pounds,” Hampton said. “He works hard.”
Defensively, the Lions feature junior Stephon Jeter (6-0, 190) at defensive end. Jeter is worth noting because he’s No. 1 in academic standing in the junior class at Lincoln.
“I never had one of those before,” Hampton said.
Hebron, who started at defensive end last year, and Barfield are the other ends.
Robinson is an absolute stud at defensive tackle and he’s joined by Graham, whom Hampton praises.
“He’s going to be a monster,” Hampton said of Graham. “He’s that tough.”
Freshman Markese Trent (6-2, 315) will get time at defensive tackle as well.
Tyrik Darby is at linebacker, along with D’Andre Wright (6-2, 185), who is Graham’s brother. Band of brothers indeed.
Senior Altay Dennard (6-2, 185) is another linebacker, along with Mayo, Payne and senior Jerrell Darby (5-9, 210), who is a cousin to Tyrik and Frank.
The cornerbacks are Linyard and Jones, with Frank Darby getting time there along with freshman Tamari Addison (5-8, 165).
The safeties are Harrison and senior Raquan Allen (5-10, 170).
Lincoln’s “Band of Brothers” is certainly deep and talented. It could make a long run in the NJSIAA state playoffs. The Lions open their season Sept. 12 at Livingston.
“We want to do something big, represent Jersey City and the public schools well,” Hampton said. “We want to get a home game in the state playoffs. No Jersey City public school has ever played a home game in the states. If we can continue to do what we’re doing, we have a chance to make the Jersey City public schools viable and represent the city well. We’re trying to make history and have a good time doing it.”
And with Hampton calling the shots on the sidelines once again. Things are right at Lincoln.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.