The first casualty of the 2012 Lincoln High School football season took place long before a snap was even made.
The team was going through a preseason conditioning drill at Lincoln Park, with head coach Robert Hampton trying to teach his linebackers a certain defensive set.
“It was the second day of training camp and I was demonstrating a linebacker drill,” said Hampton, who begins his sixth season as the Lions’ head coach. “I got a little over exuberant, running back and forth, when my Achilles snapped.”
Hampton needed reconstructive surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles tendon. He was fitted for a huge cast and told to remain off his feet.
“For the first time in my life, I really felt depressed,” Hampton said. “I never had anything to be depressed about. I never had surgery in my life. For two weeks, I just laid on the couch. I was really bad off.”
Then, an event happened to snap Hampton out of his doldrums.
“The players came to the house, a bunch of them,” Hampton said. “They told me they needed me. That was the motivation I needed to get back to work.”
So as the Lions prepare for the upcoming season, Hampton has been able to find a seat on the bleachers in Lincoln Park, his crutches not too far away. He watches from afar, taking notes, barking out instructions from across the field.
“For the first time, I get to watch everything,” Hampton said. “I watch how hard the coaching staff works. I watch kids taking plays off. It’s a different perspective. It’s like being in a tower, watching them play.”
Hampton has a better appreciation for his assistants, using a reference to historic television shows in the process.
“You think of the best TV shows ever, like Gunsmoke, M*A*S*H and E.R.,” Hampton said. “All those shows had great casts. It wasn’t just one actor. That’s how I feel about my coaching staff. The system remains the same. Most of the guys have remained the same. That’s the reason why we’ve remained a good program. The coaches remain the same. They’re all teaching and coaching the Lincoln way and we’re able to keep things going without a major drop off.”
Leading the returning players is senior quarterback Isaiah Roberts (5-10, 170), who passed for 1,200 yards, rushed for 500, and compiled 16 touchdowns last year, as the Lions posted a 7-3 record, but failed to qualify for the NJSIAA state playoffs for the first time in four seasons..
“He’s getting some looks from some good schools, like Fordham and Towson,” Hampton said. “I need him to step up and be a leader this year. He needs to run the offense the way Bobby Hurley did at Duke. I’m a big fan of Bobby Hurley and the kind of competitor and leader he was. He was a great leader. I need Isaiah to be a warrior for us.”
Senior wide receiver Steven Jones (6-2, 190) also returns. Jones made 25 catches last year and scored seven touchdowns.
“He’s also getting good looks from Towson, Rutgers and Iowa,” Hampton said.
The Lions have a lot of depth in the backfield. Senior Quaseir Hopkins (5-9, 170) is a returning player. The other three backs, namely Eli Terry (5-7, 170), Tyquan Simmons (5-9, 160) and Devell Jones (5-9, 190), are all sophomores making their varsity debuts.
“I have faith in all of them,” Hampton said. “They are blessed with good speed and they’re tough. It’s probably the best quartet of running backs that we’ve ever had. They’re also very physical.”
The receiving corps features senior Bradley Mosioma (6-2, 160), a newcomer to football, juniors Tyrik Darby (5-8, 170) and Terry Linyard (5-6, 150), sophomores Darius Wade (5-7, 160) and Jarrell Payne (5-9, 170) and Jones.
The tight end is junior Caleb Hebron (6-3, 225), a transfer from St. Peter’s Prep who has the potential to be a good one.
The offensive line has some experience and size in senior tackle Sharman Nalls (6-2, 250) and senior four-year starter Jeremiah Peguero (6-0, 250), also at tackle.
The Lions have two culinary wizards at guard in seniors Marquise Jackson (5-9, 270) and Emilio Otero (6-5, 300). Both are studying culinary sciences in the Hudson County Schools of Technology. Hampton has always had a habit of giving his players interesting nicknames, so the cooks Jackson and Otero have nicknames. Jackson is known as “Grease,” while Otero is called “Chef.”
The center is outstanding sophomore Daisjohn Robinson (6-2, 275), who was an All-League honoree last year on both sides of the ball as a freshman.
Defensively, Hebron and Nalls are at defensive end, joined by sophomore Terrance Barfield (6-2, 205).
Robinson is an immovable force at defensive tackle, joined by junior Jakeem Graham (5-10, 210), junior Javon Sanders (5-10, 305) and “Grease” Jackson.
The linebackers are Peguero (who was a defensive tackle last year), senior Eric Pridgen (6-0, 210) and junior Orlando Romero (5-11, 200).
Hopkins will see time at linebacker as well as safety.
Darby returns at one cornerback slot, with Devell Jones, Wade, Steven Jones and Roberts sharing time at the other.
Sophomore Will Albright (6-2, 170), who also serves as Roberts’ backup at quarterback, and junior Gregory Eady (5-9, 170) are at safety.
The Lions open their season Sept. 7 against Livingston at Cochrane Field at the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Athletic Complex. Talk about this perk. The Lions will get to play eight of their nine regular season games in Jersey City, with “road” games against Snyder, Hudson Catholic, and St. Anthony also slated for Cochrane Field.
Hampton doesn’t know how his team will fare.
“It’s too hard to tell,” Hampton said. “I do like the character of the team. It’s probably the strongest and smartest team I’ve had. I’m optimistic that we’re going to be pretty good.”
And Hampton will make one more promise. He’ll be on the sidelines in some capacity for the season opener, even if it means he’s in a chair.
“I’m not missing this,” Hampton said. “I’m not missing anything.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.