Roselle has had a rebirth of sorts in football the past few years, with many of the players who led the Rams to much success now continuing to play at the next level.
Those who will be signing letters-of-intent at the high school on the first day of the signing period Feb. 1 include running back Isiah Byrd heading to Rutgers as a preferred walk-on, defensive tackle Xavier Young to Wagner College, Shaquil Jones to Division 2 Pace University and quarterback Gerald Hairston III and end Junior Jean to Division 2 Lincoln Pa, University.
Drew Stephens, a kick returner, punt returner, wide receiver and defensive back, was to make his college selection Tuesday. He is projected to play receiver or in the secondary in college at Virginia Union University.
Roselle head coach James Williams, who just completed his fourth season at the helm of the Rams, guided Hairston, Jones and Stephens the past four seasons.
The 5-10, 205-pound Byrd, one of New Jersey’s most explosive backs this past season, turned down numerous offers from smaller schools to take a chance at making it on the Division 1 level at Big Ten school Rutgers.
“He turned down scholarship offers because he feels he can play at the Division 1 level,” Williams said. “I am 100 percent behind him.
“Some people don’t judge size.”
Williams reported that Byrd turned down offers from schools such as Seton Hill, Sacred Heart, Pa. and East Stroudsburg.
After playing his first two years at East Orange Campus, Byrd rushed for 685 yards on 117 carries his first season at Roselle in 2015. He rushed for six touchdowns and caught two TD passes.
“His junior year he didn’t know what to expect,” Williams said. “He had kind of a so-so year. It was not the year we expected him to have.”
Here are the two biggest reasons for Byrd rushing for a school record 2,028 yards and scoring 34 touchdowns – 31 on the ground and three in the air – his 10-game senior season.
“Last year Isiah ran track and then he put his body through a rigorous workout plan,” Williams said. “He came back ready to go.”
Often times the quite elusive Byrd was gone in a flash and in the end zone for six points while defensive players just shook their heads in disbelief.
“His strengths are his ability to read the defense and read his blocks,” Williams said. “He ran straight downhill for us, non-stop.”
Young, a two-year starter, projects at defensive tackle for Wagner once he gets to Staten Island.
“He’s a great kid and real good academically,” Williams said. “He and Jones anchored our defense.”
Jones, projected to be a defensive end at Pace when he arrives in Pleasantville, N.Y., was a four-year starter for Williams and like Young another good, smart kid.
“He was a tough kid on the field and he always came to practice with his hard hat and ready to work,” Williams said.
Lincoln University in Chester County, Pa. will be the landing spot for Hairston and Jean, with Hairston projected to play quarterback and Jean in the secondary.
Hairston was a record-setting, three-year starter at QB for Williams, helping lead the Rams to three straight Central Jersey, Group 2 playoff appearances and the CJ, G2 semifinals in 2014 and 2016.
“He’s the all-time leading passer and TD thrower at Abraham Clark and he is one of the smartest quarterbacks I’ve ever coached,” Williams said. “He was like having a coach on the field.
“He’s been my No. 1 guy since his sophomore year. He had a bit of a knee injury his junior year, but he really came back in shape and put everything together.
Hairston also guided Roselle to the program’s first 10-win season, with the Rams finishing 10-1 after falling to Manasquan in the CJ, G2 semifinals and then ending their season with a win at longtime Thanksgiving Day rival Roselle Park.
Jean (6-1, 208) was a two-year starter for Williams, Roselle’s safety the past two seasons.
“He’s a real, quick safety,” Williams said. “He came along really well for us this year.”
5 SENIORS THAT HELPED CHANGE
THE COURSE OF ROSELLE FOOTBALL
Five seniors that helped change the course of Roselle football include quarterback Gerald Hairston III, running back Isiah Byrd, wide receiver-punt returner-defensive back Drew Stephens, defensive tackle Xavier Young and defensive end Shaquil Jones.
They were all integral components for the Rams in 2016, leading Roselle to 10 wins for the first time and a 10-1 record and berth in the Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals for the second time in three years.
Here is their story:
Gerald Hairston III (6-2, 230): Hairston became Roselle’s all-time leader in passing yardage, over 4,000, and touchdowns, 48. This year he threw for 2145 yards, 24 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He started every game his sophomore and senior seasons and was injured for much of his junior year.
Hairston had 19 touchdown passes his sophomore season and five last year. He helped guide Roselle to the CJ, G2 playoffs each of the past three seasons.
“A remarkable kid,” Roselle fourth-year head coach James Williams said. “He’s real solid and real smart.
“He’s just a good kid. He picked up the offense really quick. He was also a good leader.”
Isiah Byrd (5-10, 205): Byrd had one of the most productive seasons seen in Union County in recent years. He carried the ball 200 times for 2069 yards and scored 34 touchdowns, 31 rushing and three receiving.
Byrd ran for 810 yards and eight touchdowns during his first season with Roselle last year. He transferred from East Orange Campus to play with former East Orange Campus coaches Williams and Marion Bell, with Bell serving as Roselle’s offensive coordinator this season.
“He dedicated himself in the weight room and ran track,” Williams said. “Hands down he’s one of the top three running backs in New Jersey. I will put his numbers up with anybody.
“He’s just a powerful kid. He squats 400. When he hits the hole he doesn’t dance. He’s a north-south runner.”
Williams also reported that Byrd is the owner of a 3.7 grade-point average and a member of the National Honor Society.
Drew Stephens (5-9, 155): Another starter for three years, Drew had 1,000 receiving yards, including 11 touchdowns this season. On defense, he led the team in interceptions with nine, returning four of them for touchdowns.
Xavier Young (6-3, 240): “In my opinion, Xavier was the best defensive tackle in the Mid-State,” Williams said.
Young had a team-leading 75 tackles of which 30 were solo and nine were quarterback sacks. He also came up with four fumble recoveries.
“He just picked up an offer from (Division 2) Indiana University of Pennsylvania,” Williams said. “He’s a strong kid, another one who squats 400, and I expect him to be really good at the next level.”
Williams said that Young sports a 3.3 GPA.
Shaquil Jones (6-3, 230): Jones also started three years for Williams, producing 61 tackles this season that included 11.5 quarterback sacks. Jones also had one interception and two fumble recoveries.
“He’s a real steady kid, one of the best kids I ever coached.”