A special moment in Linden athletics the night before Thanksgiving; Muhammad Wilkerson is school’s first football player to have his uniform number retired

The 2007 Linden graduate and present defensive lineman for the New York Jets sees his high school No. 91 celebrated at Tiger Stadium among the Linden community and his family and friends

When it came time to block for his quarterback or pressure the opposing signal-caller he was there for the Tigers.

When it came time for him to grab an important rebound or figure offensively for the basketball team, again, Wilkerson could be counted on to provide stability.

Being accountable and never talking out of turn are traits many high school athletes need to hone to be successful. Wilkerson was the role model.

Those are some of the reasons why Linden decided to honor the present New York Jets defensive lineman in the manner it did Wednesday night.

Wilkerson is the first football player in Linden history to have his number retired, the No. 91 he wore when he was a three-year starter for head coach James “Bucky” McDonald from 2004-2006.

The 2007 Linden graduate, who was also a key two-year starter for head coach Phil Colicchio on Linden’s Group 4 state championship basketball teams of 2006 and 2007 and Linden’s 2007 Union County Tournament championship team, addressed a Linden faithful before Wednesday night’s season-closing Watchung Division game between visiting Union and host Linden at Tiger Stadium.

Wilkerson said that to be the first player with his jersey retired was “an honor” and that “he was thankful for all the people that came out.”

He continued by saying he was “in awe” and that he was “happy to be with all of the people that came out to support him on this night.”

Linden’s basketball team won 30 games 10 years ago. Now two players from that team have their numbers retired. Desmond Wade, a 2008 Linden graduate, had his basketball No. 11 retired nine years ago.

Right now Wilkerson is back with the Jets as they continue to prepare for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game at MetLife Stadium vs. the Carolina Panthers.

Wearing No. 96 with the Jets, Wilkerson has been a leader on the defensive line for the Jets since 2011 after coming into his own as a football player collegiately at Temple.

Wilkerson made one Pro Bowl in 2015 and has been a second team All-Pro selection in 2013 and 2015.

He was chosen Jets team MVP in 2013 and has accumulated 43 sacks in his NFL career so far.

Linden Athletic Director Steven Viana: “Linden Public Schools and the Linden Athletics family is truly honored to retire Muhammad Wilkerson’s No. 91 jersey. Muhammad’s accomplishments on the field are well-documented, but his contributions to our community and our students are most gratifying. He is a mainstay at our events, an avid supporter of anything and everything Linden.”

Wilkerson earned first team All-Area selection by the Home News Tribune and second team All-Union County honors by The Star Ledger his senior season of 2006.

After Linden was shut out at Piscataway 27-0 in the 2004 North 2, Group 4 semifinals and again at Piscataway 45-0 in the 2005 N2, G4 quarterfinals, Wilkerson and his teammates went to Piscataway for a third straight year in 2006 and this time knocked off the host Chiefs 13-12 in the 2006 quarterfinals. Wilkerson was a part of two playoff wins at Linden, both coming on the road.

In his senior season he accumulated 16 sacks and nine blocked passes from his defensive tackle position. His final games for the Tigers were also the final ones coached by McDonald, who was at the helm for 22 seasons from 1985-2006 after serving as an assistant.

Linden head football coach James “Bucky” McDonald 1985-2006: “Mo was one of the most gifted athletes ever to put on a Linden uniform, in football and basketball. He had that rare size to go with being a great athlete.
“Every time I see Mo, he’s still the same person. That’s what’s really great about him. He’s given so much back to Linden.”

Present Linden head football coach Al Chiola: “This is a great moment for Linden High School and the Linden community. Muhammad has gone above and beyond for the city and children of Linden.
“Retiring his jersey is well-deserved and Linden football couldn’t be more proud.”

Wilkerson remains a committed member of the Linden Public Schools community. He founded TEAM (Together, Education, Achievement, Motivation) 96 to offer assistance to college-bound athletes from Linden and holds a free football camp each year in Linden, as well as bowling events to raise scholarship money for Linden athletes.

Wilkerson has also auctioned memorabilia to raise money for Linden athletics and has donated his own time and money to the Linden Public Schools.

Linden head basketball coach Phil Colicchio: “He hasn’t forgotten where he’s from. A lot of guys can go on to make money and send money back to the community. But he’s in the community every day and still with the same friends he hung out with since they were little kids coming to our basketball games.

“He comes to about 80 percent of our games, no fanfare, he just shows up. It’s not just the programs he runs in town for the kids, but the fact that he’s physically here and he’s visible to the community.”

This was the fifth year that his nonprofit TEAM 96 foundation helped families in need of the holidays. Wilkerson handed out sacks of food for families in the Linden community and Union County the night before his number was retired.

Founded in 2012, the organization has given out over $30,000 in scholarships to high school seniors.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF GARY MILLER, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, LINDEN PUBLIC SCHOOLS – Former Linden standout football player Muhammad Wilkerson, middle, takes it all in as he sees his high school No. 91 jersey retired during a ceremony prior to Linden’s season-finale at Tiger Stadium vs. Union.

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