Abraham Clark Rams make the most of opportunity

ROSELLE, NJ — Given an opportunity to make the most of a season that began with four consecutive losses, three of them by a total of 12 points, Abraham Clark High School kept on playing.
The Rams then kept on winning.

As a result, Abraham Clark went from 0-4 last year to finishing 8-4 with an eight-game winning streak. The Rams might have become the first team in New Jersey to win eight games in a row in a season in which they didn’t qualify for the state playoffs.

Still, Abraham Clark was able to hoist a trophy at season’s end. The Rams captured the first South, Group 2 Regional Invitational Tournament championship by beating Jonathan Dayton High School at home and then going on the road to best Bordentown Regional High School by two points and Haddon Heights Junior/Senior High School by one.

Then Abraham Clark defeated Roselle Park High School for the third time in a row on Thanksgiving. The team was then given their RIT trophy.

From 0-4 to 8-4; you don’t see that often. It was a testament to the Rams never giving up and wanting to play football for as long as they could.

“What we did in the RIT helped shape the culture of what we’re trying to build here at Roselle,” third-year head coach Ibrahim Halsey said. “We had a disappointing start at 0-4. There were plays in those games we didn’t make that would have changed some of those outcomes.”

Abraham Clark won its final four regular season games to get to 4-4, but not enough power points were earned to qualify for a playoff berth out of South, Group 2. Abraham Clark then blanked Jonathan Dayton 35-0 for its second straight shutout and third of the season before winning at Bordentown 29-27 and then at Haddon Heights 40-39.

The Rams then won at home against Roselle Park 44-2 on Thanksgiving. In five of the eight wins, Abraham Clark gave up six points or less and a total of just eight.

“We felt we didn’t get enough respect for what we accomplished,” Halsey said. “We played those games to win and to build for years to come. The standards are changing here. If we want to put the state on notice, we know that we can’t afford to go 0-4 again.”

Abraham Clark lost several talented players to graduation, including team MVP Nafee Finney and leading rusher Emmanuel Lyles, who carried the ball for nearly 1,300 yards. Both are now playing in college at William Paterson University.

“Finney excelled in all three phases for us, offense, defense and special teams,” Halsey said. “Lyles was our workhorse. He was reliable and could have rushed for even more yards for us. He was our safety net.”

Representing the Rams

• Timothy Porter, No. 55, senior, OL-ILB
• Nazir Baker, No. 5, senior, QB
• Rahkeim Sheppard, No. 56, senior, OL-OLB
• Ajani Phillips, No. 21, senior, RB

Stepping in as the lead running back is senior Ajani Phillips.

“He has better balance than Emmanuel, but he has really big shoes to fill there,” Halsey said. “For the last two years, Lyles rushed for nearly 3,000 yards.”

Including going 5-6 in 2021 with the season-ending win at Roselle Park on Thanksgiving snapping a four-game losing streak, Abraham Clark began that season at 3-1. The Rams have gone a combined 13-10 the past two seasons.

Providing separation on the offensive line is senior Timothy Porter, who last year was named Abraham Clark’s MVP on defense for his standout performances at outside linebacker.

“Timothy led us in tackles, tackles for losses and quarterback sacks,” Halsey said. “He’s a quiet kid, a good kid who leads by example. He’s a stud athlete who is now playing inside linebacker for us.

“We have him in the middle calling the shots. It’s a spot he’s always wanted to have.”

At outside linebacker and also a key member of the offensive line, along with Porter, is senior Rahkeim Sheppard.

“Rahkeim has a great motor, with plenty of speed coming off the edge,” Halsey said.

Nazir Baker, another senior, returns at quarterback, where he has seen time there in parts of the last two seasons.

“We like what Nazir can do with his legs,” Halsey said. “He understands what we’re trying to do.”

Halsey said Abraham Clark’s spread offense is tailored to what Baker can achieve behind center.

“We’re excited to see what kind of leader Nazir can be for us this year,” Halsey said.

Nazir’s first start at quarterback was Abraham Clark’s game at Delaware Valley two years ago. Roselle will seek a ninth straight win when the Rams open their 2023 season at Delaware Valley on Friday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m.

Also listed at QB is senior Brandon Puryear, who transferred back from David Brearley High School. One of Abraham Clark’s targets is senior wide receiver Farrell Castel.

“We graduated a lot, but we’re developing our young guys and seeking to get production from them,” Halsey said.

Abraham Clark’s home-opener is Friday, Sept. 8, vs. Patriot Silver Division foe New Providence High School. All four Big Central Conference home dates at Arminio Field are Friday night games that kick off at 6 p.m.

“We know what’s in front of us, as far as our division goes,” Halsey said.

The Patriot Silver Division is the same again this year, including Abraham Clark, New Providence, Hillside, Metuchen and Arthur L. Johnson high schools.

“Everyone seems to be improving every year,” Halsey said. “We come to work hard in practice. If we do that, then everything we want to accomplish will be right in front of us.”

2023 Abraham Clark Rams

• Friday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m., at Delaware Valley High School
• Friday, Sept 8, at 6 p.m., New Providence High School
• Friday, Sept. 15, at 6 p.m., Hillside High School
• Friday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m., at Arthur L. Johnson High School
• Friday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m., Metuchen High School
• Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m., at Ridgefield Park Junior/Senior High School
• Friday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m., at Bound Brook High School
• Friday, Oct. 20, at 6 p.m., Belvidere High School
• Thursday, Nov. 23, at 10:30 a.m., at Roselle Park High School