ROSELLE, NJ — Ibrahim Halsey was a fixture at his alma mater, Elizabeth High School, serving as a respected assistant coach there for the past nine seasons.
Now the 2002 Elizabeth graduate, who in his senior season was named the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, is in charge at Abraham Clark High School in Roselle.
As a head coach for the first time, he hopes to take Roselle football to the next level. That, most would agree, would be to lead the Rams to the program’s first state championship since 1989.
Roselle came close under the coach Halsey is succeeding, James Williams, as the Rams reached the Central Jersey, Group 2, semifinals in 2014 and 2016 under Williams, who has moved on to become the head coach at Plainfield.
Halsey, arguably the best running back in New Jersey in 2001 when he helped lead Elizabeth to a 9-1 record, received high praise when he was hired earlier this year.
“Coach Halsey was impressive throughout the interview process,” Roselle Athletic Director Rich Schmid said. “He brings a wealth of football knowledge and experience to our program. Everyone I have talked with raved about him as an educator, communicator and motivator.
“Coach Halsey will bring a high degree of energy, enthusiasm and passion for the game of football,” Schmid continued. “It was evident that he is a person that genuinely cares about his student-athletes both on and off the field. We are extremely excited about the future of Roselle football.”
Even with the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic last year, Roselle managed to play seven games. The Rams, who last posted a winning season in 2017, lost their first four games in 2018 and their first six in 2019 and 2020. They are looking forward to a better season this year.
“We are excited to have Ibrahim Halsey join our athletics department as head coach and look forward to how his own experience as a student-athlete can benefit our students even off the field,” Superintendent of Schools Nathan L. Fisher said.
Roselle’s game-scrimmage is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 3, at 5 p.m. at Verona. The Rams had previous scrimmages scheduled at North Brunswick and home vs. Newark Collegiate Academy.
Three of Roselle’s five returning starters on offense are transfers, including senior left guard David Quintinalla from Elizabeth, senior quarterback Adonis Abad from Linden and senior wide receiver Timothy Thomas from Mater Dei.
“Adonis is just getting settled in,” Halsey said. “He’s really a competitor and a student of the game. He always wants to get better.
“He’s our quarterback, kicker, punter and safety. He doesn’t come off the field, which proves how valuable he is to us.”
One of Abad’s main targets to throw the ball to will be Thomas, a tall and lanky receiver with a great skill set.
“He’s definitely an impact kid,” Halsey said of Thomas. “We’ll get him matchups at either single or in the slot up against linebackers and safeties. He’s a football kid through and through. He’s been like a coach on the field.
“In order to change the culture, Abad and Thomas are vital to speed the process up.”
The running backs are brothers, with the elder, Joshua Ruth, a senior, at tailback and Emmanuel Lyles, a junior, at fullback. Ruth is a returning starter.
“Ruth is a downhill runner and on defense at linebacker just wreaks havoc,” Halsey said. “He’s a freakish athlete. He hasn’t even come close yet to tapping his full potential.”
Quintinalla and junior center Jaydin Fils-Aine, also a returning starter, provide excellent experience on the offensive line.
On defense, Halsey is expecting big things from junior cornerback Jaedon Davis.
“He’s been our most consistent player in camp,” Halsey said. “We’re really looking for him to have a breakout season. He really excels when the ball is in the air.”
Halsey gives credit to the head coach from when he was a player, Jerry Moore, for a lot of his current success and drive.
“I was (coached) by one of the best coaches in the state in Jerry Moore. His preparation was so important for us,” Halsey said.
Halsey said Moore also played a big part in him moving on to Illinois to play in the Big Ten. Halsey said the other schools he seriously looked at were Georgia and Stanford.
“To play for Ron Turner, the brother of Norv Turner, at Illinois was incredible,” Halsey said. “Illinois had just won the Big Ten (10-2 in 2001) and played in the Sugar Bowl (lost to LSU 47-34).”
As far as coaching, Halsey said, he “was always a student of the game.”
“When my older brother Jabriel (Elizabeth Class of 1998) played, when I was in sixth and seventh grade, I was around the program,” Halsey said. “During the summers we were committed to going to camp. There was no hanging around. Through Jabriel, Coach Moore had an eye on me.
“When I played you couldn’t keep us in the house. I know things are different now.”
When Halsey was a senior, he was a four-year varsity player at Elizabeth, and the Minutemen were going for a three-peat in North 2, Group 4. With an 8-0 record, Elizabeth was the top seed. However, the Minutemen were edged at home in the first round by eighth-seeded Roxbury 27-26. That Roxbury team was coached by John Quinn, who led Roxbury to the 1998 North 2, Group 4, title with a 7-6 win over top-seeded Plainfield at Giants Stadium. Halsey’s first year on Elizabeth’s staff was 2012 under head coach John Quinn.
“I sort of came full circle with Coach Quinn there,” Halsey said.
Then senior quarterback Philip “P.J.” Walker, now a member of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, drove Elizabeth all the way down the field for the winning touchdown in the first North 2, Group 5, state championship game in 2012, a thrilling 37-33 come-from-behind win over Piscataway at Kean University. Walker and Jahad Thomas were among Elizabeth’s standouts.
“That was a special group of kids,” Halsey said. “I was fortunate enough to be on that staff.”
Halsey’s assistants at Roselle include three former Elizabeth stars: Ishmael Medley as defensive coordinator; Al Hawkins as the offensive coordinator; and Halsey’s younger brother, Isiah Halsey, a 2003 Elizabeth graduate, as the wide receivers and defensive backs coach.
Medley was a stud football player and wrestler at Elizabeth.
Hawkins was Elizabeth’s starting quarterback for four years, from 1992 through 1995; a standout basketball player who scored the winning basket in Elizabeth’s 50-49 Union County Tournament championship victory over St. Patrick in 1995; and was also one of the state’s best pitchers, helping lead Elizabeth to the 1994 Group 4 state championship in baseball. A 1996 Elizabeth graduate, he was one of the greatest three-sport athletes ever to play in the state of New Jersey.
Anthony Ziobro, who played at Carteret, is the special teams coordinator and an offensive line and defensive line coach. Ronald Green, who played at Linden, also coaches the offensive and defensive lines.
“You need guys you can trust,” Halsey said. “That is very important.
“These guys are committed, know the game, do things the right way and care about the kids. In these COVID times you need a certain amount of energy from the coaches, so that the kids will feed off it.”
So far Halsey has been impressed with what he’s seeing from his kids, especially their effort.
“Every day we watch film,” Halsey said. “Then we see what we can do better and apply the tools that are available.
“We want our kids to be confident. It’s the small victories, like going to practice and working hard to get better every day. Our kids are starting to respond.”
Roselle is set to open at home on Friday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. vs. St. Thomas Aquinas, formerly Bishop Ahr. All home games at Arminio Field are 6 p.m. starts this season.
For the first time, Roselle has lights and will play its home games at night. Brand-new field turf was completed for the 2019 season.
“(Getting lights) was in the works for quite some time and the town is excited about it,” Halsey said. “These kids will be the first group of Roselle players to play home games at night.”
ABRAHAM CLARK RAMS 2021
Sept. 10 vs. St. Thomas Aquinas, 6 p.m.
Sept. 17 vs. Metuchen, 6 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Spotswood, 1 p.m.
Oct. 1 vs. Johnson, 6 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Hillside, 1 p.m.
Oct. 15 vs. South River, 6 p.m.
Oct. 22 at Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Bound Brook, 7 p.m.
Nov. 25 at Roselle Park, 10:30 a.m.
Head coach: Ibrahim Halsey, first season
ABRAHAM CLARK’S PRO-STYLE, MULTIPLE OFFENSE:
LT Timothy Porter, sophomore (6-0, 225)
LG David Quintanilla, senior (5-9, 220)
C Jaydin Fils-Aine, junior (6-1, 270)
RG Anthony Davis, senior (5-8, 205)
RT Reyji Louis, junio, (5-9, 210)
TE-WR Jayden Cruz, junior (6-0, 200)
QB Adonis Abad, senior (5-11, 175)
TB Joshua Ruth, senior (5-7, 205)
FB Emmanuel Lyles, junior (6-1, 225)
WR Timothy Thomas, senior (6-1, 180)
WR Azeem Kennedy-Feagins, senior (5-8, 165)
PK Adonis Abad, senior (5-11, 175)
Returning starters (5): Quintanilla, Fils-Aine, Ruth, Abad and Thomas.
ABRAHAM CLARK’S 50 BASE FRONT DEFENSE:
NG David Quintanilla, senior (5-9, 220)
T Timothy Porter, sophomore (6-0, 225)
T Anthony Davis, senior (5-8, 205)
OLB Tyshaun Techeira, senior (5-10, 170)
OLB Emmanuel Lyles, junior (6-1, 225)
MLB Joshua Ruth, senior (5-7, 205)
LB Zain Chaundhry, sophomore (5-9, 165)
CB Azeem Kennedy-Feagins, senior (5-8, 165)
CB Jaedon Davis, junior (5-10, 160)
S Adonis Abad, senior (5-11, 175)
S Timothy Thomas, senior (6-1, 180)
P Adonis Abad, senior (5-11, 175)
Returning starters (4): Quintanilla, Ruth, Abad and Thomas.
2020 ABRAHAM CLARK RAMS (1-6)
Oct. 10 (A): Keansburg 37, Roselle 0
Oct. 17 (H): Hillside 54, Roselle 0
Oct. 24 (H): Bernards 42, Roselle 20
Oct. 31 (A): Gov. Livingston 29, Roselle 8
Nov. 7 (H): New Providence 21, Roselle 12
Nov. 13 (A): Middlesex 42, Roselle 26
Nov. 21 (H): Roselle 26, Spotswood 24
Head coach: James Williams, eighth season
Section: South Group 2
Conference: Big Central
Points for: 92
Points against: 249