Bill Belton era begins at Winslow
WINSLOW TOWNSHIP (N.J.) - The foundation of the State College-Winslow Township pipeline has been installed.
Former Winslow standout and Penn State running back Bill Belton has taken over as the new head coach at his alma mater. Belton previously served as the offensive coordinator for the past two seasons on Cooper Folly Road. The Eagles finished with a 9-4 record and captured their first sectional title in school history in 2021.
"Any time you can come back to a place that has given so much to you, you're filled with joy," Belton said. "I'm just happy to be in a position where I can give back to the community I grew up in."
Winslow will be tasked with replacing 2021 South Jersey Sports Zone All-South Jersey First Team quarterback Hamas Duren. Duren accumulated 2,883 yards and 37 touchdowns through the air.
Senior James Wilson, Jr. will move from wide receiver to quarterback. Wilson, Jr. tallied 643 receiving yards and a team-high nine receiving touchdowns last season.
"It's been a really big transition for me only because its a different position," Wilson, Jr. said. "The athlete in me is never gonna stop. If that's the best thing for the team, then that's what I got to do and make everybody around me better, too."
"It's going to be a little bit of an adjustment," Belton said. "I think once he settles in he could be very dynamic at that spot. I think he has the tools and the players around him for him to be successful. It's just about him being comfortable. My job and Coach Hack's job is to make him comfortable before September 4. We're working to get there."
Wilson, Jr.'s development as a signal caller is in good hands.
Belton played quarterback at Winslow and became the first player in New Jersey to throw for over 2,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 yards in the same interscholastic season. Former New York Jets and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is also the Eagles' quarterbacks coach.
The duo's approach to the learning curve fueled by their knowledge and understanding has helped Wilson, Jr. adjust without being overwhelmed.
"They've been very calm with me," Wilson, Jr. said. "They've been very patient. That patience is important being in a new position. All I got to do is trust the coaching and we gonna be good throughout the season. Our main goal as a team is to make it back to Rutgers."
The senior's position switch will also be aided by a pair of talented receivers on the outside in Cameron Miller and Ejani Shakir. Shakir transferred to Winslow from Pennsauken. The Penn State commit reeled in 28 receptions for 555 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. The senior should also help the Eagles defensively after recording a pair of interceptions and four pass breakups last season.
Shakir has felt right at home since joining Winslow.
"They make me feel like family and that's all I ever wanted," Shakir said. "It's been great. To be a part of a brotherhood and help lead us to a championship (is what I wanted). It's definitely been exciting because I'm new here, but at the same time they tell me to be a leader because I'm a senior. I feel like they're pushing me just as much as I'm pushing them. Each and every day our motto is to get one percent better and another motto is B.A.P. - Brotherhood, Accountability, Perseverance. That's all I ever wanted to live by so I'm glad I'm here."
Shakir chose Penn State over Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Marshall, Miami (FL), North Carolina State, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Virginia and West Virginia.
The senior stated that his first visit to Happy Valley for an Auburn versus Penn State game persuaded his college decision because of his liking for the competitive and spirited atmosphere.
"My first ever college game I went to was the Penn State-Auburn White Out Game and that was an atmosphere to remember," Shakir said. I can't wait to be a part of that. I just can't wait to get up there so they can get me right (and) get me prepared to be out there. I'm definitely excited."
Miller has also garnered interest from the Nittany Lions. Penn State was the first team to offer a scholarship to the Class of 2025 athlete on August 18, 2021. He also holds offers from Temple, Boston College, West Virginia, Nebraska and Maryland.
As a freshman, Miller caught 28 passes for 393 yards and seven touchdowns. The rising sophomore is looking forward to an increased role on both sides of the ball in 2022.
"It's real exciting with Ejani Shakir coming to play with us," Miller said. "I'm learning from both sides, offense and defense, and getting better knowledge than what I had last year. It's just making me a better player."
Miller worked his way onto Penn State's radar through a preseason scrimmage during his freshman campaign. His athleticism and speed popped, leading the Nittany Lions to extend an offer. The Winslow sophomore has ventured on a few visits to Penn State and even tweeted a selfie with former Penn State and current New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
Miller also attended a camp at Penn State on July 29 and recorded a 4.4-second finish in a 40-yard dash drill.
"I took a couple visits," Miller said. "I like it up there. I'm definitely blessed to be in this predicament right now. I have an extra motor on my back to keep going and strive for greatness."
The Eagles' offensive frontier will be spearheaded by sophomore Malachi Brown and senior Darrien Smith. Brown, a two-way lineman, started at center as a freshman and has the versatility to play anywhere, both exteriorly and interiorly, in the trenches. Both players provide experience and physicality along the lines.
Running back and linebacker Jamil Peterson is another rising talent that will contribute with his power and speed on offense, and his physicality on defense. He recorded 31 total tackles and an interception in 2021. Peterson is a powerful runner that plays fast and uses his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame to be physical and cleanly finish plays. The senior holds an offer from Misericordia.
Kenneth "Deuce" Everett will also make contributions at wide receiver and defensive back. Everett flashed his speed with a 4.5-second finish in the same 40-yard dash drill Miller participated in at the Nittany Lions' camp on July 29.
Junior Kameron Brown is the Eagles' top returning player on defense. The 2021 South Jersey Sports Zone All-South Jersey Second Team selection tallied five interceptions, 89 total tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a touchdown. Middle linebacker Jeremiah Taylor is also a brute force defensively and tallied 63 tackles with a sack in 2021.
Evidently, the pieces are in place for Winslow to defend its sectional title and reach this year's NJSIAA Group 4 state championship.
After all, the Eagles know what it takes to be successful.
"Just coming out and being competitive. That's all it is," Belton said. "I just want a team that's going to come out and work day in and day out. If we do that, outwork people and be competitive, we'll let the chips fall into place."