Brandon Bather to lean on experience and grit as Woodrow Wilson looks to return to championship form
Devin Kargman drops back and scans the field before attempting a pass. Brian Perroni, 247 Sports
STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - New reign. Same expectations.
After a down year, by their standards, the Woodrow Wilson High School football team is determined to return to its winning ways.
There’s one expectation and one expectation only.
“That’s our only goal every year we play — just to win a championship,” quarterback Devin Kargman said following a quad scrimmage at Southern Regional High School on August 17. “If you don’t play for a championship, then I don’t know why you play at all. That’s just what we strive for.”
Kargman’s logic is deemed reasonable. The Tigers are 22-9 during his first three seasons at Woodrow Wilson. His older brother, Nick, guided the Tigers to a 10-2 record in 2018 before going on to compete collegiately at Western Michigan.
Devin observed from the sidelines that season as a freshman. However, he had already inserted himself into that national spotlight as a result of his superb play on the 7-on-7 circuit competing with Next Level Greats. He received offers from Rutgers, UMass, Temple and West Virginia before ever making a start at quarterback for Woodrow Wilson.
That learning period appeared to pay off immediately.
The 2020 South Jersey Sports Zone All-South Jersey First Team selection accumulated nine wins in his first season as a starter as Woodrow Wilson captured the South Jersey Group 3 sectional title and was later crowned the inaugural NJSIAA South-Central Group 3 regional champion in 2019.
So why would he expect anything less?
The Tigers uncharacteristically went 3-3 last season and finished the campaign unranked after opening the season at No. 4 in the SJ Sports Zone Preseason Top 15. So should the 2020 outcome garner concern on Federal Street?
Kargman doesn’t think so.
“Last year was just a bad year for everyone with the pandemic,” Kargman said. “If we had all the time to practice as we do this year, I feel as though we would’ve gone to states again and won it.”
The Tigers bounce back efforts will be conducted by former defensive coordinator Brandon Bather. Bather replaced former head coach Preston Brown after Brown was named the director of player personnel at Temple University.
“It’s a privilege,” Bather said. “Actually being able to come into a program that I helped build and carry the tradition — it’s a long tradition of winning here. I’m very blessed and appreciative of the opportunity.”
The first-year head coach played at Tennessee State and was a two-year starter at safety. Bather proceeded to coach at his alma mater in Nashville for three seasons before moving to New Jersey.
Neighboring rival Camden High School reaped the benefits of Bather’s expertise for a season before he joined the Woodrow Wilson staff in 2015.
“I was at Camden High for a year and I’ve been at Woodrow Wilson ever since 2015,” Bather said. “I’ve been around the block. I’ve worked everywhere as far as coaching college circuits, going to clinics, camps, doing the 7-on-7 stuff. Football is my life. That’s what I do.”
Bather’s experience working at NFL Films has also translated to the high school gridiron.
“Being able to work with the NFL and actually being immersed in football all the time is definitely a plus,” Bather said. “I get to be around some top-level IQ guys — Brian Billick, Brian Baldinger, Michael Robinson, Steve Smith. All those guys, we get to sit down and watch film every week and talk through some things. You know Super Bowl coaches, Super Bowl players — being there and having access to that is great. I love it. It’s definitely a plus having that extra access.”
Woodrow Wilson returns a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver Michael Estremera provides the Tigers with underrated speed and fluidness on the outside. Naz’Sir Oglesby leads the rushing attack and could emerge as a contributor on defense.
Three seniors return on the offensive line and two seniors on the defensive line. The defense will be spearheaded by senior linebacker Damir McCrary. McCrary currently holds offers from Boston College, Kent State, Miami (FL), Toledo, UMass and Virginia Tech. Shelton Neal, a returning senior, joins McCrary in the middle of the defense. The edge rushing duo of senior Adam Shakir and sophomore Fatim Diggs is a pair to watch according to Bather.
The first-year coach also reiterated the importance of having a viable signal caller. The Tigers have already checked that box off.
“You can’t be good without a good quarterback,” Bather said. “Devin Kargman brings a lot of senior leadership. We got three seniors on the O-line this year, two seniors on the D-line. We got a lot of guys we’re trying to put in.”
More importantly, the coaching staff and players are all on the same page. The Tigers expect nothing less than hoisting trophies and displaying banners in their gymnasium.
“The expectation is a championship,” Bather said. “That’s the only thing that we said we were playing for this year. We want to make sure that we keep the tradition going. Winning a championship tells you a lot about your process and your story, starting from the ground up, building a foundation and going through obstacles. That’s the only way you get to a championship. We’re trying to be the last team playing in December.”