Jets star Muhammad Wilkerson will have his number retired at Tiger Stadium at Cooper Field this season. Wilkerson was a exceptional athlete for Linden High School, graduating in 2007, before moving on to a standout professional career. (Photo by CBSSports.com)

 

By Gary Miller

The Linden High School football team will retire the number of New York Jets star Muhammad Wilkerson, who was a standout football player for the Tigers before graduating in 2007.

Wilkerson has enjoyed one of the best careers of any professional athlete to ever pass through Linden High School. He has been a leader on the Jets defensive line since 2011, was selected to the NFL Pro Bowl in 2015, and was second team All-Pro in 2013 and 2015. He was chosen team MVP in 2013, and has accumulated 41 sacks in his NFL career.

Wilkerson is known for his No. 96 for the Jets, but he wore No. 91 in high school. No. 91 will be retired at Homecoming on Nov. 22 and will hang in a place of honor at Tiger Stadium at Edward R. Cooper Field. A resolution for the plan to retire his number was approved unanimously by the Board of Education on Tuesday.

“Linden Public Schools and the Linden Athletics family is truly honored to retire Muhammad Wilkerson’s No. 91 jersey,” said Athletic Director Steven Viana. “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 was selected as first team All-Area by the Home News Tribune and second-team All-Union County by The Star-Ledger in his senior season as a defensive tackle, and accumulated 16 sacks and nine blocked passes over his high school career.

“Mo was one of the most gifted athletes ever to put on a Linden uniform, in football and basketball,” said former longtime Linden football coach James “Bucky” McDonald, who coached Wilkerson. “He had that rare size to go with being a great athlete. And 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. He hasn’t forgotten where he came from.”

Current Linden football coach Al Chiola is thrilled to be able to honor Wilkerson.

“This a great moment for Linden High School and the Linden community,” he said. “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 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.

“He hasn’t forgotten where he’s from,” longtime Linden basketball coach Phil Colicchio said of Wilkerson, who was a key part of Linden’s back-to-back Group 4 state basketball championships in 2005 and 2006. “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. 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. That’s pretty unique among today’s athletes.”

Wilkerson played college football at Temple University, where he was named first team All-Mid-American Conference and the team’s defensive MVP as a junior. He was selected by the Jets in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2011.