Linden High School football on Wednesday night, Nov. 22, retired the No. 91 jersey in honor of Muhammad Wilkerson, a former star for the Tigers who has been a leader on defense for the New York Jets for seven seasons.
Wilkerson, LHS Class of 2007, was on hand along with many of his family and friends to become the first Linden football player ever to be honored by having his jersey retired.
During the ceremony, Steven Viana, Linden’s director of athletics, unveiled a framed No. 91 jersey that will hang on a wall of honor in the John Beriont Field House. A No. 91 banner was also raised up the flag pole to forever fly over Tiger Stadium at Cooper Field.
Watch the whole ceremony here:
Several regional media outlets were on hand to cover the special event. Here are links to some of the coverage:
Union News Daily: A special moment in Linden athletics
Here are excerpts of speeches given during the moving ceremony:
Athletics Director Steven Viana
Muhammad IS Linden. He didn’t have it easy. He wasn’t the biggest, he wasn’t the fastest, he wasn’t the most highly recruited. But what he’s proven to everyone is that with some hard work, dedication and never giving up on your dream, you’re going to get there. And he’s there.
When I sat down to talk to Muhammad just after the Board of Education approved his jersey retirement, he said that he was honored. But Mo, you’re not the one who’s honored. WE are the ones who are honored. We are honored that you come back and talk to our students on a regular basis. We are honored that you started a scholarship for one of these young men or women, and you give back. We are honored by all the things you do for our community, like you did last night by giving away Thanksgiving turkeys. All those things do not go unrecognized. The fact that you come our buildings and you walk our hallways and you are a mentor and someone for these kids to look up to. That’s why we are so proud and why you get this kind of crowd on a night like tonight. Thank you for all you have done; thank you for all that you will do. This night is a special night for the Linden Public Schools and the Linden community. Thank you for all that you are.
Many days from now, the memories will fade; things will fall by the wayside; we’ll forget that you used to come out of that locker room. But family will never leave you. And Muhammad we welcome you to be forever engraved in the Linden Public Schools family.
Superintendent Danny Robertozzi
On behalf of the Linden Board of Education, it is my honor to recognize the accomplishments of a great young man. Not only for what he did on the football field here, on the basketball court back in the day, but for what he does now in our community, for our kids, and the role model that he is. Muhammad, we are very, very proud of you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t know this, we are making history tonight. This will be the first ever football number that has been retired in the rich tradition and history of Linden High School football. So congratulations Muhammad. We’re happy that we could honor you tonight. We ask that you continue to be a role model for our young people, especially these young players who are here tonight.
Mayor Derek Armstead
Muhammad is not only a great athlete, he’s a great citizen of this town. You don’t have to look too far to see how it all happened. You see his father, you see his mother, that’s what molded this man into the gentleman that he is today. We’re just so proud that he continues to come back to our town, not just to visit but to give of himself. So keep doing what you’re doing. The city is blessed to have you.
Phil Colicchio, LHS basketball coach
Steve called me a few weeks ago and asked me to speak tonight, that we were going to retire Muhammad’s high school jersey. I got a little confused when I came tonight and saw the frame that had No. 91 in it. I said, Steve, “He wore No. 20.” He said, “No, that was his basketball number. He also played football in high school.” … Muhammad it’s been such a journey watching you since you were a little kid in my camp – quite, humble, shy – to a grown man playing professional football. When I watch you out there on Sundays, I’m amazed. … One of the amazing things about Muhammad is that a lot of people go on to be successful, but he’s in our community, he’s around, our kids know who his is. He’s not just somebody on TV to watch on Sundays. He’s a big part of Linden. He’ll always be a big part of Linden. Thank you for all that you do, and I’m so glad that I had the privilege of coaching you.
James “Bucky” McDonald, former LHS football coach
I’ve been very fortunate that was able to coach for 28 years here in Linden. There have been a lot of great athletes, fellow coaches, that have performed on this field, and Mo, you’re one of the best. You were an outstanding leader of our defense, and without a doubt you were the best run-stopper I ever saw in high school. You were a pleasure to coach. I’d like to congratulate Mo and his family for all his accomplishments, at the high school level, at Temple and with the New York Jets. And for all his hard work, and all the things he does for the Linden community and for the tri-state area.
Union County Freeholder Chris Hudak, along with Freeholder Alexander Mirabelli
Linden is a tight-knit community and the accomplishments of the children that attend our schools, whether they become doctors, teachers, lawyers or they swallow up quarterbacks on Sunday, they belong to this community. And we’re so proud of you. Your name and your good works go beyond the city of Linden. In a very short time, Muhammad has developed a tremendous reputation among the non-profit community in Union County. People know that when they’re having an event they reach out to the TEAM 96 foundation and they step up big and help out people. … We’re retiring your jersey tonight, but last night in Union County, we declared it Muhammad Wilkerson Day.
Dion Candia, former LHS football coach, speaking for TEAM 96 foundation
They say in order to recognize good parenting, you have to look at the couple’s offspring. They also say that in order to know a good tree, you can tell it by the fruit that it bears. Muhammad is a good fruit of Linden. Five and a half years ago, he asked me if I would be part of something that would help give back to the community. We didn’t have anything, we started from the ground level. He just wanted to find a way to give back. Even before he was drafted he had this vision, this idea. So no matter where he went, he had a plan in his mind to give back to his community. We are so proud to be a part of that force, a part of his vision. Muhammad serves as an example, especially for you young ones. Linden has a rich history of athletes. No. 91 actually wasn’t the only 91 who made it to the NFL. I’ll give a shout out to Michael Pringley, who was an All-American here at Linden and also wore 91. But one of the things that separates Muhammad from a lot of people who make it, is this driving force to give back. A lot of people can run up and down the football field, but a lot of them will get lost when it comes to having money and riches. Muhammad made sure, and he makes sure, that he takes care of his family and he takes care of his community. … So it’s only fitting that someone who loves to take of his town, that we can finally take care of him and retire his number.
Janice Wilkerson, Muhammad’s mother
I want to tell the football team: Something special about Muhammad is that he always listened to his mother. So listen to what your parents say to you. He may not always like what I say, but he always listens. Muhammad, you are truly a blessing to us. I am so, so proud of you. Muhammad was born not with a silver spoon, but a helping spoon in his mouth. Muhammad had two grandmothers that always taught him: You help people. It’s always been his dream to give back to his community.
I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight. My family, my friends, my peers, the city of Linden. When I moved here, this city opened up its arms to me and my family, and it’s great to be in such a great town with great people. I will continue to give back to the community. And to these football players and student-athletes, just strive for greatness. Whatever you dream of being, just strive for that dream and do whatever you have to do to make sure that dream comes true. Thank you all for coming out tonight and making this a very enjoyable moment for me.