LINDEN, NJ - The Linden High School football team retired the number of the New York Jets star Muhammad Wilkerson, who was a standout football player for the Tigers before graduating in 2007. The ceremony was held on Wednesday, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m., at Tiger Stadium at Cooper Field. The Homecoming game against longtime Thanksgiving rival Union High School followed the ceremony.
Wilkerson enjoyed one of the best careers of any professional athlete ever to pass through Linden High School. He had 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 had accumulated 43 sacks in his NFL career.
Wilkerson is known for his No. 96 for the Jets, but Linden retired the No. 91 he wore in high school. “Linden Public Schools and the Linden Athletics family were 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 the Linden community and the Linden students are gratifying. He is a mainstay at Linden 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.
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“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.”
Current Linden football coach Al Chiola was thrilled to be able to honor Wilkerson. “This was a great moment for Linden High School and the Linden community,” he said. “Muhammad had gone above and beyond for the city and children of Linden. Retiring his jersey is well-deserved and Linden football are 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 auctioned memorabilia to raise money for Linden athletics, and 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 champions 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 the Linden games, no fanfare, he just show 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-MidAmerican 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.