Jeremy Lockwood relished every last chance he had to play football for West Windsor-Plainsboro High North.
“Last one, best one,” said the Knights senior of his motto for his final season with the Knights. He waited longer than many for the opportunity just to play the game.
“I just always wanted to play football, but I was just too big to play,” Lockwood said. “I would be playing with eighth graders as a fifth grader.”
Lockwood didn’t get the chance to play before his freshman year, but his size made him a valued asset at WW-P North. He played tackle freshman year for the junior varsity, then moved to guard midway through his sophomore year on JV before becoming a staple at guard and defensive tackle for the varsity the last two seasons. He capped his career as a leader for the lines.
“He definitely got physically stronger,” said Knights head coach Jeff Reilly. “He plays with a lot of confidence now. And defensively the biggest difference we’ve seen is he plays with a big motor and he’s always pursuing the football.”
Lockwood helped the Knights get out to a fast start this season with three wins in their first five games, but as it seemed to happen to the thin WW-P North team in individual games, they showed signs of wearing down over the second half. The Knights’ 49-34 loss to Steinert on Nov. 5 was their fourth straight to slip to 3-6 going into a state playoff consolation game against North Hunterdon on Nov. 12. The Knights lost that game 59-7.
“We’ve just struggled to put together a full game this season,” Reilly said. “We learned a lot of lessons this year.”
WW-P North had promising starts in three of their first four losses before their thin numbers caught up with them in the second half. They led Nottingham, 17-6, at halftime, but wore down in the fourth quarter. They were leading Lawrence before a punt return seconds before the half tied the game and were outscored, 14-3, in the final quarter. They led Pemberton, 17-14, at halftime before falling, 42-24.
“We definitely got better with the Steinert game because we came back in the second half,” Lockwood said. “It’s hard playing ironman football, never leaving the field. You definitely get tired.”
On top of offense and defense, Lockwood is also on the punt team. The only breaks he gets are punt return and kickoff and kick return. Lockwood is more accustomed to playing both ways after doing it all last season as well.
It was a big adjustment last year on top of jumping to the varsity level. He credits off-season and in-season workouts for better preparing himself, as well as being mentally more prepared to handle it.
“I’m definitely better conditioned for it,” he said. “Last year, I was exhausted after the first half. Now it’s a lot easier to play both ways.”
The Knights may not look like that small of a team at first glance of their sideline, but almost half their team is comprised of freshmen who aren’t physically ready for the varsity level. Lockwood was part of a group that went to the middle school last year to recruit players, and the freshmen numbers bode well for the future.
“We had a freshman team this year,” Reilly said. “We’re really happy about that. That’s a step in the right direction for rebuilding this program. Every year we have to make a goal of getting 20 freshmen out and get our numbers back to where they should be.”
The Knights leaned on Lockwood’s senior class. They helped to set the tone and establish the work ethic for this season.
“We have 10 seniors,” Reilly said. “They’re a great core group of seniors. They did a lot for us, even as sophomores and juniors. And this year they play a huge role on our team. Of course, they’ll be tough to replace.”
Lockwood is part of an offensive line that has only one other senior, Dan Moore. The rest of the line will be back next year and more accustomed to the demands. Experience benefited Lockwood, who was pleased with the line’s development.
“I think we’ve done pretty well,” Lockwood said. “We could definitely do better. We’ve definitely progressed and gotten better over the season.”
The Knights offense hasn’t had problems scoring points. Five times this season, they scored at least 24 points. In the loss to Steinert, Brian Murphy was 23-for-41 for 303 yards and four touchdowns. John Owens caught one of those touchdowns and also threw a halfback pass for a touchdown to Miles Fye-Moore, who had a pair of touchdown receptions among his nine catches for 125 yards.
Bobby Hendry, Isaiah Miranda, Matt Phelan and Tyrell Williams all had three receptions apiece. The passing game was a strength all season, and they learned to get the ball out to their receivers quickly to beat opposing blitzing them more frequently.
“Murphy’s been tough in the pocket,” Reilly said. “He’s been a sponge. He’s really learned the offense inside and out. He’s thrown a lot of good footballs.”
Defensively, the Knights have had a harder time. Teams were able to move the ball well in the second halves of games as the already undersized defensive line wore down.
“There’s definitely improvement,” Lockwood said. “We’re starting to get penetration, but not as much as the team hopes. We’re starting to actually tackle people.”
Lockwood was happy to see progress throughout his final season, and valued lining up with his teammates every Friday. He is hoping this won’t be his final chance to play. He is looking into playing in college, likely as a guard on the offensive side of the ball, but he’d be happy for any opportunity to continue his career that began at WW-P North.
“I just loved playing football the whole four years,” Lockwood said. “It was very fun. It was a very good experience.”