Duo has led Sterling resurgence

Davon Tucker is a four-year varsity player who has been a mainstay at running back and linebacker for the Silver Knights, who went 8-2 last year.
Davon Tucker is a four-year varsity player who has been a mainstay at running back and linebacker for the Silver Knights, who went 8-2 last year. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 02, 2014

When Davon Tucker and J.T. Thompson walked into Sterling High School as freshmen, the Silver Knights football program wasn't a Colonial Conference championship contender.

They weren't a threat in South Jersey Group 2, either.

Sterling, in the three years before Tucker and Thompson and their classmates joined new coach Clint Wiley's program, had fallen on hard times: a 6-24 record, sparse crowds in the home stands on Friday nights, little enthusiasm for the football team in the school's halls.

A lot of things have turned the tide: Wiley's expertise and enthusiasm, solid work by the last three graduating classes, contributions by several members of this season's seniors.

But if there were a poster on the wall of that revamped weight room to herald the growth of Sterling football, it would feature Tucker and Thompson.

"Those guys have been the leaders," Wiley said. "They've been the leaders on the field, and they've been the leaders in the locker room.

"They've bought in. They've believed in what we've tried to do here. They came in here with their eyes wide open and their ears wide open, and they've gotten a lot of other players to follow along with them."

Sterling will enter the 2014 season as a legitimate contender in both the Colonial Conference's Liberty Division and South Jersey Group 2.

That's light-years ahead of where the Silver Knights were in 2009, when they went 0-10 and surrendered 416 points.

The Silver Knights were 8-2 last season, finishing second in the Liberty (behind West Deptford but ahead of eventual South Jersey Group 2 champion Haddonfield). They lost to eventual finalist Woodstown in the first round of the tournament.

Sterling returns 18 starters, many of whom were members of Wiley's first class of freshmen.

"When we were freshmen, he was like a freshman," Thompson said of Wiley. "We were brand new, and he was brand new. We built this together. We laid the foundation."

Wiley said the Silver Knights have 16 seniors.

"They've done everything we've asked them to do," Wiley said. "You feel like a father or a stepfather, watching them go from 13-year-old young kids to 17- or 18-year-old young men."

The 6-foot, 280-pound Thompson is a four-year varsity player along both lines. He's one of the conference's top linemen, a burly mix of brute power, surprising quickness, and endless energy.

The 5-11, 215-pound Tucker also is a four-year varsity player. He has been a mainstay at linebacker in his career but also played offensive guard in a pinch as a sophomore.

Last season, Tucker emerged as one of South Jersey's top running backs. He shook loose for two long touchdowns in a 13-0 victory over Haddonfield on a rainy night that heralded, perhaps more than any other event in the last three years, the Silver Knights' rise back to respectability.

A top sprinter in track who was sixth in the 100 meters at the Meet of Champions in 10.92 seconds in June, Tucker has committed to Western Michigan on a football scholarship.

"We've grown as a program from freshman year up," Tucker said. "That's why I'm looking to this year. We're going to take that next step."

Sterling's progress has been gradual the last three years. The Silver Knights were 6-4 in 2011, but didn't make the playoffs. They were 5-5 in 2012, but qualified for the South Jersey Group 2 tournament.

Last season was another step forward. But for Tucker and Thompson and the rest of their classmates, the hours in the weight room and practice field have been geared toward a breakthrough in 2014.

It won't be easy. Haddonfield and West Deptford are perennial powers in both the Colonial Liberty and South Jersey Group 2, and the Bulldogs and Eagles look to be formidable again this season.

And Group 2 looks like South Jersey's most competitive group, with those Colonial Conference teams as well as Camden, plus 2013 South Jersey Group 3 finalist Barnegat (which moved down) and 2013 South Jersey Group 1 champion Glassboro (which moved up) and Cedar Creek and Woodstown, among others.

But one of the reasons that the Colonial Liberty and South Jersey Group 2 look so competitive this season is Sterling's presence - and that's a long way from the days when Tucker and Thompson were first putting on those blue-and-silver uniforms.

"Every offseason has been big for us," Thompson said. "We've worked hard. We've put in the time. We've put in the work. Now is the time for the payoff."





comments powered by Disqus