South Jersey Sports Report: High School Football Offensive Player of the Year
As the 2019 season began to draw to a close, St. Joseph senior running back Jada Byers was closing in on becoming South Jersey’s all-time leader in touchdowns scored. But with only a pair of playoff games to get it done — and needing 10 more scores to reach the record — it wasn’t looking good for the little dynamo from Bridgeton.
But people have been telling Byers his whole life about the things he couldn’t do, about how he was too small. He’s never cared.
As it turns out, Glory Days Magazine’s Offensive Player of the Year needed just one game to collect all the touchdowns he needed to become South Jersey’s new No. 1 touchdown maker. He scored a mind-boggling 10 TDs in the Wildcats’ 76-22 win over Morris Catholic in the Non-Public Group 2 semifinals, before St. Joseph’s season came to a disappointing end with a 38-0 loss to rival Holy Spirit in the state championship game.
“It feels good to think about everything I’ve been able to accomplish through these four years of high school and I can’t wait to get to college. The difference this year was that we had a great line last year, but people didn’t understand that the line we had this year might have been young but they are going to be great players when they get older. They helped me out a lot this year,” Byers said recently. “When other teams try to game plan to stop me I try to get my teammates to help me out. I tell guys like Ahmad (Ross) or Keshon Griffin that (teams trying to stop me) should motivate them so that they can’t just focus on one player. I tell people on my team that they should hate that other teams think all they have to do is stop No. 3, and that gives them motivation, and that’s why we won as many games as we did.”
Byers has been one of the most dynamic playmakers throughout his career in the red-and-silver. He’s gobbled up thousands of yards as both a running back and receiver and holds South Jersey record for career touchdowns with 102, single-game points with 60, and single-game touchdowns with 10, and came within 20 points of breaking former Paulsboro star Kevin Harvey’s career points mark of 640. Harvey is the running back Byers passed on the career touchdowns list.
“It feels great to be part of this program and I came here for a reason. I’ve learned about body language and character. This program teaches you how to be a man. You have to watch yourself coming through the St. Joe program because you never know who is watching or who is looking at you,” said Byers, who has committed to Sacred Heart University to continue his academic and football careers. “The record touchdown was my favorite. When I came across the goal line I just ran to my mom and gave her the ball. There was nothing else to worry about, all the stress was gone and I didn’t have to worry about breaking records anymore. It feels good to be No. 1 on that list. I never knew anything about the record until my senior year, but going through high school I always felt like anything was possible.”
Coaches around South Jersey, including A.J. Russo of Holy Spirit, will be happy they no long have to game plan to stop Byers.
“His ability to play any position on the field is No. 1. He can split out at wide receiver, you can have him at tailback, fullback, wingback. He’s played quarterback. He’s played everywhere,” Russo said. “When you put a kid in a position like that he can beat you in so many ways and it’s hard to be able to contain him.”
When asked how much attention Byers garnered during the Spartans’ prep week every time Holy Spirit played St. Joseph, coach Russo didn’t mince words.
“How about 100 percent? We needed to identify where he was on every single play,” he said. “I’m not joking that 100 percent of the time we needed to know where he was. He has great vision and obviously his speed is an asset, and the way he can change direction without missing a beat is what made him so difficult to tackle.”
Byers is just 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, but he has made a huge impact for the Wildcats the last four years. During his time on the gridiron, St. Joseph went 39-8, including 8-2 in state playoff games, and won a pair of state championships, adding another chapter to the legacy that is St. Joseph High School football. The past three years, Byers-led St. Joe went 31-4 and lost just one playoff game, this year’s state championship against Holy Spirit. He’s also made his mark among the area youth, many of whom dream of growing up to be just like him.
“I’m going to miss this because it feels so good to have so many people who have your back and you know you can call and have a good conversation with. That’s what I thought I got out of St. Joe’s,” he said. “It feels great to have an impact on kids and know they look up to me and I can set a great example for them. If I know a kid is looking up to me I want to motivate him to never give up in life and do what they want to do, achieve all their goals.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
OTHER OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR NOMINEES:
Ja’Briel Mace, Mainland Regional, RB: Talk about making an immediate impression! The freshman running back rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his rookie season and had some monster games, including more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in wins over Absegami and Middle Township. By midseason Mace already was one of the top running backs in all of South Jersey.
Jake Cook, Mainland Regional, WR: Really came on strong in the second half of the season and was a big compliment to the Mustangs’ running game. A big reason this team was able to win 10 games.
Joe Repetti, Ocean City, QB: In just his first year as a varsity starter, Repetti helped lead the Red Raiders to their best season under current coach Kevin Smith. A dual threat, Repetti led his team to the sectional championship on an inspired playoff run that included a huge road victory at rival Mainland Regional.
E’lijah Gray, Holy Spirit, RB: One of the most durable and reliable backs in South Jersey the past three years, Gray capped his career by leading his team to a state championship while putting up big numbers once again.
Elijah Steward, Holy Spirit, WR: A relative unknown coming into the season, everybody knew his name by the end after some big-time breakout games.
Jake Ketschek, St. Augustine Prep, OL: A massive force on the left side of the Hermits’ offensive line, Ketschek made it routine to dish out pancake blocks and pave the way for St. Augustine Prep’s impressive rushing attack. He’s one of the top linemen in all of New Jersey.
Kanye Udoh, St. Augustine Prep, RB: Once he became eligible after transferring, Udoh was nearly unstoppable and helped lead the Hermits to seven victories and a spot in the state semifinals.
Keon Henry, Pleasantville, WR: Henry was the biggest deep threat on the outside for freshman quarterback Marlon Leslie and made big plays throughout the year, including a huge touchdown against Buena that helped the Greyhounds lock up a WJFL United Division title.
JoJo Bermudez, Cedar Creek, WR: He’s still just a sophomore, but Bermudez already has established himself as one of the top slot receivers in South Jersey. He had nearly 1,000 yards and scored 10 receiving touchdowns for a team that won 10 games and a sectional title.