Wildwood High School football players received congratulations from classmates and teachers in school hallways this week.
The Warriors got pats on the back at a local pizza restaurant where they went for a team dinner. The patrons at Kyle Wilson's Wildwood barbershop are thrilled with the team's success.
The Warriors, propelled by one of the region's top players in fullback and linebacker Wesley Hills, are 2-0 after opening the season with wins over Clayton (16-8) and Riverside (42-0).
Wildwood, a longtime struggling program, hasn't been 2-0 since it began the 1963 season 3-0 and finished 7-1. Wildwood plays at Pennsville (1-0) at 7 p.m. today.
"It's crazy," Wildwood quarterback Devon Bradshaw said. "We haven't done this in (almost) 50 years. Everyone is talking about it."
In past years, the most common question Wildwood players heard from local fans was, "Are you going to have a team this year?"
Some years the answer was no. Wildwood is the smallest public school in the state to field a football team with a sophomore through senior class enrollment of 186, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Some years Wildwood simply didn't have enough players to have a varsity team, so it played a junior varsity schedule. There was little success. Wildwood won
two games last year but went 1-32 from 2007-2010.
Still, the town and the school didn't give up on the sport.
Wildwood does have a football tradition. Wildwood graduate Randy Beverly played in Super Bowl III in 1969 for the New York Jets. Bill Osborn, a 1984 graduate, excelled for the University of Pittsburgh in the 1980s.
Now Wildwood features another standout in the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Hills.
The senior has rushed for 356 yards and five touchdowns in two games. On defense, he's made 13 tackles, has 3 sacks and has caused and recovered three fumbles.
"He's a very hard runner," Wildwood coach Rich Hans said. "He gets the ball and makes something out of nothing. A hole looks like it's clogged up, and he bounces it outside. Before you know it, he's running 85 yards down the sideline."
Hans said these Warriors put time in training in the offseason. Wildwood has had problems in the past organizing off-season workouts because so many players work summer jobs in the resort town.
"Eighty to 90 percent of our team works," Hans said, "and sometimes being in a resort town, they can't get off or they'll get fired."
These Warriors committed themselves to getting better this summer. They gathered many mornings at 7 a.m. to lift weights and run sprints even though some players worked summer jobs until 1:30 or 2 a.m.
"We have 20 guys," Bradshaw said, "and our 20 guys have stuck together for 10 years. We want to keep the program going and we want to win ball games."
Wildwood players aren't getting too giddy with the team's success. Wildwood started practices this week in a classroom so the coaches could break down video, praise what the players have done right and correct the mistakes they've made.
"The kids see there's room for improvement," Hans said.
The Warriors' next three opponents - Pennsville tonight, Maple Shade on Sept. 28 and Salem on Oct. 5 - are a combined 3-1. Salem and Pennsville beat Wildwood by the combined score of 87-6 last season.
"We're still hungry," Hills said. "We want to show that this year we're a new team and we can compete with anybody."
Contact Michael McGarry:
at Pennsville (1-0)
When/where: 7 p.m. today at Pennsville
Did you know: Wildwood hasn't been 2-0 since 1963, when it started 3-0 and finished 7-1. Pennsville beat Wildwood 47-6 last season.