Preparing to win: Winslow football boasts impressive coaching staff

Team learning from former Penn State players Bill Belton and Christian Hackenberg

MATTHEW SHINKLE/South Jersey Sports Weekly: Winslow Township senior quarterback Hamas Duren calls for the snap during the teams first game of the season against Woodbridge, Sunday, Aug. 29.

Coach Kenny Scott and his star studded staff are trying to bring a winning mentality back to Winslow Township football.

A 5-1 record during last year’s COVID-shortened season still counted as the program’s  first winning season in exactly a decade. But the hope is that achievement was a preview of things to come and not a one-year wonder.

Now entering his fourth year as head coach of the Winslow program, Scott leads a team with freshmen from his first year with the program who now lead the squad as seniors a quick three years later. The core group of players made the decision to buy into Scott’s vision and that of his staff, a transformation the coaches believe was needed for the benefit of the program.

“This Class of 2022 came in when the program was at a crossroads, and they very easily could have run for greener pastures somewhere else,” Scott said. “But they dug their feet in and doubled down.

“We just had to (analyze and change) a lot of the things that were causing this program to be … I’ll say, lackluster,” he added. “We just went to work and these guys are some of the catalysts that focused on work ethic to make the change possible.”

With two Penn State Nittany Lions added to the coaching staff in consecutive years, the road ahead for the program gets even brighter. Last season, Winslow graduate and former Penn State running back Bill Belton joined the staff before the 2020 season as offensive coordinator. He was then able to convince his former Penn State teammate Christian Hackenberg to join the program before the current season as a quarterback’s coach.

Senior quarterback Hamas Duren returns as a three-year starter in his final season with the Eagles and hopes to lead the program once again to a positive record, as well as a postseason berth. With the likes of Belton and Hackenberg on the sideline, Duren  couldn’t be more thankful for the chance to learn from both.

“[Coach Belton] is a Winslow Township legend; I really look up to him and he helps bring in a winning mentality,” Duren said. “As for coach Hackenberg, I had worked out with him before and he came to our game at Seneca and was able to give me little tips here and there, which I appreciated. But then Coach Belton said we might be looking to add him to the staff, and he made it happen.”

Hackenberg landed in South Jersey following the end of his NFL career as a sort of  midway point between his and his wife’s hometowns of Palmyra, Virginia and Toms River, respectively. Hackenberg reconnected with Belton and agreed to watch a game and work with a few kids. That ultimately led to Belton extending Hackenberg an invitation to join the staff.

Coming from a family full of coaches in various sports, Hackenberg had thought about the possibility of coaching at some point during his life, but hadn’t yet really seen the  right opportunity present itself — until now.

“I always thought about it … I was around it with my family growing up and I always thought to myself that being able to coach in college and whatnot would be cool,” he said. “But I feel like high school is more of a unique opportunity to make an impact on kids, not just from an X’s and O’s and football perspective, but you can really make an impact on the kids during an important part in their lives.

“I’ve always liked how high-school athletics are kind of bigger than the game,” Hackenberg added,  “and I’ve always been a big proponent of that and using it to teach life lessons. Of course also while winning some games along the way, which is always fun.”

Having already been slightly familiar with Duren before accepting the position at Winslow, Hackenberg said he liked what he saw from the young quarterback, who was  receptive to the new coach’s advice.

One key area of Duren’s game has evolved significantly, thanks to the former NFL quarterback’s presence: preparation.

“I wanted to really figure out how I can maximize his potential as a football player and as a person in the time that I have with him,” Hackenberg said. “We spent a lot of time on his footwork and technique and he’s done a really good job with that.

“The fun part has been simplifying things that may be advanced and get them to him and other players in a digestible manner, while also keeping it fun,” he added. “Because it’s a game, and high-school football is probably when I had the most fun.”

“We’ve been working ever since the summer on a few different things, and now that we’re at the actual season, we’re working on going through my progressions and stuff like that,” Duren said.

“It’s been a big weight off my shoulders, because he prepares me as best as I’ve ever been prepared, and I can feel it.”