Throughout Hamas Duren’s junior season, the Winslow Township quarterback on a few occasions had picked the brain of former Penn State Nittany Lion quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Thanks to some additional convincing by his former Penn State teammate and Winslow graduate Bill Belton – who also serves as the team’s offensive coordinator – Hackenberg was able to join the team staff as a quarterback coach for 2021 season.
In his first two years as a quarterback for Winslow during his sophomore and junior seasons, Duren threw for just over 900 yards in each and was unable to reach double digit passing touchdowns in either season.
Looking back, Hackenberg remembers making a promise to Duren about the potential the senior quarterback could reach if he followed through with hard work and perseverance.
“I’m not a big stats guy to be honest, but one thing I did tell him going back to when we first started working together was that if he were to buy in and follow through with understanding the progressions that he would throw for over 3,000 yards this season,” said Hackenberg.
“Funny enough, he came up just a little short there at the end but I saw early on that he had above-average arm talent and athleticism,” the coach added. “I just wanted to help him tap into those other areas of being a quarterback.”
Now just a few months later, Duren finished his senior season having thrown for 2,883 passing yards (good for second most in the state this season) while also throwing a best-in-state 37 passing touchdowns, helping propel Winslow to its first South Jersey Group 4 sectional championship with a 34-22 win over Shawnee.
It is for such reasons that Hamas Duren is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2021 Football Player of the Year.
Duren, who also set the program record for passing yards in a single season, said that despite his good fortune at being guided by multiple great football minds, he didn’t come into the season with any specific goals for himself, but instead for the team.
“I feel like I far exceeded my expectations to be honest; I wasn’t looking to break individual records or anything like that coming into the season,” Duren said. “As for the team, we knew we had the team to be able to do something special.
“We weren’t the same team at the beginning of the season as we were by the end,” he added. “We worked hard to get here together and we were able to make this season how we dreamed it could be.”
Winslow entered the past season coming off a 5-1 record the year prior, good for the team’s first winning season in 10 years. Since taking over, head coach Kenny Scott has been adamant about bringing back a winning mentality and culture to the Eagle program in recent years.
After watching Duren play his first two years, Scott was excited about the heights Winslow could reach in 2021 with Duren continuing to grow as a quarterback, due to both his natural athleticism but also the tutelage of Hackenberg and Belton.
“There was a natural evolution year to year that you saw him go through as a quarterback and he’s a really athletic guy, so we were excited about getting the most out of him that we could and surrounding him with the best talent that we could as well,” Scott said.
“Watching him really take those next steps of being a quarterback and an overall athlete from the beginning of camp to the end of the year, was amazing,” he added. “It was the consistency of his work ethic and drive to get better that stood out.”
Most important this season, Duren said, was bringing a championship to Winslow.
“To us, being able to have it done, it wasn’t a surprise after all the hard work that we’d put in,” he said. “We did that for the community; it’s one that’s been overlooked for a while.
“Winslow’s had a number of great teams over the years but wasn’t able to finish,” Duren added. “And having been able to do that now … it’s just hard to put into words how much it really means.”