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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson


But like the rest of the student-athletes throughout the country, the Chargers are forced to deal with unprecedented obstacles 

Timber Creek will field two juniors, quarterback Donovan Leary and defensive end/tight end Jihaad Campbell who no doubt will be making noise this season in South Jersey football. Photo by Al Thompson

CHERRY HILL: We hear so much about how young people can develop great character through athletics and sports, and it's true. In order to win in team sports, players need to learn to trust each other and work together as a unit in order to achieve success.

In 2020, our student-athletes are learning much more. The corona-virus pandemic has affected all phases of everyone’s life. Businesses have been dramatically impacted as well as education and sports.

This spring, schools at every level of learning were closed and all sports seasons were canceled. Classes were held online so students could at least finish the academic year and graduate, if you were a senior.

A lot of dreams were also put on hold as well. The status of fall sports at the high school level still has more questions than answers regardless of what part of the Delaware Valley you're talking about.

Recently the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) announced that the regular season for football would start on October 2 and conclude on November 7.

The NJSIAA also announced that there were just two weeks of postseason play. It did not use the word “playoffs” probably so teams with only a few wins can tack on a few games after November 7.

Two key football players from Timber Creek High School spoke recently to Footballstories about what it was like to finish their sophomore years from home and how they are preparing for an uncertain 2020 season.

Donovan Leary, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback for the Chargers, led Timber Creek to a 7-4 record and a playoff win in 2019.

Leary talked about what classroom work was like after COVID-19 closed the Erial, NJ public high school.

“We had to take classes on line until the last day of school,” Leary said. “Every day our teachers sent out our assignments on line to a site called ‘Google Classroom.’ Each teacher had their own site. That’s where they would put all their work on. They would have a due date. Every day you would have to log in and [the teachers] could see when you logged in, and you just had to finish all the work on time.”

Leary, who threw 27 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions this year, acknowledged that the fun part of going to school is actually going to the campus and attending classes with your fellow students.

Whether it’s high school or college, the experience of being there, is what is the most impactful and memorable.

Leary talked about missing all that.

“No, it wasn’t as much fun as I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I had a lot of fun my sophomore year just being at school and around my friends. It was just different being at home and having to do classes online. Getting up each day and simply moving across the room to start classes is odd if you are not accustomed to it."

Leary was asked if he learned a different type of self-discipline.

“Yes, absolutely.” Leary said. “I became very self-motivated. To be able to just get up on time without my parents having to wake me up, then log on to my computer without my parents doing it…there’s a lot of self-motivation that goes into it.”

Defensive end/Tight end Jihaad Campbell, also looking forward to a productive junior season. Photo from Campbell family.


This year, the Chargers and veteran head coach Robert Hinson won their Central Group 3 playoff opener against Raritan before losing to Rumson-Fair Haven, 16-9 in the semi-finals.

What does Leary believe he has to do as a leader to get the Chargers to the next level?

“One thing we’ve been trying to do is to get the team together, as a team,” Leary said. “We’ve been trying to get together, stay connected in any way. We’ve had different group chats on different social media sites that we talk through. We communicate every single day so we have that family aspect, that family love that a team in the past has one head. We’ve seen it happen. My brother had two championships. Every team he played on; it was a family. They all had the same goal, they loved each other. That’s what I’m basically trying to build and bring it again at Timber Creek is having a family bond. “

Defensive end/Tight end Jihaad Campbell, is also looking forward to a productive junior season.

The 6-4, 220 pound pass rusher who recorded 41 total tackles in 2019 talked about what he needs to do this year to help his team get back in the winners circle.

“Being a team player,” Campbell said. “And being a great leader to my teammates. Try to get guys out here and work out with me and be the best that they can be and to win this championship.”

Turnovers have plagued Leary so far in his young career. In limited play over eight games as a freshman, Leary threw for 960 yards and five touchdown passes. He also threw 14 interceptions.

Leary talked about making those improvements.

“To build on next season, we’re trying to, for my personal self, trying to eliminate the interceptions and the turnovers,” Leary said. ”That was something that really hurt us. I put a lot on myself. My freshman year, I had the same problem then I got a little better [this year]. My junior year I am really going to try and eliminate that.”

He continued.

“As a team, we’ve got to get a little more aggressive on both sides of the ball, the line of scrimmage” Leary said. “I had a great offensive line last year and lot of seniors left on that offensive line. A lot of the guys have to step up, but I have full confidence with everyone on our team. I’m expecting a really good season from us.”


Campbell talked about being more active as a defensive end. He wants more sacks (he believes he had five sacks and tackles for loss) and create turnovers

“I like to pass-rush,” Campbell said. “Getting to the quarterback, sacking him and just being that guy to make that play. Coming off the edge, if the quarterback is rolling to my side, and throws the ball, I’m more than likely going to pick it off or bat the ball down.”

Campbell played some tight end in 2019 but was credited with just one reception. More wide receiver, tight end this year?

“I feel like this year there’s going to be a lot more of me getting the ball and scoring,” said Campbell, who lists LSU draft pick K'Lavon Chaisson, the No. 20 overall draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars as his favorite defensive player and Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones tops his list as his favorite offensive player.

Campbell also said working with training guru Chad Hallett at Adrenaline Sports Performance & Personal Training facility in Cherry Hill has helped put him in a better position to improve on both sides of the ball.

“I’ve been getting more explosive, improving my speed and my strength, just really like my whole body, upper body, lower body, core body,” Campbell said. “All those type of workouts.

As I go through my high school career I project myself in college as a defensive player. Outside linebacker, defensive end, whatever the coaches need me to play, I’m there.”

Campbell is there already when it comes to college interest. Published reports list Boston College, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia, West Virginia as among the elite college football programs that have offered Campbell a scholarship.

“Athletic freak,” Hallett said, describing Campbell. “You’re not going to see that at that age. The kid does everything well. We’re going to make sure his movements are well. Looking to correct muscle imbalances he had, get him flexible and make sure his body is ready to do all things he needs to do out on the field.”

Timber Creek quarterback Donovan Leary, now entering his junior season. already has 11 Division 1 scholarship offers on the table. Photo from Donovan Leary Twitter account.


Former Timber Creek star Devin Leary finished his career as the state of New Jersey’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,672) and touchdown throws (117). Completed 566-of-910 passes for 9,672 yards and 117 touchdowns. He also rushed for 525 career yards and 11 TDs. Devin led the Charger to two Group Championships.

During his junior season, Devin threw an absurd 48 touchdown passes. He is now emerging as a star for North Carolina State.

It is only natural to compare Donovan and Devin's careers. Donovan says he gets asked about his brother all time. But does he take a peek every now and then to see where he stands against his older brother?

“Honestly, not really,” Donovan said. “Some people try to tell me the numbers but I don’t really know. I don’t really keep track of it. I'm trying to get us a championship. That’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Once I get that, then I’ll compare myself to him and try and get another one. That’s the goal, that’s what matters…touchdowns, passing yards, that all comes with it. But championships are something special.” Donovan is also piling up the offers. He can rattle off all eleven Division 1 scholarship offers he received including Temple, Rutgers, University of Massachusetts, Central Michigan, Maryland, East Carolina, Old Dominion, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Toledo.

Hallett, who says he never talks football skills with the athletes he trains, talked about Leary's athletic abilities that he hopes to develop.

“Athletically as far as just being a junior, the kid is strong,” Hallett said, referring to the grade Leary is entering this fall. “He’s got great size. I think he’s ahead of the game. The expectations for him are just going to be out of this world. Athletically, strength-wise...what he does on the field; the sky is the limit for him.”

Donovan, who lists Aaron Rogers as his favorite current NFL player and Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame signal-caller Dan Marino as his all-time favorite, says he is not thinking of any of the places he could land in two years.

“I’m only a sophomore,” the younger Leary said. “I take everything into consideration.”


Kids going through this very difficult time are not the first generation that has to deal with tough situations, and they won't be the last.

These young people all say they believe we will get through this, and in the case of the protests against racial injustice, we will be better off for it.

Leary took some time to respond to both subjects.

“It’s something that some people never really expected to happen,” Leary said. “But it’s happened. Especially with the corona-virus. No one really expected to go through a pandemic in the middle of high school. Adapting to that was hard. I have a great family around me that really helped.”

He continued

“With everything that’s going on in the world, there’s some things that aren’t right,” Leary said.

“That’s just how the world is. It’s hard to get over that but it’s something we have to come together as a country. Lots of people have human rights, everyone deserves them. I feel like with that, I try to learn a lot about it. I don’t want to be immune to it. Everyone needs to listen. Some people use their platform in a great way. There are a lot of athletes that are using it to express how they feel. I feel that’s something that, if I get to, I’ll be able to do the same.”

Campbell said he can see and feel the anger out there.

“To me, it’s very crazy,” Campbell said. “A lot of people, they have so much anger built up inside of them. In America, I’d like to see everyone come together. Have peace within everybody around the country and live peacefully.”

Campbell was asked if America could take a page out of the sports locker rooms when it comes to learning to be a brotherhood?

“In sports, everyone laughs, everyone has fun times,” said Campbell. “Everybody gets together whether it’s blacks or whites, it doesn’t matter what type of race you are, we all just come together for a goal and have fun.”


Hallett was asked what advice he could give all high school athletes, regardless of sport or gender, in dealing with the restrictions placed on their sports careers.

"You’ve got to be prepared,” Hallett said. “You can’t down, things will work itself out. You’ve got to be ready once the time comes.” *

Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii

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