WILLINGBORO’S LAMAR BEST HAS A NOSE FOR WINNING

There are football players that coaches will tell you to have a nose for the football, players with a nose for the end zone, or players on defense who have a nose for knowing where the offense is going on a play. But for sure, the nose for something any coach will tell you they would like as an attribute in a player is a nose for winning.  

Willingboro quarterback Lamar Best has been showing his teammates—and college scouts—he has a nose for finding “Ws.” Best has two more high school seasons to develop his nose for victories. As the starting signal caller, Best led the Chimeras deep into the playoffs in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.

In the Beginning…

In his freshman season, after starting his first scholastic season 1-5, Best led Willingboro to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 Tournament, defeating Gloucester 20-6, a 5-0 run. The Chimeras were hit with reality in the Group 2 state semifinal, getting clobbered by Rumson-Fair Haven 42-6. Willingboro ended the season with a 6-6 overall record.

In 2023, Best and his Willingboro teammates made a regular season jump. After getting off to another slow start, losing two of their first three games, Willingboro reeled off nine consecutive wins, including three playoff victories, before dropping a 35-28 verdict to Rumson-Fair Haven again. The Chimeras finished a more than respectable 10-3 and a No. 3 final ranking in the Footballstories South Jersey Top 20 high school teams in 2023.   

Obviously, the loss stung, but Best and his young team knew they belonged.

“It was a heartbreaker,” Best said in a recent sit down interview at the Adrenaline training facility. “But now everyone wants to go and win a state championship. After my freshman year, that was the goal. Then (this year) we played them (Rumson-Fair Haven) really close.

“Everybody knows that’s our goal…we can achieve it, we’ve been there. We’ve been so close. We’ve just got to finish it and buy in.”

Best said coming around to start their nine-game winning streak in 2023 was a process.  

“We started off slow to find out who we were going to be,” Best said. “We played a really good Northern Highlands team, they were a state contender in Group 4. We stuck with them 35-26.”

Then we played Mastery, a charter school from Camden and we kind of got in our rhythm (55-0 win).

“We then played a really good Timber Creek team and lost a real close game 16-14.

“After that we knew we just played two really good teams, and we hung with them…we’ve got to stick with what we’re doing and get better and better, stay on path.

“That’s how we started [winning],” Best continued. “We just kept driving and rallying and rallying…the more we won, the more we started to buy in and knew we could go far.”

The Chimeras made it to the NJSIAA Group 2 semi-finals again, losing again to Rumson-Fair Haven, but this time by one score, 35-28.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2024

Obviously, every player on the Willingboro football team who is coming back this fall wants to take that final step. Lamar Best will head into his junior year with a new head coach. The Chimeras’ head coach over the last ten years was Stephen Everette. He stepped down after last season. During his time at Willingboro, Everette led the Chimeras to three sectional titles and a region title.

The new head coach, Kenny Scott told the South Jersey Courier Post:

“These kids are hungry,” Scott said. “They were a young team that accomplished a lot last season, but they look at it as unfinished business. They fell short of that ultimate goal. Their mentality is to get back to Rutgers (site of the state final).”

According to the Post, Scott, 39, was the head coach at Winslow Township, his alma mater (Class of 2003), for six seasons, leading the Eagles to their first-ever sectional title in 2021. He was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Eastside (formerly Woodrow Wilson) for the last two seasons. Best’s father, Larry, is still an assistant coach at Willingboro. Lamar took some time to talk about some of his teammates that will be returning in 2024.  He said the Chimeras lost three starting offensive linemen to graduation. But they will be fine up front. 

“In our offensive line system, our offensive line coach, Coach Will (Richard Williams), he does a good job of rotating,” Best said.” “The seniors that played, they would rotate a lot. A lot of younger guys got to play, maybe not in crunch time moments, but they have a lot of varsity experience so they should be able to step in and be ready.”

He mentioned some of the players he believes Coach Scott will be leaning on this fall. Jordan Richardson (Sr.) at offensive tackle and linebacker. Brandon Loving (SO) at center,  Jaiden House (Sr) at tackle, Mekhi Cottle (Jr) at RB/LB, Terrance Knighton (Jr) at WR/CB

“He caught for 900 yards,” Best said of Knighton. Best also gave a shout out to wide receiver Zahir Bryant, who also is part of the secondary. “He caught 400 yards,” Best said. “He’s like a real scat type of dude in the slot.”     

Best was asked if gets together with his receivers and backs in the offseason. He said it is tough because many talented players from the football team get recruited to play other sports like track, baseball and basketball.

“I do baseball and they do track,” said Best, who is the starting shortstop for the Chimeras. “But whenever we can get together, and try and get a lot of the guys together to the field…we try to work on our concepts and train on the things we know we need to get better with.

“Our receiver coach, he sends us a lot of stuff about what we’re right and wrong about…and we’ll try to work on that on the field. Everybody holds each other accountable”

THE NUMBERS ARE AN INDICATION OF HOW THE OFFENSE UNFOLDS

With all the numbers Best put up in 2023: 35 touchdown passes 2607 yards, 8 INT), 845 yards rushing and 17 more TDs on the ground, does Best think he needs to spread the ball around more or push himself to get into the end zone even more than last season? The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder says the Willingboro offense just follows what the opponent’s defense gives them and lets the offense unfold naturally.

“I feel like we were so explosive out of the backfield, and we were so big and strong up front, a lot of teams would try to double-team and use two high safeties…then when they would cover, they would leave me with a linebacker. So it was easy for me to run by him.

“My running backs did a good job at running the ball so D-ends would crash and that would make it easy for me to take it outside.

“So we’re going to be tough if we keep doing what we’re doing. Teams have to pick their poison with us.”

THE LOVE OF FOOTBALL AND COMPETITION

At the next level and beyond, scouts and coaches have put a premium on a player’s love of football and the love of competing. Lamar Best was asked to talk about that.  

“I started playing football when I was four years old,” said Best, who lists NFL quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Mike Vick, Donavan McNabb and Patrick Mahomes as those he admires. “My dad, we were just driving around one day and went passed a field…he saw a bunch of kids outside…he said ‘you want to go and try to sign up for football?’

“I was four. You can’t start until you’re five or six. So my dad had to do a lot of talking to get me a chance to play…he did, but I didn’t play much but just enjoyed be out there. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to get better. I just love being around my friends and playing with people I grew up with. Try to win games and be very competitive.

Best said he likes attending select camps run by companies such as Under Armour, Nike Camp, various college camps including the “Elite 11,” that Best reports he just participated in.

“I like going to these camps because I’m playing with very good guys playing the same position as me,” Best said. “And I like to go and see how I match up, compete and try and beat some of those guys…match their throws and throw a little bit better than them and prove I’m one of the top guys from the area as well.”

Best said he has had interest from some college programs of notoriety including Syracuse, Monmouth, Virginia, Rutgers, West Virginia, Duke, Villanova, Delaware, U-Conn, New Hampshire, Pitt and Penn State. Chad Hallett, a respected area training pro and owner of the Adrenaline Sports Performance & Personal Training facility in Cherry Hill, said this about Best.

“Lamar is an elite athlete with tremendous potential. His vertical jump highlights his incredible explosive power, which is unparalleled for a player in his class. His remarkable quickness and agility enable him to change direction in a flash, solidifying his status as a rare and special talent. 

“Moreover, he boasts a strong work ethic and commitment to improvement, whether it be through weightlifting or recovery. Lamar possesses the ideal attitude to succeed at the next level.”

RECORDS ARE NICE, BUT…

Does Lamar Best consider quarterback records set by former Timber Creek standout Devin Leary, who was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2024 NFL draft? 

“Recently [records] have been brought up to me more,” Best said. “But during the season, I was just trying to be the best player I can be for my team. So we can get wins and move further in the season and make everyone else around me better.”

Best brought up some records that he said he was made aware of. But said he didn’t stay in that world very long.

“I’m not going to be self-centered and try and make it all about me,” Best said. “I’m still trying to make my team better. As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, everything will fall in place.”

What will Willingboro need to improve on to take the next step?

“Since a lot of us grew up together, I feel like we have to play for each other. There’s a lot of talent at Willingboro, but sometimes we get caught up with “oh, this person is getting offers and I’m not…we just have to focus in on ourselves and better ourselves.” *

Email Al Thompson at al.thompson@footballstories.com.

Some stats from NJ.com.

Al Thompson
Al Thompson

Covers High School, College and Pro Sports for the last 35 years, Writer, radio host and Sports Director at WRDV Radio 89.3 FM in Hatboro, PA. Publisher, Editor of Footballstories The Magazine. Author of “The Gilmore Years.” Email Al Thompson at al.thompson@footballstories.com.

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