By LARRY HENRY JR.
Hamas Duren closed the door on a sensational high school career at Winslow Township as a Central Jersey Group 4 champion, and he now plans to use those successes toward the next chapter of his life.
Duren concluded his high school career in style last fall, helping the Eagles defeat Shawnee, 34-22, to capture a first-ever sectional title. The senior gunslinger was one of the key focal points of coach Kenny Scott’s offense, registering 3,221 combined yards and 45 total touchdowns, and posting one of the best individual seasons in school history. Although the Eagles fell to Millville, 45-35, at Rutgers University in the state’s slew of regional bowl games, Duren praised the impact this group of players had at Winslow and why they led the Eagles to such a successful campaign.
“What I’ll say about the 2021 season is we had a lot of playmakers and a lot of players that could change the game on any given play,” Duren told Glory Days in a recent interview. “With that comes a lot of expectations and I feel like we lived up to those expectations and probably exceeded some. During the summer we were with Coach Bill (Belton) and Coach Hack (former NFL quarterback Christian Hackenberg) just putting in the work getting our chemistry right. With transfers coming in, it was the first time me and those guys played together except for Jacob Mitchell, so we had to get the chemistry down. After that, I feel like there was really no way anyone could stop us unless we stopped ourselves because when we got on a roll there was really nothing anyone could do about it.
“When it’s all said and done, those pep rallies, those rides on the school bus with my friends, those Friday Night Lights, and the band taking us onto the field is something I’ll never forget. You’re only in high school once and after those four years you’re in the real world.”
Duren’s playmaking ability with both his arm and legs made him one of the most entertaining quarterbacks in South Jersey. After back-to-back 900-plus passing yard seasons, Duren exploded under the leadership of Scott, Hackenberg and Belton. Duren threw for 200 yards or more in 10 of his 13 starts last season, while also registering two or more touchdown passes in 11 of those 13 games.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound quarterback helped the Eagles to four and five-game winning streaks during the course of the season, leading them to impressive wins over Woodrow Wilson, Camden, Timber Creek and Holy Spirit in the regular season. Duren continued to shine under the bright lights of the NJSIAA playoffs, throwing for 691 yards and seven touchdowns to zero interceptions in three postseason victories.
Winslow celebrated a well-deserved sectional title after defeating Shawnee, sending Duren, running back Trey Thorpe and wide receivers Trey Simmons and Jacob Mitchell into the history books. It was a dream season that Duren isn’t planning on forgetting anytime soon, even with high school basketball and graduation on his radar.
“All of those games had their moments to remember and we had very big games to pick up the wins,” Duren said. “The Camden game I will remember the most because we battled back after halftime. I had two fumbles in the first half and I remember going into halftime and beating myself up over the errors. It felt like a movie to come out and throw a tying touchdown pass in overtime before throwing the game-winning two point conversion.”
Not many high school players can say they’ve been able to work with former collegiate or professional players, but Duren was spoiled with the presences of Hackenberg and Belton on the sidelines. Both Hackenberg and Belton excelled during their collegiate days at Penn State and both got to experience life in the National Football League before becoming coaches at a consistent program like Winslow.
Duren soaked in all the information he could from Belton and Hackenberg this past year and it paid off with a career-best season and his name in the school’s history books.
“Our relationship has grown and will continue to grow throughout my years,” Duren said about Hackenberg. “I feel that I have a mentor for the rest of my life, regardless if it’s football related or not. I could talk to him about real-life situations. Whatever I need, he’s willing to help me out. I’ll forever be grateful for the addition of Coach Hack to our coaching staff. He’s helped me develop more than I could put in words. Before him, I was just a raw quarterback with a strong arm, but not really accurate or smart with my decision-making. He doesn’t have me do a whole bunch of drills that don’t translate to Game Day, he just had me throw the same way over and over countless times for muscle memory. He also helped me become a smarter football player and with that comes confidence and leadership.”
“It made it much easier knowing their accomplishments,” Duren added about the importance of Belton and Hackenberg on the Winslow staff. “They would never steer me in the wrong direction and they’ve been in my shoes before, so whatever they tell me I just soaked in all of the information and executed it to the best of my ability.”
Duren’s high school football career may be over, but his career as an athlete is far from coming to its end. The senior is planning on graduating and translating his abilities to the junior college game, with hopes of continuing his overall development. Duren said Winslow helped him by putting him up against some of the top programs in South Jersey, and although his collegiate decision isn’t official yet, he is planning on building off of what he started with the Eagles’ program.
“I plan to take the juco route,” Duren said. “Throughout my four years I haven’t really taken the term student-athlete as seriously as I should have and it’s come back to haunt me. But I have no regrets, everything happens for a reason and I have to learn from my mistakes to grow as a man.”
Larry Henry Jr. covers Camden and Burlington County sports for Glory Days Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @lhenry019