By LARRY HENRY JR.

Correspondent

The Triton Regional football team doubled its win total in 2021 from the season prior, and junior running back Justin Brown was a key reason for the program’s bounce-back campaign this fall. Brown now heads into the offseason, eager to keep working and preparing himself for what should be a huge chapter of his story as a high school football player.

Brown led the Mustangs with 1,135 rushing yards this fall on 171 carries — both career highs — while also contributing six total offensive touchdowns. The junior tailback registered 80 yards or more in nine of his 10 appearances for Triton, with two of those nine seeing Brown finish with 200 yards or more, an example of his consistency in the backfield. 

Triton rebounded from 3-5 in the covid-shortened 2020 season to 7-4 this fall and a spot in the Central Jersey playoffs. In the postseason, however, the Stangs ran into the buzz saw known as Woodrow Wilson in the opening round. Brown and the Mustangs used a six-game winning streak to erase an 0-2 start, a major focal point in the team making the playoffs. The goal for Triton will be to start off strong in 2022, especially with one of South Jersey’s top tailbacks returning to the offense. 

“This season was a really good year, especially for the graduating senior class and my class as well,” Brown told Glory Days in a recent interview. “The loss to Woodrow Wilson was a big learning experience and showed us what a next-caliber state championship team looks like and what we’re striving to be here at Triton. But that loss didn’t define who we were at all, this season was the best one of my high school career so far and a lot of the senior guys were happy with how they went out.

“What really worked this season was trusting my (offensive) line way more and being more patient,” Brown said. “Having a 1,000-yard rushing season really meant a lot to me, but it just made me really appreciate my line, without those guys I would’ve never made it anywhere close to that milestone. I also believe my off-season work really helped and being in the weight room and getting stronger just helped breaking tackles I usually wouldn’t break.”

Justin Brown rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a junior in 2021

Two performances stood out from Brown during the fall, both of which helped Triton start and continue its winning run. Brown registered 233 rushing yards and a touchdown in a 17-7 win over Deptford in Week 3 before totaling 254 yards in a 34-23, Week 5 victory over Paul VI, the top individual performances of his season as a whole.

Brown’s ability to carry the ball and wear teams down was on display in each of those games, a theme he said he hopes to continue after a productive offseason. 

“Going into the Deptford game was really intense, especially because of the way we fell short to them last year,” Brown said. “Deptford being the third game on our schedule, we were really hungry, especially coming off two straight losses. In the first drive of that game I broke for a 50-yard touchdown to spark the game and from there it was kind of automatic for us. That whole game I was just kind of focusing on playing my part with helping the team get the big win.

“Getting that PVI rematch was an exciting feeling as well, playing them at home on our senior night made it ten times better, having the big crowd and fans there made it an intense environment,” Brown added. “I was able to help with my playmaking ability and with our defense and our passing offense playing well the rest of the game we got the great ‘revenge game’ and our second conference game win of the season.”

The winning unfortunately came to an end for Brown and his Mustangs teammates with back-to-back losses against Hammonton, 43-0, and Woodrow Wilson, 52-0, before the team defeated Cherry Hill West, 21-7, in its final game of the season. For Brown, it was a strong individual accomplishment to register more than 1,000 rushing yards, while for the team it was its first season with seven wins or more since 2011. 

Brown still has ample time to prepare himself for another run at playoffs and individual achievements, but isn’t going to forget the 2021 season anytime soon with how well the team performed. 

“It was great to be a part of an above-.500 team this year coming from my freshman and sophomore year where we didn’t win more than five games combined,” Brown said. “To going undefeated in our conference and making it to the playoffs. A lot of us just enjoyed having a ‘normal’ year, compared to last year with all the COVID-19 restrictions. From being in the locker room and just having that bond helped, but a lot of us are friends off the field as well.”

Brown now heads into a winter track season with Triton before getting back into the weight room next spring to prepare for a proper sendoff as a high school athlete in the fall of 2022. Like many other high school football players, Brown is a student of the game and enjoys watching the professional game to add some tricks to his growing arsenal of abilities on the gridiron. 

He might not be the biggest player on the Mustangs offense, but Brown makes up for it with his shifty feet and ability to make opposing defenders miss. 

“A player I really looked up to when I was younger was actually DeSean Jackson — even though he played receiver, I always looked to be fast like him,” Brown said. “As I got older, I started to play running back so I started to get into (LeSean) Shady McCoy and Adrian Peterson. Toward the end of middle school and now high school, players I follow are Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Miles Sanders and Deebo Samuel. I really just enjoy watching guys who can do it all, whether it’s running through a guy or having a guy who just has players bounce off him with speed and good catching abilities.”

Brown’s stellar junior season will certainly have colleges paying closer attention in 2022, especially with Triton hoping to stay consistent in the win column next fall. After registering the first 1,000-yard season of his career, the junior tailback already has his sights set on new career-highs and playing under the bright lights at Rutgers University.

“A big goal for I have for my senior year is to shock the world and make it to a Regional Championship and play at Rutgers this time next year,” Brown said. “I really want to have that breakout season and my goals are to finish with over 2,000 yards in total. This upcoming spring is big for me and I am hoping to start getting more notice for a future at the college level.”

Larry Henry Jr. is a Glory Days Magazine correspondent covering Gloucester, Camden and Burlington counties. Follow him on Twitter @lhenry019