Jets: 'Grateful' Muhammad Wilkerson opens up about Parkway auto accident at Linden football camp
Jen Brown/The Star-LedgerMuhammad Wilkerson breaks down a huddle with some of his campers on Tuesday in Linden.
Muhammad Wilkerson stood amid a huddle of aspiring football players at his alma mater, Linden High School, trying to answer each of the questions they threw at him.
What team do you play for?
Did you ever hurt anybody?
Do you know Tim Tebow?
It was here, at a free football camp he put on Tuesday morning in his hometown, that Wilkerson felt most comfortable. Those questions were the easiest to answer. The speech he gave, which dealt with big dreams, responsibility and dedication, was no problem. Wilkerson spoke in front of more than 40 kids without note cards or a pre-packaged statement.
“He just didn’t want to have his name on the camp,” said Phil Colicchio, the Linden boys basketball coach and a close friend of Wilkerson. “He didn’t even blink, he said whatever you need. He went out and got the shirts, everything.”
But what is still difficult for the 2011 Jets’ first-round draft pick, one who carries high expectations from a head coach who’s lauded him all spring, was an accident that could have derailed everything.
Speaking for the first time publicly about when he struck the back of a 2011 Toyota Siena in the early morning hours of June 23 and flipped his 2011 Dodge Challenger on the Garden State Parkway northbound near Kenilworth, Wilkerson said he still has a tough time discussing what happened despite everyone involved with the accident walking away without serious injury.
Wilkerson has stitches in his right forearm and a long, pink scar down the left side of his neck, though he expects to be ready for the start of training camp later this month in Cortland, N.Y.
“With that situation, obviously I’m grateful that everyone is fine, nobody was hurt seriously,” Wilkerson said. “It was a tragedy that it happened but I’m just happy everybody is okay and I’m blessed to be here.
“Things happen in life and I’m blessed to be here, blessed and happy that everyone else is safe and nobody was truly injured or hurt.”
He called his mom Janice first after he got out of the car. As she watched him judge a distance-throwing competition yesterday for the youngest group of campers, she smiled, thankful nothing serious happened. She is asked about her son every time she leaves her home and hears about every secret workout and appearance he makes at his old high school, understanding how ingrained with the community he’s become.
“You never want to get that call,” Janice Wilkerson said on the field Tuesday, “but we’re grateful that everything is okay.”
Wilkerson took the train to New Jersey from Baltimore — the site of his offseason training facility — early yesterday to make the camp and planned to return last night. Both he and his mother noted how crucial of an offseason Wilkerson felt it was, as he’s been spending a majority of his time working out.
“He continues to work hard, he’s competitive. He was like, ‘Ma, I can’t do two days of camp, I have to do one because I need to get back and do my training,’” Janice said. “That’s a big thing for him, to stay focused and to do what he needs to do.”
In the brief time he had, Wilkerson did his best to take advantage of the easy part, lining kids up and showing them how to hit the blocking sleds, or pulling 17-year-old Varney Kollie aside, teaching him how to combat blocking techniques.
“It means a lot,” Wilkerson said. “Working with kids in my community, these kids have the same dreams as I had growing up. They can follow the same path I’m doing.”
Conor Orr: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/ConorTOrr