INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — They don’t ask how, they ask how many.
Except that when it comes to Iowa football, there are current worries about how the Hawkeyes are looking. They are asking how in New Hampton and Newton and Newhall. But not in Newark.
Dozens made the 28-mile trip home from Rutgers’ High Point Solutions Stadium to Newark Saturday with no complaints or concerns about what they saw from the Hawkeyes. They saw what they came to see, and Akrum Wadley got what he came to get.
“This whole week, I’ve been hungry,” Wadley said.
With a burst through a hole and a tightrope dash down the left sideline, Wadley went 26 yards for the touchdown that broke the 7-7 tie with 8:35 left in the game and stood up as the game-winner in Iowa’s 14-7 victory.
He got fed.
Wadley wanted to stay close to home and play college football at Rutgers. But the Scarlet Knights’ coaches at that time didn’t make him an offer.
“It would have been so much easier being close to home,” he said.
“But sometimes bad things happen for good things to happen.”
While most New Jerseyans at the game were mopey about the all-too-familiar result of their team getting the short end of the stick in a Big Ten game, dozens of people from Newark reveled in it.
“I enjoyed seeing a former teammate do well,” said Tyyon Foster, a 281-pound senior lineman for the 2-0 Weequahic Indians High School football team in Newark. Wadley leapt into the stands and hugged Foster and teammate Messiah Williams after the game.
Weequahic is Wadley’s old school. In 2012, Wadley was the Newark Star-Ledger’s Essex County Player of the Year. Saturday, he put on a show for the current Indians and their coaches.
“I know every last one of them,” Wadley said. “They’re like my little brothers. They’ve got talent. Some of them might be better than me in the future.
“It feels good to have them here. It’s just all love. I grind with some of those guys. It’s a great feeling.”
On his touchdown run, Wadley did what he did 27 times as a Weequahic senior. He took the ball into the end zone.
“I knew I would score, I knew he would score,” he said. “I was gonna do that. I was gonna do that.”
But it wasn’t an I-me-mine proclamation.
“Beautiful, well-blocked,” Wadley said of the scoring play. “Compliments to the line. My fullback, Drake Kulick, blocked. (Receiver) Jerminic Smith opening a block downfield. It was just up to me to be patient and to hit it.”
The trick was for Wadley to play his normal game, and not get too worked up about his one and only chance to play college football in front of the home folks. That was easier said than done, especially since Wadley said he had been waiting for this game since Rutgers joined the Big Ten four years ago.
“I was trying to tell him the whole week to don’t do anything out of the ordinary,” said fellow running back LeShun Daniels, who had a fine day himself with 13 carries for 77 yards to accompany Wadley’s 12 for 84.
“You’ve got to treat it like an everyday game. Know your play’s going to come, so go out there and make plays. Stick with it, trust it, don’t try to do too much. I think he did an excellent job today.”
It was about being all business until the game was over. Wadley said his mother “didn’t even bother to try to ask to come to the (team’s) hotel” on Friday night.
“It’s all about focus,” he said. “They know it’s all love.”
Speaking of love, Wadley’s teammates hooked him up with enough tickets so that he had almost 40 to distribute to family and friends.
“I had an older cousin that brought a bus. ... It just felt like homecoming at this stadium.”
Wadley had already met with his Newark people, including his 1-year-old daughter, Ava, by the time Iowa’s players were interviewed after the game.
“I already miss my family,” he said. “I tried to hold back some tears. I had my daughter out there. Just a great feeling.”
Try telling Wadley it was a blah, forgettable game, even though it was.
“I’ll remember this years after I graduate,” he insisted.