Volleyball

Putting poor past behind, Woodbridge seeks historic win

Manlove had faith in Blue Raiders' football potential when he became coach in 2009 even though Woodbridge had never won a state tournament game

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Ed Manlove knew Woodbridge High’s history. He was well aware of its football reputation.

He’d uttered a popular refrain himself as head coach at Laurel from 2002 through 2008.

“Everybody always said Woodbridge is never going to be any good,” Manlove said this week. “We used to say it [at Laurel].

“I always thought, in the back of my mind, those [Woodbridge] kids are tough. There’s something there.”

So in the summer of 2009, Manlove made the move up U.S. 13 and down the Henlopen Conference Southern Division standings to become football coach at Woodbridge.

His last Laurel team reached the 2008 Division II state final. Not surprisingly, Woodbridge had been 0-10 that season. It took several years before Manlove’s faith and foresight paid off, as his first four teams went a combined 10-30.

Now Woodbridge is 12-0 and on Saturday plays in a state championship football game for the first time in its long and largely unspectacular history. Woodbridge faces Wilmington Friends, which won the 1984 Division II title in its lone previous state final appearance. Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. at Delaware Stadium.

“It was a bit of challenge but it kind of rejuvenated me, too,” said Manlove, who left Laurel more because of professional and family reasons than coaching, “but I made the move and here we are.”

Delaware instituted state football playoffs in 1971. Woodbridge was in a run of 17 straight losing seasons that included an 88-0 loss to Seaford when, recognizing the vast enrollment differences between the largest and smallest schools, the tournament was split into Division I and II in 1975. Woodbridge has annually been among the state’s smallest public high schools (its 2015-16 enrollment was 656).

In the 41 previous Division II state finals, Henlopen South teams have made 28 appearances and won 15, the last by Indian River in 2011.

Now it’s the Blue Raiders’ turn. For the tiny towns of Greenwood and Bridgeville – hence “Woodbridge” – and the surrounding rural area in northwestern Sussex and southwestern Kent counties, it’s been a long wait.

Woodbridge fan celebrate a third quarter touchdown during the Woodbridge-Caravel Division II state semifinal game at Woodbridge Friday.

Woodbridge fan celebrate a third quarter touchdown during the Woodbridge-Caravel Division II state semifinal game at Woodbridge Friday.

“It feels pretty great playing for our first state title,” said Shymere Vessels, a senior two-way lineman, “and everyone’s pretty much excited because we can become the first team in Woodbridge history to go 13-0 and win the state title.’’

Vessels said he and some of his teammates had a feeling they could be something special when they played together at Phillis Wheatley Middle School.

Though many elected to attend other public or vo-tech schools, Vessels and his friends “wanted to stay here and prove them wrong and say Woodbridge can be one of those dominant schools in the Henlopen Conference.”

The Blue Raiders, who first qualified for the state tournament in 1999, won the first state tournament game in their history in 2013 and made a return trip to the semifinals in 2015. Now they’ve reached their first final and covet a championship.

“We have more people behind us, cheering us on,” said senior defensive end Leah Styles. “It feels great that everyone is trusting in us.”

Saturday’s game is a rematch of Woodbridge’s 35-7 win over Friends, played Sept. 23 on their home field at their new high school, which opened two years ago. Considering Woodbridge lost to the Quakers each of the previous two seasons, its players know better than to take Friends lightly.

“We’re not trying to focus on what happened in the past because we know teams can come up with new things,” Styles said, “so we’re focused on working harder. It’s hard competition with Friends every year and we know they’re a good team. We’re trying to improve still.”

Woodbridge football coach Ed Manlove knows the Blue Raiders could have a special season. Woodbridge starts the year ranked No. 1 in Division II by The News Journal

Woodbridge football coach Ed Manlove knows the Blue Raiders could have a special season. Woodbridge starts the year ranked No. 1 in Division II by The News Journal

A 1987 Middletown High graduate, Manlove was a student at the University of Delaware when he volunteered to join the Cavaliers staff under their new coach, Bill DiNardo, in 1988. Joining him was former teammate Mark Delpercio, a year older and then a fellow UD student. DelPercio is now Middletown’s head coach.

“We coached jayvee together,” DelPercio. “I had the offense. He had the defense.”

Manlove stayed at Middletown on DiNardo’s staff until leaving to coach at Laurel in 2002. DelPercio became Glasgow coach before taking over at Middletown after DiNardo moved to Salesianum.

DelPercio remembers being curious why Manlove would leave Laurel for Woodbridge.

“Laurel was so rich in football tradition,” DelPercio said. “I said to him, ‘I don’t get it, man.’ There were some things outside of football that were frustrating to him, and when he got to Woodbridge he said ‘We’ve got good players. If I can keep them here . . . ’ What he’s done there is not surprising at all.”

Manlove says improving its academic profile has helped Woodbridge attract and keep students.

“I have some great coaches now and that makes a difference,” Manlove said. “We have a program that’s got a little bit of a legacy now. We’ve had a fantastic bunch of kids and they started it in place and now it’s just taking care of itself.

“We’ve had great turnout for our games, people just being supportive. It’s a nice feeling. It gives life to the town, gives people something to talk about. It’s been a great experience, especially this year. It took off last year but this year you can’t even describe it.’’

Contact Kevin Tresolini at ktresolini@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.

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Terrique Riddick runs for a big gain against Caravel in the second quarter during the Division II semifinals at Woodbridge Friday.

Terrique Riddick runs for a big gain against Caravel in the second quarter during the Division II semifinals at Woodbridge Friday.

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