Darius Wade. Chris Godwin. Jamar Baynard.
The star quarterback, receiver and running back are the first three names most fans think about when it comes to Middletown football.
But to keep those guys clean, somebody has to do the dirty work. That’s where Jacob Smulski and Nick DiGati shine.
The two seniors will anchor both the offensive and defensive fronts Saturday night when top-seeded Middletown (11-0) takes on second-seeded Salesianum (10-1) in the DIAA Division I Football State Tournament championship game at Delaware State University’s Alumni Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:30.
Smulski stars at guard and on the defensive line, while DiGati thrives at offensive tackle and linebacker. Cavaliers coach Mark DelPercio believes both are underrated on one side of the ball.
“Nick is an outstanding defensive football player, I think one of the best in the state,” DelPercio said. “But offensively, he’s just as good at the offensive tackle position.
“Jacob is outstanding offensively, and has been recognized as such. But what he does defensively, I think people don’t see that as much.”
In fact, Smulski favors defense.
“I just like to hit people,” he said. “I hit people on offense, too, but I’ve just always loved defense. That has always been my favorite position, wherever I played on defense.”
Although both are among Middletown’s leading tacklers, Smulski is the vocal leader of the defense.
“Nick is a quiet guy on the field, but he is the heart and soul of this team,” DelPercio said. “Whereas Jacob is really our defensive leader with our front seven. He’s moving people around, he’s communicating, he’s talking. He sees the field so well. He picks up formations, picks up tendencies.
“That complements Nick so well, because Nick doesn’t have to worry about all of that. He just goes out there and plays football.”
DiGati is the third member of his family to star at Middletown. Older brothers Anthony and P.J. were All-State centers for the Cavaliers. In fact, P.J. was once coached by Bill DiNardo, who left Middletown for Sallies after the 2003 season.
“Nick DiGati, I’ve known him since he was a little kid,” DiNardo said. “I coached his older brother at Middletown. … I’ve seen Nick grow up, and I’m so proud of him. I’m so happy to see how good of a football player he has become.
“He’s from a football family, he’s from a Middletown family, and he’s had a great career.”
DiNardo has just as much respect for Smulski and the tandem he forms with DiGati.
“Those two guys are the heart and soul of that team,” the Sallies coach said. “They are tremendous offensive linemen on the same side. They are the dynamic duo on that side. And they’re just as good defensively.”
Saturday night’s game will be a rematch, as Middletown thumped Sallies 35-0 in their annual meeting on Oct. 26. But the Cavaliers aren’t expecting an easy time.
“There’s no overconfidence,” DiGati said. “This is a good, old-school rivalry against Salesianum, and they’re going to be fired up. It’s going to be a good game.”
The two players met as freshmen and have been friends ever since. Both would love to finish their Middletown careers with a second straight state title.
“The relationship Nick and I have on and off the field helps us a lot,” Smulski said. “It just helps a lot to know the person who’s next to you.”