For a small state, Delaware sure plays a lot of football.
I was reminded of that by touring The First State on Thursday, the first day of high school football practice. My Chevy Equinox logged 271 miles as I stopped at 11 practices. And that’s only a fourth of Delaware’s prep football teams.
Dozens of caring coaches were guiding hundreds of eager players across the state. It’s only 21 days until the first games are played on Sept. 5, so there is no time to waste.
7:12 a.m. – Off we go, as I pull out of the driveway in Bear.
8:02 – The Dover Senators are taking advantage of some unseasonably cool weather to get in an early-morning workout under new coach Dante Jones.
“This is home,” Jones said. “When you’re out here on the football field as a player or a coach, this is home. That’s the best part of the first day – you’re home again.”
The Senators struggled to a 4-5 record last season but will look to improve behind QB Nick Spadafino and returning linemen Tyler Rosello, Nick Glover, Michael Hurd, Brandon Wilson and Omar Price.
8:45 – A closed bridge delays my arrival at Caesar Rodney, so the Riders are already up and running. With nine three-year starters anchoring a team that reached the Division I semifinals last year, CR is a definite state title contender.
“We’re excited,” Riders coach Mike Schonewolf said. “We had a lot of guys who have played for a couple of years. A lot of them started as sophomores and we struggled with them, but they’ve grown up and they had a nice year last year.”
CR is loaded, with QB Alex Kemp, receivers Kendall Wicks and Arthur Miles, TE Seth Brosius, RB-LB Dean Johnson and linemen Kyle Bailey, Marcus Lawrence, Josh Herrmann, Zack Parker and Brendyn Moore among the experienced returnees.
9:17 – A box truck with New Jersey plates almost rear ends me in Magnolia. Dude, that 25-mph sign is your cue to SLOW DOWN.
9:55 – The Cape Henlopen Vikings are straining through timed 40-yard dashes, one of several ways Bill Collick is judging their conditioning. If the players take care of the physical part, they can count on their veteran coach to handle the mental part.
“This old thing called football has been the foundation for many a successful person,” Collick said. “I tell the parents all the time that they have an opportunity to get your kid involved in something that will last him a lifetime. These are men builders. These are characters builders.”
The Vikings went 8-3 and reached the Division I playoffs last year. And after listening to Collick’s motivational words, I’d like to suit up.
11:22 – I head back to New Castle County, but a crash on U.S. 13 jams traffic, foiling my plan to visit Delcastle. My apologies to the Cougars.
11:47 – Arby’s. Lunch of Champions.
12:51 p.m. – Never knew there was a Blue Rock Road, but after a stop at The News Journal office I pass it on the way to Mount Pleasant.
12:58 – A tired bunch of Green Knights struggles through wind sprints, with Mount Pleasant coach Randy Holmes imploring them to stand up straight and stay behind the line at the start of each burst.
“We’re trying to raise the football IQ of everybody across the board, from the freshmen on up to the seniors,” Holmes said. “Just making them smarter football players will get us through this season and win us a few games.”
The Green Knights, 5-5 last year, will depend on TE-LB Ramier Freeman, lineman Mason Mitchell and RB Dannon Williams, who started as a freshman last season. Marcus Lopez will play linebacker and also has the inside track on the QB spot.
2:02 – Zeb Blum welcomes 55 players to the first workout at A.I. du Pont, and he likes what he sees.
“The energy, the intensity and the attitude of the kids … we’ve had one of the best [first practices] we’ve ever had,” Blum said. “Just the excitement of being back out here is one of the things we thrive on as players and coaches.”
The Tigers went 7-3 last year, just missing out on a spot in the Division I playoffs. They have speed with WRs Quadree Henderson and Aaron Limberry, and muscle with LB-FB Jesse Hall and linemen James Garfield and Wesley Jones.
2:32 – Coach Bob Tattersall begins his 46th season at Wilmington Friends by breaking the Quakers into four position groups and stressing fundamentals. He is delighted to see 42 players turn out, the most in at least 25 years.
“The players still respond,” Tattersall said. “If you felt they didn’t respond to what you’re asking them or trying to do, then it might be time to give it up. But they still respond.”
QB Jack Kempner and tackles Bill Gordon and Gil Connolly – all seniors – will lead the Quakers.
3:27 – Gatorade stop at a Shell station on Kirkwood Highway. If the players get water breaks, I’m taking one, too.
3:35 – The game plan will remain a mystery at Dickinson. I go all the way around the school perimeter, but don’t spot any football players. Sorry I missed the Rams, who may have been working out inside.
3:54 – St. Mark’s has won eight of the last 11 state titles in baseball. The Spartans’ football team is hoping some of that rubs off as they work out on school’s baseball field.
St. Mark’s saw 24 players graduate last season and has only nine seniors this year.
“But the nine that are coming back make up the whole starting backfield from last year,” coach John Wilson says. “Our whole line is brand new, but I always feel it’s a lot easier to teach young linemen than it is to teach a young quarterback.”
QB Zach Whitehead returns for the Spartans, who went 9-3 last season, along with FB Markquise Normand and RBs Rhett Schweizer, Taaron Brown and Michael Catalano.
4:57 – Bad news for the rest of the state: QB Darius Wade and WR Chris Godwin are healthy and working hard at two-time defending Division I state champion Middletown. Rival fans who hoped they would transfer to Tibet will be disappointed.
“It’s Christmas Day,” coach Mark DelPercio says of the first day of practice. “… When I saw them in the morning, I said Merry Christmas. It’s exciting that you’re bringing everybody together and beginning the process of the season.”
Even a cool day seems pretty hot when the Cavaliers finish practice with 20 20-yard sprints, which is 19 more than I would have done. Then they ran two more, because the last two weren’t up to their standards.
6:09 – Another stop by the office to download some video clips and make the bosses think I’m working.
6:58 – Footballs are flying all over the place at William Penn, as the Colonials work on special teams. Not sure who the punter will be, but I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of guys who won’t be the punter. It’s one of the many things teams work out on the first day.
“We talked about dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, making sure we cover all the little things,” new coach Marvin Dooley said. “We want to be a team that executes well. You don’t have to be the biggest and fastest all the time if you execute well.”
The Colonials are installing a Pistol offense, with about 90 percent of their attack coming out of the shotgun formation. Dooley is depending on WR Deshawn Smith, LB Daniel Crawford, safety Cole Slay and RB Reggie Carroll.
7:47 – The final stop comes at Caravel, where the defending Division II champions are grinding it out under the lights at Bob Peoples Stadium.
“We’re very proud of [the state title], but we’ve turned the chapter,” coach John Reed said. “We’re shaking the cobwebs today and moving on. … We have a big task in front of us.”
Caravel opens with Hodgson – a rematch of last year’s D-II title game – and also meets championship contenders Archmere and St. Georges. But the Buccaneers went 13-0 last season, and QB Derrick Groomes, RBs Darnell Savage and Aaron Hudson and LBs Matt Boylan and Dennis Robinson will be determined to repeat.
8:22 – After 13 hours, I pull back into the driveway at home and end the tour. Thank goodness an Eagles preseason game is on television, because I really need to watch some more football.