Dante Jones and Kevin Smith have both changed their addresses in hopes of reinvigorating a couple of football programs that reside in the perennially difficult Henlopen Conference Northern Division.
Jones, 37, accepted the coaching job at Dover High while Smith, 36, took over the reins of a Polytech team that has struggled in recent seasons.
Jones has lived in Baltimore most of his life, while Smith is a native of Virginia. But both have winning track records that could help their teams compete against rivals such as Caesar Rodney, Sussex Central, Cape Henlopen, Smyrna and Sussex Tech.
Jones got a taste of that in Dover when he played defensive back for Delaware State University’s football team from 1995-2000.
“It’s a change of environment, a better place to raise your family, and great football,” Jones said of Dover. “They really take athletics very serious and they put more into their sports.”
Jones had been the head coach of Baltimore’s Edmonson-Westside High team since 2004. His teams went 53-27 and advanced to the Maryland Class 2A state championship in 2006. He also served as the school’s athletic director.
Jones strongly believes he can establish a new winning tradition at Dover, a school that seems to always produce outstanding individual athletes but struggles to win consistently as a team. Last year’s highly touted Senators went 4-5.
“It’s been a good transition,” said Jones. “It started last month so we’ve had plenty of time to get things together and everything’s coming together very well. We worked out all summer so nothing surprises me and the hard work is starting to pay off.”
Smith said he knows very little about Polytech’s football past, which includes a 1-9 record last year and a combined 10-40 mark over the past five seasons.
“I think it’s great with me coming in not knowing [about the team] and just installing my philosophies both offensively and defensively, and people philosophies, and just trying to be competitive and get some wins,” Smith said.
“It’s been a very good transition,” he added. “I was fortunate enough to be able to hire a terrific staff with a lot of football knowledge and coaching knowledge.”
Smith spent the last four seasons as the head coach at Woodbridge (Va.) High. The Vikings went 29-19 and reached the regional playoffs in three of those seasons.
He doesn’t see any reason why he can’t experience the same success at Polytech.
“I’m very happy with the work ethic so far,” said Smith, a former four-year starter at quarterback at Towson (1995-98). “Just work hard and make sure that we’re ready both as a staff and players, make sure that the kids are put into the best position to succeed, both by position and by scheme, and if we work hard and have good discipline, the wins will come along with it.”
One thing is for certain, the players at both Dover and Polytech all seem to be looking forward to getting fresh starts under their new coaches.
Dover senior Nick Spadafino, who will start at quarterback, says the response from the players has been nothing but positive.
“The mindset is the sky’s the limit as long as we do our part in playing and playing hard and executing,” Spadafino said. “[Coach Jones has] been pretty smooth going and just getting everybody working hard and getting into the mindset that we can do anything, we’ve just got to put our mind to it.”
Meanwhile, there are 70 players at preseason camp at Polytech learning the ins and outs of Smith and his staff.
“He’s great. He’s exactly what we needed,” senior Kevin Forsyth said of Smith. “He’s been positive and upbeat. He’s come in and gotten in everything he thinks he needs to get done.
“He’s out here doing what he thinks is right and he’s got us working well. We’re all responding positively and we’re all getting out here and doing hard work.”
That’s one thing that Jones and Smith have in common – both are big on stressing the positives.
“Pretty much the dedication we put in this offseason shows that we’re a different team with a different mindset,” Jones said. “We’re really putting it all together. Hard work, dedication and discipline – that’s what it takes.”
Smith has an added challenge this season because Polytech moved from the Henlopen South (smaller schools) to the northern division (larger schools) in the offseason. That doesn’t appear to faze the new coach.
“It’s going to be quite a challenge from what I hear but we line up 11 on 11 and we’ll still coach them the same way – it doesn’t matter who we play,” Smith said.