Bill DiNardo has led teams through 314 games as a Delaware high school football coach.
So when he says Matt Sgro is “one of my favorite football players ever,” that’s a pretty big statement.
Sgro’s dramatic improvement has made Salesianum a different team this season, and the senior quarterback will be in the spotlight at 6 p.m. Saturday when the Sals take on Middletown in the DIAA Division I championship game at Delaware Stadium in Newark.
“He’s fearless. He’s absolutely fearless,” DiNardo said. “He has confidence in himself. He has worked on getting better. He knew the things he had to do to be better, primarily throwing the ball, and he has worked relentlessly at it. He has made himself a very good quarterback.”
Sgro started for Sallies through a 10-2 season last year, but DiNardo was hesitant to throw the ball. Middletown took advantage, stacking defenders at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. The Cavaliers shut out the Sals 35-0 during the regular season, then blanked them again 27-0 in the state championship game.
Sgro desperately wanted to increase DiNardo’s trust in him. He worked out, attended camps, played seven-on-seven football over the summer and threw to his receivers almost every day.
“Throughout the summer we worked on things – passing, my footwork, my motion,” Sgro said. “Everything to just try to be a better overall player and quarterback.”
He got stronger. He got faster. And in the first quarter of this year’s season opener against Caesar Rodney, Sgro hit Brian O’Neill in stride for a 42-yard touchdown.
Suddenly, the Sals had the ability to air it out.
“Coach has really given me a lot of opportunities to show my skill set this year,” Sgro said. “He’s really put a lot of faith in me to lead the team.”
When the Sals met Middletown on Nov. 8, the final week of the regular season, Sgro threw a 63-yard pass to Chad Harbaugh on their first series. The drive stalled at the Cavaliers 12, but the tone had been set. Middletown had to respect the pass, and 6-foot-3, 230-pound running back Troy Reeder ran for 220 yards and two touchdowns as Sallies snapped the Cavaliers’ 23-game winning streak with a 24-13 victory.
“It makes things different, because we can throw the ball and we will throw the ball,” DiNardo said. “In the past couple of years, we did not throw the ball very much and we weren’t very successful doing it.
“This year, the combination of having Matt – who has become a really good throwing quarterback – and having some really good receivers in Tyler Marroni and Brian O’Neill, that has made us much more of a threat on offense.”
Sgro also is contributing more as a runner this season, often faking to Reeder and slipping around the end.
“I like to take some of the carries off of Troy and get some yards on my own,” Sgro said. “Defenses really have to key on Troy, because he’s a big back. When they’re looking at him, I can sneak around the corner and get out there.”
The Cavaliers have certainly seen how Sgro has upped his game.
“Where people fall asleep on him is, not only does he throw a nice ball, but he’s also very good at running the football,” Middletown coach Mark DelPercio said. “You take a look at the other night against Dover [in the semifinals], a couple of those plays they made converting on third down was Matt Sgro running the ball.
“Between their running game and their passing game, you’ve got to pick your poison,” DelPercio added. “It’s impossible to defend. You need 12 guys.”
Sgro’s improvement has often made defenses feel like they are playing against 12 guys. It’s easy to see why he has become one of DiNardo’s all-time favorites.