Middletown receiver Chris Godwin is a 6-foot-4, 202-pound blend of speed and muscle, ready to continue his career at Penn State after leaving his mark as one of the best high school football players in Delaware history.
So it must be a relief to opposing defensive backs when they see Godwin going to the other side, and 5-foot-10, 150-pound Dennis Berger coming to their side.
“They’re probably just licking their chops, honestly,” Berger said. “They’re probably thinking, ‘I’ve got this little guy right here. Probably got a hundred pounds on him.’ They try to take advantage of me with their size.”
Then the ball is snapped, and Berger leaves a vapor trail. Catch him if you can.
“I usually try to run around them,” Berger said. “I’m not the one you’ll see trying to run everyone over, because odds are I’ll probably get put on my back.”
Berger hasn’t been on his back often this season. The senior has 33 catches for 676 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he could be the X factor on Saturday when Middletown meets Salesianum in the DIAA Division I championship game at 6 p.m. at Delaware Stadium.
The Sals broke the Cavaliers’ 23-game winning streak with a 24-13 victory on Nov. 8. Berger was out of the lineup due to a broken rib, but he came back in a big way with four catches for 109 yards in Middletown’s 43-22 semifinal win over Caesar Rodney last Friday. He also added four tackles, three assists and broke up a pass on defense.
“On any other team, he would be their No. 1 receiver,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said of Berger. “He’s quick, he’s tough, he’s a gamer.
“I like him defensively, too,” DiNardo added. “I watched him make a great play against a CR receiver last week. He’s a kid that will be in your face and a kid that will be making the big plays. Nothing surprises me about him.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Godwin on the other side. The big senior has hauled in 47 passes for 1,144 yards and 17 TDs this season. Berger benefits from the attention opponents heap on his teammate, and hones his defensive skills by attempting to slow down Godwin in practice.
“He usually draws the double, triple coverage in the games,” Berger said. “He helps me out in practice, too. He teaches me techniques that he’s learned from the college level.”
Middletown practices have been a football laboratory for Berger. He also benefits from the knowledge and pinpoint passing of quarterback Darius Wade, a Boston College signee who has helped Berger emulate his favorite NFL player.
“A lot of people compare me to Wes Welker,” Berger said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he always gives 110 percent out there. He’s one of the quicker guys on the field. When he gets the ball in his hands, he just makes plays.”
Berger hasn’t gained much size since his freshman season, but it hasn’t mattered. He stands out on the practice field.
“I learned a long time ago, once you put the pads on, that’s what makes the difference,” Middletown coach Mark DelPercio said. “Once we put the pads on, it was obvious that Dennis Berger could play football.”
On Saturday, Berger will face the biggest defensive challenge of his high school career. Salesianum has the tallest receiving tandem in the state with 6-foot-7 Brian O’Neill, who has committed to Pittsburgh, and 6-4 Tyler Marroni.
“We’ll put him on stilts,” DelPercio said with a laugh.
The Sals won’t be fooled by his size.
“He plays like he’s 6-foot-5, 250,” DiNardo said of Berger. “He’s a tough, athletic kid.”
Berger hopes to earn a football or academic scholarship, or walk on at the University of Delaware or a smaller school to continue his football career. But first, he has one more high school game. Middletown is trying to become the first team to win three straight state championships since Delmar did it in Division II from 2000-02.
“That would be a dream,” Berger said. “It’s been a dream already, just with what we’ve achieved already. But you can’t go wrong with another one, with all the hard work we’ve put in as a team.”