Normally, a high school football team that graduates a 2,134-yard rusher would be expected to take a step back.
But while Sussex Tech will certainly miss All-State tailback Kani Kane, Ravens coach Mark Quillin believes his team has the pieces in place to keep on rolling.
“We’ve got a great group of juniors from last year coming up. A lot of them played last year,” Quillin said. “We have 26 seniors, so this is really more of a senior group than last year’s group.”
That group was pretty strong, winning the Henlopen North title, going 11-2 and reaching the DIAA Division I semifinals before falling to Middletown.
This year’s Ravens hope to be just as good if not better, led by quarterback Justin Hill. The senior threw for 809 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and is 24-3 as a starter in his Sussex Tech career between freshman, JV and varsity action.
“He’s a great kid, great general, cool cucumber,” Quillin said. “He can run, he can pass, and he matured a lot last year.”
The cupboard is far from bare at running back, even without Kane. Pat Griffin moves from fullback to tailback after rushing for 835 yards last year. Timaun Williams is the new fullback, and speedy junior Isaiah Brown should also get his share of touches.
“When you’ve got an All-State running back, you give him the rock,” Quillin said. “This year, we’re a little more balanced. We have three that are really even. We’ll distribute the ball pretty evenly to all three backs, as well as throwing the ball.”
No team — or town — is more excited about this football season than Smyrna.
The Eagles jumped from 2-8 to 5-5 last season, and they have 19 starters returning. The expectations are even higher, but Mike Judy knows he is coaching a marked team this year.
“Nobody is going to sleep on us,” Judy said. “Nobody is going to take us for granted, and I’m OK with that. … I don’t think there’s a team on our schedule that doesn’t have us circled.”
You can circle them, but you’ve still got to catch them. Junior quarterback Nolan Henderson threw for 2,200 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. Receivers Donte Ritchie, Charlie Taylor and Brandon Bishop all caught at least 34 balls, and running back Will Knight rushed for 961 yards and eight TDs as a freshman.
All of them are back.
“I’m really pumped. I can’t wait,” Knight said. “I think we have more talent, higher expectations. I think we’ll do well this season.”
Dover went from D-I semifinalist two years ago to 3-7 last year, but coach Dante Jones believes the Senators can turn it around quickly.
By pumping up the volume.
“We’ve got a group that’s ready to lead,” Jones said. “They’re vocal leaders, and you’ve got to have that. Last year, we had a lot of leaders, but they were leading by example. We didn’t have that vocal piece. Now, we’ve got kids who can talk it and walk it. That’s going to make a difference.”
A veteran quarterback in senior Triston Harris and a potential breakaway running back in junior John Castro could make Dover’s spread offense as potent as ever.
Caesar Rodney has a new coach in Dan Candeloro, and a burning desire to improve on last year’s uncharacteristic, 2-8 showing.
The Riders also have a new offense that will keep elements of their traditional wing-T, but also branch out into other things.
“It’s not a total break, but it’s going to be different,” Candeloro said.
Quarterback Brian Lewis and runners Mike Clavier and Quinton Ivy return in the backfield, and CR will have its typical size on the line. But a tough non-conference schedule awaits (Middletown, Salesianum, Glen Mills (Pennsylvania) and St. Georges), in addition to the Henlopen North grind.
Cape Henlopen has a lot of questions after graduating most of the starters from an 8-2 team. One of them was answered Thursday when coach Bill Collick said junior Dillon Adams will open the season as the starting quarterback.
The Vikings still have plenty of other holes to fill, but running back-linebacker Mike Williams, 6-foot-5 tight end Brent Reed and two-way interior man Brandon Nixon should provide senior leadership.
Sussex Central has the potential to make a big jump back into conference contention. The Golden Knights will carry some momentum after winning their last four games to reach 5-5 last year.
Running back KiAnte Sturgis, a talented transfer from Indian River, could provide an immediate boost. But coach John Wells is still trying to decide on a starting quarterback, with Chase Wells and junior Brady Bowen in the running.
Polytech has a new coach in Stanley Burris, who will work on improving the Panthers’ Henlopen North standing. Polytech went 4-6 and 5-5 the last two years, but earned only one conference win each season.
Contact Brad Myers firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ
NEWS JOURNAL HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW
SUNDAY: Blue Hen Flight A, schedules for all 43 teams statewide
MONDAY: Blue Hen Flight B
TUESDAY: Non-conference teams, Independent Conference
WEDNESDAY: Division I and Division II preseason Top 10s
THURSDAY: Week 1 football predictions