It’s rare for Delaware’s fraternity of high school football coaches to receive a new member from out of state.
There are a few job openings each year, but they are typically filled by a head coach from another Delaware school or an in-state assistant coach getting a chance to move up.
So it created some interest when Rudy Simonetti came from northern New Jersey to take over the Dover Senators in March. After nine years as an assistant, the 32-year-old’s first head coaching job is in Kent County.
“It’s just as I expected,” Simonetti said after a preseason scrimmage against Archmere. “It’s tough football down here. It’s no different than New Jersey. There’s some really good football being played down here.”
Simonetti replaced Dante Jones, whose contract was not renewed after coaching Dover to a 16-16 record the last three years. The Senators went 9-3 and lost to Salesianum in overtime in the DIAA Division I semifinals in 2013. Dover slipped to 7-13 the last two years, including 4-6 last season.
But the Senators have about 55 players out this year, eager to work for their new coach.
“Change is not easy for either side, and I think they’ve done a very good job of adjusting to me,” Simonetti said. “There’s still more to learn, and it’s going to be a process.”
The Senators will employ a multiple offense and an eight-man front on defense. Senior RB-WR John Castro is one of the state’s fastest players, and RB Jerry Warren and H-back Gavin Watson also return. But a young offensive line stocked with juniors will have to gel quickly to return Dover to prominence.
The Henlopen North team to beat is SMYRNA, and everybody knows it. The Eagles return much of a 12-1 team that won the DIAA Division I state championship. Smyrna won its six conference games by an average of 53-11 last year.
“We’re not going to fly under anybody’s radar, that’s for sure,” Eagles coach Mike Judy said. “About midseason last year, we started opening some eyes. The scoreboard, what we were doing to some teams, people started taking us seriously.”
Smyrna returns three first-team All-Staters – senior QB Nolan Henderson (3,297 passing yards, 36 TDs), junior RB Will Knight (2,015 rushing yards, 38 total TDs, 51 2-point conversions) and senior OT Jerren Carter. And the Eagles have added Eastern Christian Academy transfer Leddie Brown, a speedy junior RB-WR who has already received major-college recruiting interest.
“He’s very, very talented,” Judy said of Brown. “We know what to do with him. He’s definitely a difference maker.”
If Smyrna has a conference challenger this season, it may be SUSSEX CENTRAL. The Golden Knights have floated around .500 the last three years, but their junior varsity team went 7-0 and their freshman team went 8-0 last season. As those players advance, brighter days may be ahead.
SUSSEX TECH won the conference two years ago and went 8-3 last season, reaching the playoffs both times. But only three starters – FB-LB Jordan Marvel, RB-DB Isaiah Brown and two-way lineman Hunter Hardesty – return, leaving coach Mark Quillin plenty of holes to fill.
CAPE HENLOPEN has experience at the skill positions, including QB Dillon Adams and RBs Jerry Harden and Rasheed Woods. The Vikings could threaten if their lines come together.
CAESAR RODNEY suffered through some growing pains in coach Dan Candeloro’s first go-round last year, but QB Jared Wagenhoffer could boost the Riders’ attack.
POLYTECH, coming off an 0-10 season, should benefit from the return of coach Kevin Smith after a year away. The Panthers were 4-6 under Smith two years ago, and return at least 11 players who saw significant action last season.
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ