As Mike Schonewolf watched Duron Harmon’s big interception a few weeks ago, he had a flashback moment.
Harmon’s interception came for the New England Patriots against the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC playoff game.
The second-year NFL player ran over from his safety position to make a leaping catch on a pass intended for a Baltimore receiver running down the sidelines.
Schonewolf, the former Caesar Rodney High football coach, remembered a play that looked just like that in the Riders’ Division I state tournament win over Middletown in 2008.
Only in that game, Harmon was the receiver.
“In my mind, as I watched the game, it was the same corner of the end zone,” said Schonewolf. “It was a big catch at the time (in 2008). It was kind of cool just seeing him up with his arms out the same way.”
Harmon made that catch only seven years ago. And at time, that state tourney contest was the biggest of his football life.
But this evening, Harmon will play in the biggest football game of them all when he suits up for the New England Patriots as they face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
While there’s been a handful of other players with Delaware ties that have reached the Super Bowl, Harmon may be the first one who grew up in Kent County to make it there. Certainly he’s the first from tiny Magnolia.
That means there will be a lot of downstate people rooting for the Patriots’ No. 30 in today’s game. CR even posted a Facebook video and some photos with students posing behind a banner that read, “Riders are Patriots.”
“Here’s hoping you’ll one day come back to Magnolia with a Super Bowl ring to show everyone in the Caesar Rodney community,” read one message.
“Duron, we were so proud of you when you were here at Caesar Rodney High School,” Riders’ assistant coach John Newman said in a video message. “It seems like just yesterday. It was great to see you continue at Rutgers.
“Now that you’re with the Pats, you’re doing such a great job. We’re so proud of what you’re doing. Keep making us smile. Have a great day Sunday.”
A backup safety for the Patriots, the 24-year-old Harmon said he realizes that making the Super Bowl isn’t something that happens every day.
“It’s a blessing,” he told reporters last week. “Some people go their whole careers without even playing a playoff game. But me, in my second year, I’m fortunate enough to be a part of a franchise like this to play in the Super Bowl.”
Remember, a lot of experts were surprised when New England took Harmon with the 91st overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder started three games as a rookie, finishing with 31 tackles and a pair of interceptions as the Patriots reached the AFC Championship Game. Harmon doesn’t have any starts this season, with only 13 tackles and two interceptions.
But the Patriots seem to believe in Harmon’s work ethic and ability as much as ever. The fact that he was on the field for his game-saving interception against the Ravens is proof of that.
“He’s one of the hardest-working guys we have on our team,” Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “He’s really smart, dependable, works extremely hard 12 months a year doing everything he can in the weight room and the film room (and) on the practice field.
“(He’s) well respected, even though he’s a young guy, because of the way he professionally goes about his job and the effort that he gives to do it, whatever it is, whether it’s on defense or in the kicking game.”
Belichick’s sentiments don’t come as a surprise to coaches who have worked with in Harmon the past.
Current Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said Harmon was always a smart, hard-working player for the Scarlet Knights, too. Harmon was a three-time Big East all-academic selection in college who won the league’s scholar award as a senior.
“He’s certainly talented,” Flood told the Boston Herald. “Is he the most talented? I don’t know. But is he the most prepared? I bet you he is.
“There’s nothing more valuable than consistency,” Flood added. “If I was going to put a picture on the wall of who that was, Duron would be one of the first pictures going up.”
Seven years ago, Harmon’s talent and hard work helped Caesar Rodney win a Division I state championship.
Now they might help the Patriots win the biggest football championship of all.
“It was important to him to be good,” said Schonewolf. “He tried as hard as he could to be as good as he could in all areas of his life.
“The thing I think is neat about him is he always shows a smile. He relates well with people, he’s good with kids, he’s good with groups. He’s easy to get along with but still a fierce competitor.
“Any time you have someone from your community’s who’s done something special, … you get that feeling that, yeah, someone from here can do that,” added the veteran coach.
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