After coming close, Dover chasing title again

Dover star running back Vonnie Peace, shown during last year’s game against rival Caesar Rodney, collected 1,971 rushing yards, 339 receiving yards and 36 total touchdowns in 2018. He’s scored 60 TD’s in his career. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — For nine months, they’ve carried the belief that they were no more than a play or two away from playing for a state crown.

Now Dover High’s football players finally get another chance to prove they’re worthy of a title.

With 13 returning starters from a squad that fell just 21-20 to eventual Division I state champion Sussex Central in last year’s state semifinals, the Senators think they can make another run this year.

They just have to block out all the noise that comes with big expectations.

“I have told them, ‘Listen, you’ve kind of got the bulls-eye on your back this year,’” coach Rudy Simonetti said. “We’re no longer going to sneak up on people. We understand that.

“As far as the pressure of showing teams what we can do,” he added, “if we just focus on our one opponent every week, we’ll let our talent do the talking.”

Focusing on their opponents shouldn’t be a problem early for Dover’s players. The Senators open the season against a pair of teams that are also expected to be in the hunt for a Division I state crown this season.

Dover fourth-year coach Rudy Simonetti makes a point to his players during the first day of preseason camp. For the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

Dover goes to Hodgson on Saturday for a 10:30 a.m. season-opening showdown before traveling to Brandywine to face Salesiaum — a state finalist in 2018 — on Sept. 14.

While the Senators will clearly know more about themselves very quickly, Simonetti also understands those first two games won’t define Dover’s season.

“It’s a long season,” he said. “You never know where football takes you with injuries and other things that can come up. … We’ve got to focus on our first opponent and that’s Hodgson.”

One of the biggest reasons for the Senators to feel optimistic is that they still have Vonnie Peace in the backfield.

The first-tean All-State running back has been a threat to score literally every time he touches the ball. A year ago, Peace collected 1,971 rushing yards, 339 receiving yards and 36 total touchdowns. He’s scored 60 TD’s in his career.

Indeed, Peace — a senior — is so explosive that he’s a headache for opposing defenses even when he doesn’t touch the ball.

“It’s business as usual with him,” said Simonetti. “I still expect him to turn five-yard losses into 60-yard touchdown runs. … I expect him to be a leader and put us in line to compete for a state title.

Senior receiver Gabe Evans was a first-team All-Henlpen North pick last fall. For the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“I’m a big believer in taking what the defense gives you,” he added. “There’s games where Vonnie is going to get most of it and there’s games where he might not. It all depends how we want to use him. I think the threat of him alone is enough to help give us an advantage.”

Simonetti, whose team averaged 41.6 points per game last year, said the Senators’ backfield talent doesn’t end with Peace, though.
Dover’s other running threats include Teyvion McCoy (Jr.), Akil Garrett (Sr.), Wanya Wise (Sr.) and big fullback Qualeak Bumbrey (Jr.).
The passing game is usually a big part of the Senators’ offense, too, and Dover does return a first-team All-Henlopen North receiver in senior Gabe Evans. The question mark, however, is at quarterback where Jordan Magee graduated and is now at Temple.

Either sophomore Jordan Moran or multi-position player Marquis Guy (Jr.) will start against Hodgson. But Simonetti doesn’t need either player to put the squad on his shoulders.

“I told both those guys, you’ve got a slew of running backs that I think we’re really going to display this year,” said Simonetti.

Up front, Dover graduated first-team All-State lineman Bradly Anyanwu, who’s now at Delaware. But they return another first-team All-State pick in senior center Tkai Perry.

Wanya Wise is one of several talented running backs returning for Dover this fall. For the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

Perry is part of a solid nucleus of returning seniors that also includes DB-Jalen Hill, DL-Eric Samuels, DL-Shamir Nelson, DL-Sam Arkuwoille, LB-Tysean Nelson, OL-Holden Vidrine, OL-Hayden Vidrine, LB/OL-Javonte Wayman LB/OL, DL-Javon Rush-Taylor and LB-Darrell Muchison. Samuels and Nelson were both second-team All-North picks a year ago.

Among newcomers who are expected to make an impact are WR-Tajae Cooper (Sr.), WR-Tyrese Sanabria (Jr.), DL-J.J. Kilby (Jr.) and Elijah Sessoms (So.).

Overall, Dover has more than 100 players in the program, including some who came out when school started and who might make an impact, too.

Simonetti said it seems like there’s a lot of the excitement around the program right now. A year after playing in the state tourney for first tine since 2013, Dover is trying to make the state tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2001.

“You hear it when players talk to media outlets,” he said. “You hear it around the school and the community that they’re excited.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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