After rough ending, Panthers ready for a fresh start

WOODSIDE — So many times, said Brian Scott-Hill, Polytech High’s football players really did try to fight through their problems last fall.

But nothing ever seemed to work for the Panthers.

“It was very down,” said Scott-Hill, a senior linebacker/fullback. “Instead of trying to win games it was more trying to build ourselves up because we had a lot of injuries. It was just taking a toll

“Every time we tried to do something about it, it just wouldn’t click.”
Finally, the unthinkable happened. With around only 16 healthy players remaining, Polytech had to cancel its final two games of the season.

The players were shocked at the news.

“I had never experienced anything like that before,” said senior receiver Cameron Mack. “There were a lot of injuries. I didn’t know it was going to end like that. Hopefully we won’t ever have to experience that again.”

Delaware State News/Marc Clery. Polytech’s Cameron Mack said this year’s players have a positive attitude.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, they almost did have to endure it again — thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Originally, the fall season was postponed and moved to the spring.

So Polytech’s players were probably as happy as anybody when state officials reversed course and allowed fall sports to be played this fall.

On Monday, Polytech was excited to be back on the practice field with over 40 players, a more-reasonable schedule and a new head coach in former Panther coach Bob Gilmore.

“We started out with just a few players going to the gym,” said senior Darnell Jackson, who missed the second half of last season with an injury. “We’ve been steadily getting people in, trying to get this program back on track.”

Scott-Hill just remembers how difficult it was for last year’s seniors not being able to play their final two games.

With 17 juniors on last year’s roster, he said this year’s seniors are determined to have a better experience.

“It was devastating,” the Dover native said about the season being cut short. “But my first instinct was, ‘I feel bad for the seniors.’ It was right before Senior Night. I was like, ‘They’re not going to get a chance to enjoy Senior Night or their last year.’

“I worried,” Scott-Hill said about the future of the program. “I tried to keep calm but. … I was like, ‘I don’t know how it’s going to go on, what’s going to happen?’ They were already talking about moving us to a different division.”

After first announcing it was going to leave the Henlopen Conference in all sports, Polytech and league officials came up with a compromise. The Panthers are going to play as an independent in football only for two seasons starting in the fall of 2021.

While Polytech is still in the Henlopen Northern Division this year, it will play three North teams (Sussex Tech, Caesar Rodney and Dover) and three South teams (Indian River, Laurel and Seaford). The Panthers open their seven-game slate on Oct. 24 at Tower Hill.

Gilmore, who has worked at Polytech since the school opened as a full-time high school in 1991, said he tries to keep his players focused on the future, not the past.

“We honestly have not talked about last year,” said Gilmore, who is also the Panthers’ boys’ lacrosse coach. “The kids bring it up a little bit.

“I stole a cliche from someone. … I’m one of those guys that looks at a car and goes, ‘Well, the front windshield is bigger than the back windshield. And there’s a reason for that.’ We’re looking forward. We know what we’ve got to do to get better and that’s what we’re focused on.”

The Panthers have won only two of their last 18 games after going 6-4 in 2017 when this year’s seniors were freshmen. As much as anything, this year’s players just want to prove they can be a competitive program again.

After last year’s rough season, they know they have an opportunity to change people’s opinions about them.

“Instead of going into the season looking at who we can beat, we’re just trying to go day by day,” said Jackson. “Each day we’re trying to get better.”

“I would say now it’s about proving ourselves because of everything that’s been going on,” said Scott-Hill. “We’re like, we have so much to offer, we have so much to prove. You can’t cancel us.

“It’s not about winning. It’s just that we can become a football team. I think the pandemic actually helped us a little bit. I think it gave us time to regroup and communicate more.”

“On the first day of practice, I was glad to see there were a lot of people there,” said Mack. “We have a lot of hope. I haven’t heard any negative talk at all from this group. And they’re hard workers, I like that.
“We just want to prove people wrong. We just want to win.”

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@newszap.com.