Bulldogs ahead of schedule

Sophomore Kaden Shockley, who has scored a pair of TDs this year, is one of a number of underclassmen playing for Laurel. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

LAUREL — When he was hired as Laurel High’s football coach last year, Joey Jones had a timetable in his head.

Given the number of young players in the program, he figured the Bulldogs might really put things together in the fall of 2021.

But Jones may have been a little off in his estimate.

In just its second season under Jones and his staff, Laurel takes a 3-0 record into today’s 7 p.m. non-conference contest at Caravel (1-2).

Jones admits he wasn’t sure how much the Bulldogs would improve on last year’s 4-6 campaign after the cornonavirus pandemic severely limited off-season workouts.

Joey Jones

“I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen,” he said. “I didn’t know if we were going to really miss some things. And I was getting really worried knowing that 2021 was where I’d set my sights for.

“I was thinking, ‘We can’t lose this season because we can’t miss that year of developing our kids.’ It seems like we hit our stride sooner than I thought.”

Laurel’s season-opening 27-16 win over Lake Forest — a team it lost to, 41-0, last season — quickly showed that the Bulldogs had improved this fall. Their 3-0 start is the program’s first in 15 seasons.

But, even though tonight is the midway point of the condensed seven-game regular season, Jones is the first to agree that Laurel really hasn’t accomplished anything yet.

The Bulldogs finish their schedule by hosting Woodbridge and Delmar in probably their two biggest Henlopen Southern Division games of the fall.

On the other hand, with COVID-19 issues forcing the cancellation of some South games, Laurel is the only one of the three top contenders that’s still slated to play all six of its division games.

So at least the Bulldogs know they still control their own destiny.

After four straight 4-6 seasons, Laurel hasn’t reached the DIAA Division II state tournament since 2014, when it went to the state finals. That was also the program’s last winning season.

“My high school coach said after every win, ‘Be happy with what you’ve done but never be satisfied,’” said Jones. “This thing is about to get a lot more difficult.

“It’s a good thing,” he said about his team’s success so far. “They’re having fun with it. But at the end of the day, with Woodbridge and Delmar at the end, we’ve still got to play. You can put us where you want now but it’s all going to shake itself out. We’ll know on December 4th exactly where we actually belong.”

This year’s roster includes only 10 seniors with the remaining 33 varsity players underclassmen.

Junior Javier White has scored a team-high four touchdowns this season while throwing for another one. Senior Trevor Collins along with sophomores Kaden Shockley and Kylse Wilson have all scored twice.

“I can’t take any credit away from these kids,” said Jones. “They’ve totally met our expectations daily.”

Defensively, Laurel has allowed only 18 points after posting back-to-back shutouts.

Jones likes the attitude his players have under defensive coordinator Brian Hearn.

“It’s funny,” said Jones. “We always joke because our announcer at home says often during games, ‘Tackled by a pack of dogs.’ We laugh.

“But I tell them, ‘When you guys are playing your true defense, it literally looks like bunch of wild dogs. There’s about seven or eight guys flying to the ball.’ … They’ve had a lot of fun. There’s a lot of young kids, a lot of motivated kids.”

If the Bulldogs are ready to compete for the Henlopen South title this fall, Jones will gladly take it, of course. He knows they still have their work cut out for them.

But Jones also has a good feeling that Laurel is headed in the right direction. It might just be a question of when they arrive.

“We’re still young,” said Jones. “We’ve got some seniors that are making a really big impact and obviously that’s been a huge help.

“But we do still have a lot of young kids who are not only talented but who have really clicked and started to figure this thing out. It’s really exciting. I knew it was there.”

Extra points

Tonight’s Smyrna-Salesianum game will be the first played at the Sals’ new Abessinio Stadium, the facility built on the old Baynard Stadium site in Wilmington. … The Eagles are 5-2 against Sallies in the last five seasons. … Smyrna owns an 11-game regular-season winning streak. … 302sports.com is carrying the Sussex Central-Dover game tonight and the Sussex Tech-Cape Henlopen matchup on Saturday morning. … Next week’s Smyrna game at Milford has been moved to Thursday night. … Caesar Rodney’s game at Cape on Nov. 27 will now start at 1 p.m. … Before COVID-19 pushed the season back, this would have been the last weekend of the regular season.