CR excited for return to football playoffs

CAMDEN — Thinking back to preseason workouts, the Caesar Rodney High football team remembers a different kind of atmosphere.

Despite a combined five victories in the last three seasons, there was this sense of optimism. Some even envisioned the Riders rebounding from a one-win 2016 to make the playoffs this season.

“I kind of had a feeling,” said junior defensive end William Burke. “Just at our workouts, looking around, everyone was dedicated and trying to get better for the season. It was the time when people said enough is enough. We wanted to get CR back to how it used to be.”

They were right.

Here the Riders are in the six-team field for the Division I state football tournament. Instead of being 1-9 like they were last year, the Riders bring a record of 7-3 into the playoffs.

Caesar Rodney, the sixth seed, get its tournament underway Saturday at No. 3 seed Hodgson Vo-Tech Academy (8-2) with a 1 p.m. kickoff.

“It’s a dream come true,” said tight end Bailey DeAtley. “We’ve come a long way. Everyone did their jobs, put the work in and we’re in the playoffs.”

Bailey DeAtley. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

It’s the first time Caesar Rodney has been in the tournament since the Riders make back-to-back semifinal appearances in 2012 and 2013.

This group of players were in grade school then. They remember what it felt like going to those games as kids.

“You just loved going to the playoff games because you knew the teams were really good,” said junior fullback Kevin Robinson. “To be the group that gets CR back to where they were, it’s just a good feeling.”

“I would always hear about how CR was one of the best teams,” Burke said. “I’m glad we’re getting back to that. That’s why I wanted to go to CR.”

Third-year head coach Dan Candeloro credited a large part of the turnaround to the leadership of his senior class.

“We have 25 seniors and we’re going to miss them all,” Candeloro said. “Some have more of an active role than others but all 25 have bought into that leadership role. That’s what we wanted to build on, this senior group taking some ownership.”

And while the losses piling up stung, the Candeloro said there were plenty of lessons for the players to learn over the last couple of years. A commitment to fixing those mistakes and a dedicated offseason strength program in the weight room helped the Riders get back on track.

“You look back and we were in some of those game at halftime or in the third quarter then our youth would rear its ugly head,” Candeloro said. “So going into the offseason we felt we were right there. What we needed was to get stronger. This group committed to the weight room. We would have 50 or 60 kids there a day. Now you’re seeing some good things out of it.”

And of course the current crop of Riders took a great sense of pride in being the group to push Caesar Rodney back into the playoffs.

“It means a lot coming from 1-9 so it feels pretty good,” said senior running back James Holmes. “We’re more of a team now. Everybody is doing their job. We’re making sure we have the leadership to become a team and a family.”

“It starts in the offseason,” DeAtley said. “We had the mentality of we’re going to win this year. We were all in the weight room. We didn’t stop pushing. We knew something good was going to come out of those losing seasons. We still kept our heads up and figured out what we needed to do.”

“It was a commitment level thing,” Robinson said. “Everybody was locked in this year. We all wanted to improve our record.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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