Former champion Smyrna aims to regain its winning ways

Aidan Sanchez is competing for the Smyrna quarterback job. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

SMYRNA — For the first time since the 2015 season, Smyrna High is not entering the football season as the defending state champion.

After three consecutive Division I titles in 2015, 2016, 2017, the Eagles had a down year in 2018.

Smyrna went just 3-6 last season. The Eagles are anxious to right the ship and will take the first step of doing so when they begin the season at Middletown High (7:30 p.m.) on Friday, Sept. 6.

“The lesson to be learned (from last season) is don’t worry about the variables you can’t control,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “It goes back to our original philosophy which is just worry about us. Continue to worry about getting better at what we do. This group in particular has done a fantastic job of that.”

Smyrna graduated several All-State players, including Saleem Wormley, now an offensive lineman at Penn State. But the Eagles still have a solid group of seniors returning.

That group is led by linebacker Debo Williams who has received more than 10 scholarship offers from Division I programs.

The defense also returns the entire starting secondary — all seniors. Ryan Macfarlane, Ray Nyameke, Gavine Sembly and Tom Smith will make up the four defensive back positions.

Smyrna’s defensive line is paced by Braden Young. Masen Wilson also returns at linebacker.

The offense has less senior starters, but close to the same amount of veterans.

Wide receiver Makhi Jackson is the lone senior starter at the skill positions. Junior Aidan Sanchez and sophomore Nick Richardson each saw time at quarterback a year ago and have both battled for the starting job throughout preseason camp.

Sophomore Wayne Knight earned the starting running back job late last year as a freshman and is back for his sophomore season. He can be spelled by senior Marcus Cajuste and freshman Yamir Knight.

Smyrna head coach Mike Judy. Delaware State News file photo

Devin Smith, one of the fastest players in the state, is also back for his junior year at wide receiver.

“If you can get the ball in his hands he’s a problem,” Judy said. “He’s quick, shifty and flat-out fast.”

The offensive line is highlighted by senior center Andrew DeBenedictis-Bayne.

Judy said he’s been most impressed by the senior leadership on display during practices leading up to the start of the season.

“There hasn’t been an energy letdown,” Judy said. “If there was even a hint of an energy letdown, the leadership of this team took over without the coaching staff having to address it. I’m really happy with that and how the seniors are leading this team.”

And with the growth of the football program over the last five years, Smyrna has plenty of young talent to choose from as newcomers to the squad.

“I’m excited about the growth of all the young kids and the new kids that have been injected into this team,” Judy said. “I can’t wait to see them continue to stack great practices on top of each other and see how far we can grow.”

“If all those veteran pieces with the surrounding pieces that are coming into their own stay healthy, a lot can happen,” Judy added. “A lot of good things.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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