From the sports editor: Adjusting to Drass’ loss will take time for Wolverines

Mike Drass, shown coaching the Wesley College football team during a game last November. (Wesley College photo)

Mike Drass ran his football program from that desk.

If he wasn’t putting together that week’s defensive game plan from his office desk, he was calling out to a Wesley College player as they came through the door of the house.

Or Drass was watching game film of an opponent on his cluttered computer screen, talking on the phone with somebody on campus or calling out to assistant coach Steve Azzanesi in the next room, reminding him about some detail for an upcoming road trip.

So yeah, even now, two months after Drass’ passing — even though technically it’s his desk now — Chip Knapp still calls it ‘Coach Drass’ desk.’

“I was talking to Tracey (Short) the other day,” said Knapp, referring to Wesley’s interim athletic director. “I said, ‘over by Coach Drass’ desk.’”

Absorbing the changes that accompany a person’s death doesn’t happen in a just week or a month. It’s a process.

Chip Knapp (Wesley College photo)

And the thing about Drass’ unexpected death in May, because it happened after Wesley’s spring semester ended, the Wolverines haven’t really been together as a team since it happened.

But that will change on Aug. 7 when Wesley’s players report for the start of preseason camp.

“We’ve talked to the guys,” said Knapp. “But, until we get together, there’s still got to be some closure. We’ve got to talk through some things and talk about the plan moving forward. We haven’t gotten everyone together in a room at the same time.

“We’re going to definitely talk about Coach Drass — that’s going to be a big focus — just the stuff that he taught us,” Knapp added. “The important things that he built into this program, we’re going to reiterate this season and beyond. … Nobody talked about winning games and scoring touchdowns (at Drass’ memorial service). He’s got us focused in on what’s important, just by the whole situation.”

Things will be different, of course.

Veteran coach Joe Bottiglieri — Drass’ college coach at Mansfield State — was recently hired as defensive coordinator. But then offensive line coach Jeff Braxton took a job at Delaware State so now he’ll have to be replaced.

That’s football stuff, though. It’s not the first or last time Wesley has had to find some new assistant coaches.

Going on without Drass is something entirely different, though.

Including their first seasons as assistants, he and Knapp spent almost three decades taking the program from a Division III doormat to a small-college national championship contender.

Knapp moved into Drass’ old office because it made sense logistically. It’s the biggest room in the old white house that used to be The Little School.

He found plenty of things when he was getting the office re-organized — including the appointment letters he and Drass received when they first came to Wesley. He’s saved photos and other mementos, too.

“I want to make a Coach Drass display when I get a chance,” said Knapp.

Knapp is also developing a new appreciation for just how skilled Mike Drass was at taking care of all the details of a college football program.

“He was a one-man show with everything he did and I’m having to do all those things,” said Knapp. “You really appreciate the work he put in and the way he protected his coaches and let them coach — as opposed to dealing with raffle tickets and gear sales and meals and travel and all those things.

“He was a great multi-tasker. Watching him work and just seeing all the interruptions that he had to go through just to get something done. … He was able to train himself to get things accomplished. I’m not as good at that as he was. He was a master.

“It’s a big learning curve,” said Knapp, “and I’m working through it.”

Certainly, sitting in his best friend’s old desk is one of the things that is going to take some getting used to.

“I feel like this is still Coach Drass’ desk,” said Knapp. “I feel almost embarrassed sometimes when people see me sitting in his desk. We had some alumni come in and they were like, ‘Hey Coach, sitting at Coach Drass’ desk?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, still here …’”

Odds & ends

• The three-team Major League baseball state tournament gets started on Monday evening at Milford Little League. District III champion Milton will be trying to win its third-straight state crown.

While Georgetown and Nanticoke both won back-to-back state titles a few times in the age group, no Sussex or Kent County league has accomplished a three-peat since the tourney started in 1957.

• In the City of Dover softball league playoffs this week, Knight’s Jewelry won the Co-Ed League title with a win over Shure Shots in the finals.

• It’s looking like Smyrna High will play only nine regular-season games this football season. The three-time defending DIAA Division I state champions still have an open date on the weekend of Sept. 21-22.

• The University of Delaware men’s basketball program was hit hard this week by the unexpected death of former player Sean Locke. The St. Mark’s High grad, who made the Blue Hens’ roster as a walk-on, was only 23.

His obituary said that one of Locke’s proudest sports moments was being a member of the 2014 UD squad that played in the NCAA Tournament.

• Delaware American Legion baseball is no different than other summer leagues when it comes to having enough players for games. There were 10 forfeits during Legion’s regular season this summer.

• Tickets are on sale for the Delaware State University Athletics Hall of Fame Banquet and Induction Ceremony, which will be held Nov. 16 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Center. Tickets can be purchased by calling 302-857-7497 Monday to Friday during regular business hours; or at the ticket office in Memorial Hall on the DSU campus Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are also available online.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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