FROM THE SPORTS EDITOR: Emotional win by Wesley a tribute to Drass’ memory

DOVER — It started in the locker room.

That’s when Alex Kemp says he really started thinking about Mike Drass.

Then, just after the National Anthem on Friday night, Kemp said that’s when he finally broke down.

“Coach Drass would always come up to me and tell me, tonight’s my night, I’m going to have a big game,” explained the Wesley College receiver. “It was weird not having that.

“I’m normally out here catching passes (in pregame warmups) and he’s right there with me,” Kemp continued. “He actually kept my name tag on his clipboard. Before every game, he used to point to that. We had a special relationship.”

There isn’t anything Kemp and the Wolverines wouldn’t do to have Drass back with them.

But, on Friday night, Wesley’s players and coaches did the only thing they could do instead — they went out and won their season opener in Drass’ memory.

With Kemp’s two touchdown catches leading the way, the No. 9 Wolverines pulled away to a 34-10 victory over 17th-ranked Delaware Valley on rain-soaked Drass Field at Miller Stadium.

It was the first time in over three decades that a Wesley football team took the field without Drass, the well-liked, successful coach who died unexpectedly in May.

It was one of those days when even the torrential downpours that hit Dover on Friday made the Wolverines think of Drass.

There’s long been a running joke in the program that Drass could control the weather. It could rain all day sometimes but it would stop just long enough for the team to practice.

Other times, they’d just practice through the rain.

And when the start of Friday’s game was delayed 45 minutes because of standing water on some parts of the field, new head coach Chip Knapp saw his old friend’s hand in that. After the delay, Wesley opted to cancel the short pregame ceremony it had planned for Drass and just had a moment of silence instead.

“I think that’s what he wanted, because he was a humble guy,” said Knapp. “He didn’t want to be recognized. He’d win the coach of the year and he’d put that trophy in a box somewhere. He just wanted to coach football.

“In 29 years, I’ve never seen our field look the way it did. I’m like, ‘This is crazy.’ Just trying to get to the game and we kept getting delayed. … This was a long, long day. We had to work so hard for this victory just getting to the game.

“It’s 11:30 at night right now and finally I get to relax. I was hoping to relax a little earlier than this but we had to earn it — the program had to earn the win tonight.”

Certainly, it was the kind of game that Drass would have appreciated.

The Wolverines turned the ball over a few too many times, were called for too many penalties and led only 13-10 at halftime. But then they made most of the big plays in the second half, quarterback Khaaliq Burroughs hit a couple long touchdown passes and Wesley won going away.

“Rest in peace to Coach Drass, we did it for him,” said senior defensive tackle Nick Glover. “I know he’s looking down on us, as proud as he can be.”

As much as Friday night was about remembering Drass, it was also about the program moving forward under Knapp, who was there every step with Drass for the past 33 years.

It seemed only right that Knapp finally got to laugh for a moment when his players dumped water on him in the closing seconds of his first official victory.

After the game, just as they always do, Wesley’s players all knelt in the end zone as their coaches said a few things. Knapp even told a quick version of Drass’ favorite old story — describing the world’s best sandwich and how they should go home and eat it rather than staying out too late.

But it also seemed fitting that there was still a Drass standing next to Knapp in the end zone — Mike’s dad, Nick — who also sat in usual spot at the top of the bleachers during the game.

“He’s an awesome person — all the great qualities in Mike came from Nick,” said Knapp. “You could see where he got it from. Having him right there at the end, that was a special moment.

“I just want to let Nick know that we are not ever going to forget about Coach Drass. He’s Wesley football.”

As for Kemp, he was probably only still playing on Friday night because Drass talked him into returning for his fifth year. The Caesar Rodney High grad admits one of his biggest regrets was not being able to tell Drass that he was coming back.

Kemp missed both spring practice and then the start of preseason camp as he drove 28 hours back from his summer job in Colorado.

But Kemp was there on Friday to help the Wolverines win for Drass. His 78-yard catch-and-sprint TD reception really turned the game in Wesley’s favor.

When he started crying before the game, Kemp said he went up to Knapp.

“I gave Coach Knapp a huge hug and told him, ‘I’m here,’” said Kemp. “He told me that he loves me and let’s focus on the game. I was definitely emotional. … He (Drass) made a huge impact on my family.

“It means everything,” Kemp said about Wesley’s win. “We hadn’t beaten DelVal in two years. We beat them 34-10 right here on Drass Field. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Gono makes cut;
Callahan doesn’t

Former Wesley College offensive lineman Matt Gono beat the odds by making the Atlanta Falcons’ 53-man active roster on Friday.

That means the backup offensive tackle will get to start his NFL career near home when the Falcons play at Philadelphia on Thursday night in their opener.

Unfortunately, former Wesley teammate Joe Callahan won’t be on the other side of the field on Thursday. A quarterback, he was cut by the Eagles’ on Friday.

Callahan was never going to be better than the fourth-string quarterback for the Super Bowl champions no matter what he did.

But Callahan had hoped to get a good share of preseason playing time so other NFL teams could see him and he accomplished that. There’s always a chance of him getting picked up.

On the other hand, it’s already the seventh time in Callahan’s short NFL career that he’s been released. He told Phillynews.com this week that — realistic or not — nobody likes getting cut.

“It’s never a fun day, getting waived,” the 25-year-old was quoted. “But that’s the life of an NFL player who’s fighting to make rosters.”

Odds & ends

•Dover High football coach Rudy Simonetti is a busy man this fall after he and his wife, Katie, had a baby girl, Rhylee, the day before preseason camp opened. “My wife Katie has been great with all this,” he said. “She understands my passion for football and coaching these kids. But, at the same time, it’s like I tell the kids, family first. It’s going to be a fun but long season. I’m up (at night) anyway drawing up plays.”

•Delmar High grad Alex Ellis made the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster where the tight end will start his second season in the NFL.

•Remember to sign up for the State News’ weekly College Sports and High School Football online newsletters. They’re free and include links to all our coverage. Just go to Delawarestatenews.net and click on the ‘Newsletter’ link at the top of the page.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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