From the sports editor: Rocco likes attitude Williams gives Hens

Smyrna High School football linebacker Darryl “Debo” Williams gets a handshake from his father Darren Williams after choosing the University of Delaware to play college football during a press conference at Smyrna High School. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Danny Rocco and his staff have been aware of Debo Williams from early in his Smyrna High football career.

So when the young linebacker got injured, the Delaware coaches were aware of that, too.

Rocco remembers wanting to see how Williams would respond to the setback.

“We were getting these really, really raving reviews about he’s come back with great passion,” said Rocco. “He’s got a great attitude and he’s really leading.

“We knew what kind of talent we saw there but we were hearing that he was coming back with this kind of renewed vision. … That really excited me in terms of hearing and seeing a guy who’s not only talented and back healthy but really embracing this role as a leader.”

So it wasn’t very difficult for Rocco to offer a scholarship to Williams. The state Defensive Player of the Year accepted that offer just before Christmas when he signed a letter of intent with the Hens.

Williams’ signing continues what’s becoming an interesting collaboration between Delaware and Smyrna.

There have been stretches when the Hens haven’t had many impact players from the Henlopen Conference. But now two of their top offensive players — running back Will Knight and quarterback Nolan Henderson — along with Williams on defense are all from Smyrna.

Rocco, UD’s fourth-year head coach, said that it’s not all coincidence.

“It’s a good program,” he said about Smyrna. “These guys are in our program and they’re functioning well, they have high expectations for themselves, they care about the team. It’s all those kind of things that, a lot of times, kids learn in their high school programs.

“Put the team first, expect to win, work hard. … From that perspective, there’s a lot there. We had great confidence in what they’re committed to accomplishing.

“In talking to Debo, he talks about wanting to win a national championship,” Rocco added. “And that’s what Will Knight talks about. They talk about wanting to make these things real. That’s exciting for the coach to hear because that’s certainly something the coach talks about.”    

Of course, it’s too soon to tell what kind of player Williams will be at Delaware right off the bat. But Rocco sees the potential for the 6-foot, 220-pounder to make an immediate impact.

Williams posted a school-record 153 tackles as a Smyrna senior, including 32 tackles for loss with eight sacks. He got scholarship offers from several other Colonial Athletic Association programs besides Delaware.

“We see a very talented, versatile athlete I think who’s going to be able to help us early and often,” said Rocco. “He can do a number of different things for us — special teams-wise and defensively. … We’re going to find a place where he can make a contribution for us.

“There was a lot of film on him. He was one of those guys who seldom looks bad on a football field. When you watch his game film — and not just his highlights — you see him do all those things that I think you need to see a guy do.”

But, again, Rocco likes Williams’ attitude as much as he likes his talent.

In a world where too many athletes are focused solely on themselves, Rocco likes the way Williams talks about the team first.

“He’s one of those linebackers that kind of says, ‘Hey, if they’re running the ball over in this area, it’s my fault,’ ” said Rocco. “A lot of people don’t talk like that any more. It’s like, ‘Well, I did my job… ‘

“But he was like, ‘If you’re running it over here, it’s my fault. I can’t let them run it over here.’ That kind of an attitude — that kind of ownership — I thought was pretty neat.”

Odds & ends

• The next big game for the Dover High’s boys’ basketball team comes on Saturday when the Senators face Philadelphia’s Cardinal O’Hara at the 76ers’ Fieldhouse in Wilmington. Tipoff is slated for 6:45 p.m.

At the moment, O’Hara is 11-1 and ranked No. 2 in Pennsylvania according to Maxpreps. Dover (8-1) has been playing without All-Stater Eden Davis (ankle) but he’s expected back for the Senators’ game with Polytech on Tuesday.

• The remarkable football career of Delaware grad Mike Adams has him back in the NFL playoffs with the Houston Texans. The 38-year-old safety has spent 16 seasons in the league with six different teams.

Other former Blue Hens in the playoffs include Ravens’ tight ends Nick Boyle and Charles Scarff (practice squad) and the Chiefs’ Brett Veach (general manager) and Joey Bleymaier (assistant coach).

• Delaware’s Troy Reeder not only made the Rams as an undrafted free agent but started eight games as a rookie linebacker. He was in on 52 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles.

And former Blue Hen Paul Worrilow returned to the NFL after missing a season with a knee injury he suffered as a member of the Eagles. The seven-year veteran linebacker got in four games with the Jets.

• Here’s a belated farewell to former Dover High coach Tom Nevins, who passed away in November at the age of 89.

Nevins is credited with starting the Senators’ boys’ soccer program — the Henlopen Conference’s first — in 1975. He won three conference titles with Dover and coached various other sports including football, basketball and volleyball. Nevins also served in the U.S. Navy, receiving the National Defense Service Medal for his service on the Submarine The USS Sennet (SS408).

• Wilmington native Chris Widger has been named the Blue Rocks’ manager for the upcoming season. He is the Class A minor league manager’s 17th manager all-time.

A catcher, Widger played 10 Major League seasons, batting .238 with 55 home runs and 222 RBI in 613 career games. He spent time with the Mariners, Expos, Yankees, Cardinals, White Sox and Orioles.

He won a World Series with Chicago in 2005, drawing two walks and driving in a run in the fall classic.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com