From the Sports editor: Smyrna stars happy to re-align with Hens

Nolan Henderson (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — It’s pretty basic stuff really.

Quarterback Nolan Henderson takes the shotgun snap and sticks the football in the gut of running back Will Knight at a Delaware practice on Friday morning.

Just like they’ve done a thousand times before.

But that’s what makes it so cool.

Knight and Henderson have been lining up next to each other in the same backfield for most of the last decade — first when they were just kids in Smyrna-Clayton Pop Warner and then on a pair of DIAA Division I state championship teams at Smyrna High.

And now here they are again, side by side for a pretty good NCAA FCS Division I college program at UD.

“When he committed to Old Dominion, I thought it was over,” said Henderson, now a redshirt sophomore QB for the Blue Hens. “I thought about how long we’ve been together.”

Will Knight (Submitted photo)

So when Knight told his old quarterback that he was transferring to Delaware after one season at ODU, Henderson might have been as excited as anyone.

“I called him, yelling and screaming,” Henderson said with a smile. “I was hype. Just to have him back — a familiar face — after playing so long, it’s exciting. I’m glad he’s back, for sure.”

“It’s just like clockwork when we get back there,” said Knight. “It feels great. It just brings back memories from Pop Warner when we first started. We would never have thought that we would have got this far.”

The two might not be quite ready to be the dominating offensive stars they were for much of their time at Smyrna. They should get on the field for the Hens, though.

Henderson is pushing for playing time behind senior Pat Kehoe while Knight seems to be in a group of three top runnings backs — along with Andre Robinson and Dejoun Lee.

Knight, who’s only been with Delaware since the start of the summer, looks to have quickly found a place with his new teammates. They respect the fact that he’s already been through a year of college football — especially a year in a Division I FCS program.

“He’s a great kid, he’s a great back,” said Robinson. “We needed another back like him. I’m happy he’s in the room.

“It’s interesting. Looking at him and the freshmen, you don’t have to explain things twice to him. He kind of gets everything right off the bat.”

“He loves it here,” said Henderson. “Everybody loves him. He definitely came in and grooved with the guys.

“Guys who work hard and absorb everything they’re being taught, it definitely makes the transition with the guys in the locker room a lot easier.”

Knight’s story has already been a pretty interesting one.

At Smyrna, he put up the most prolific offensive stats in state history (6,490 rushing yards/97 touchdowns; 78 receptions for 1,722 yards/20 TDs) along with sparking the Eagles to their first three football state crowns.

Knight originally committed to Delaware, signed with ODU instead, had a solid four-game debut with the Monarchs and then ended up a Blue Hen after all.

The experience looks to have left the stronger, leaner Knight ready to do some good things for Delaware over the next four seasons.

“This is home,” said Knight. “They welcomed me back with open arms. Since day one, we’ve been fighting together.

“Everybody just wants to get out and work hard,” he added. “The coaches don’t have to get on the players because we’re just determined and disciplined ourselves, honestly. It’s a great feeling to be around everybody that’s ready to work and compete. The next person is trying to make you better.”

Henderson and Knight hope this is just the start of bringing back good memories.

Delaware Stadium, of course, is where they won their two state crowns with Smyrna together. On Aug. 29, they’ll take to that same field when the Hens open the season against Delaware State.

It could be the start of another memorable chapter for the pair.

“I can’t wait to strap up in this blue and gold,” said Knight. “Yes sir, I can’t wait. … It’s going to be a whole, new feeling.”

A kid at heart

At 46, Gary Cimaglia is hardly a kid any more.

But that doesn’t mean the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s new executive director has forgotten what it’s like to be one.

Cimaglia, who starts his new job on Sept. 3, said sports made him feel a connection to the community when he was growing up in Rhode Island. He was a high school quarterback and a three-sport athlete.

“Johnson High School athletics, they were a big deal in our town,” he said. “I remember us going to elementary schools to talk to younger kids. That kind of stuff was neat to me.

“When I was really young I used to look up to those guys. I used to wait at the bottom of the hill for the football team to run down and just thought, ‘Man, that’s what I’m going to do. I want to do that and be a part of it.’”

Odds & ends

•It’s kind of interesting that the Baltimore Ravens parted ways with one quarterback named Joe (Flacco) from Delaware only to pick up another one when they signed former Wesley College star Joe Callahan this week.

Of course Callahan’s time with the Ravens may last only as long as it takes for Robert Griffin III’s injured thumb to recover. Still, Callahan’s back in the NFL for the moment.

“I thought he looked good today,” said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh. “He has a good arm. He’s won games in the preseason in Green Bay. He’s been in Cleveland. He’s an experienced guy.”

•Delmar High grad Alex Ellis, whose underdog story is just as impressive as Callahan’s, also found himself back in the NFL this week when the Eagles signed him as a backup tight end.

•Dover pro tennis player Madison Brengle is currently ranked No. 78 in the world rankings.

•Former Smyrna running back Leddie Brown is listed as one of four potential starting running backs on West Virginia’s depth chart. The sophomore ran for 446 yards and four TDs as a freshman.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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