High school football preview: Henlopen North could be wide open in short season

Junior running Wayne Knight is one reason Smyrna High thinks it can still put up points despite losing a big senior class. Delaware State News file photos

Mike Judy is as competitive as the next coach.

His Smyrna High football program has three DIAA Division I state titles to show for it.

But there’s something about the uncertainty of trying to play a season in the middle of a pandemic that changes everything.
It makes Judy want to take a step back and look at the big picture.

So ask him about the issues of jumping right into his Henlopen North schedule without any preseason scrimmages and Judy understands why there could be problems.

But then he reminds himself that a short time ago there wasn’t even going to be a fall season.

“The competitor in me is worried about that (schedule),” said Judy. “But we’ve kind of grounded ourselves in (the fact) that it doesn’t really matter to us right now. All we’re concerned about is getting the kids out and playing.

Smyrna head coach Mike Judy watching action from the sideline Saturday. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“Obviously, we want to win games. … but really, anybody that’s focusing on that is kind of missing a major point. Are the kids having fun? Are they able to play the sport that could easily be taken from them? And are they doing it in a safe manner?
“If both teams can go out there and do that, it really doesn’t matter who wins — it really doesn’t.”

So, with that in mind, Henlopen Conference football returns on Friday night.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a season starting close to two months late. It will include only seven regular-season games. Everyone will wear masks and the stands will be largely empty.

But it will be football.

With no preseason scrimmages permitted, there’s an air of mystery to it all. Even coaches aren’t entirely sure what their own teams will look like when the lights go on.

“This is the great unknown for everybody, I think,” said Dover coach Rudy Simonetti.

The Henlopen Conference Northern Division would love to continue an unprecedented run in which it’s produced four of the last five Division I state champions.

Defending North champ Smyrna (7-0 North, 9-3 overall) lost a big senior class. The Eagles, though, still have their share of talent.

Third-year starting QB-Aidan Sanchez (Sr.), a second-team All-Stater last year, is a good place to start while RB-Wayne Knight (Jr.) and RB-Yamir Knight (So.) are both capable of making big plays that remind people of their big brother, Will.

Smyrna also returns WR-Devin Smith-(Sr.), WR-Devin Demoe (Jr.), OT-Tyler Downward (Jr.) and OL-Gordon Fletcher (Sr.) on offense and DT-Kody Dean (Sr.), LB-Erik Larson (Sr.), LB-Rob Wiley (Sr.), CB-Ziantey Carson (Sr.) and CB-Troy Hicks (Jr.) on defense.

Among the newcomers, transfer WR-Jermaine Earl (Sr.), who has been at both Caravel and Newark, could have an immediate impact. The Eagles also expect WR-Denim Smith (So.), RB-Dominic Galaban (Jr.), DL-E.J. Statham (Jr.), DL-Terrell Anderson (Jr.), DL-Dwayne Ratcliffe (Jr.), LB-Gavin Porter (Sr.) and LB-Nate Lesniczak (Jr.) to make contributions.

“It is an incredibly talented bunch of young men,” said Judy. “It could be a tremendous year.”

Sussex Central (6-1 North, 9-3 overall) has been on an impressive run of its own lately.

The Golden Knights are 21-4 over the last two seasons after capturing the program’s first state crown in 2018. They’ve also made the state tourney four years in a row.

First-team All-North LB-K’Tai Lilley and honorable mention pick Alton Dennis top a group of 17 seniors on this year’s Central roster.

Dover (5-2 North, 6-4 overall) has to replace big-play running back Vonnie Peace, who helped the Senators average 47.7 points in their six victories last fall.

QB-Jordan Moran (Jr.) was a part-time starter last season and Dover also returns FB/LB-Qualeak Bumbrey (Sr.), WR-Tyrese Sanabria (Sr.), RB/DB-Teyvion McCoy (Sr.), DB-Kareem Kaba (Sr.), OL-Jason Centeio (Sr.), DL-Aric Dudley (Sr.), TE/LB-Elijah Sessoms (Jr.), OL/DL-Byron Evans (Jr.) and OL/LB-Ethan Roth (Jr.).

Dover High quarterback Jordan Moran saw his share of playing time as a sophomore last fall.

Among the Senators’ top newcomers are WR/DB-Marquis Guy (Sr.), DB/RB-Tyron Abrams (So.), WR/DB-Micah Davis (Jr.) and OL/DL-Derrick Bush (Sr.).

“We have a young and a bit of an inexperienced team,” said Simonetti. “But these kids are very hard workers and they really gel well together as a team. I’m really excited to see what we’ve got against some of the top teams in the state.

“There might come a point in time this season where — because of our youth — we might take some lumps. That’s to be expected. But overall we’ll be fine this year.”

Caesar Rodney (3-4 North, 3-7 overall) is looking to bounce back this fall with a veteran lineup.

Kevin Hudson (Sr.) was a two-way All-North lineman a year ago while QB-Tremere Woodlin (Sr.) and DB-Ira Farrow (Sr.) were second-team All-North selections. OL/DL-Mahlon Dyer (Sr.), an honorable mention All-North player, also joins a group of offensive returnees that includes FB-Brock Conner (Jr.), OL-Josh Dyer (Jr.), OL/DL-Wesley Keeler (Sr.) and WR/DB-Corey Handy (Sr.).

QB Tremere Woodlin is one of several returning starters for Caesar Rodney.

Back on defense are DB/FB-Elijah Green (Sr.), DB/WR-Nate Waite (Jr.), DB/WR-Deontre Cale (Jr.), DB/RB-Teron Wayman (Jr.), DL/OL-James Ewell (Sr.), DL-Wilterson Joanem (Sr.), DL-Jalil Harris (Sr.) and DL/TE-David Domfeh (Sr.),

Among the top newcomers are QB-Zach McClements (Sr.), RB/DB-Julian Harris (Jr.), RB-DeAndreas Wills (Sr.), RB/DB-Noah Thompson (Jr.), OL-Wilterson Joanem (Sr.), LB-Jerimiah McDonald (Jr.), LB-Chris White (Sr.), LB-Zion Shroader (Jr.), LB-Xavier Mera (Jr.) and DL-Tyler Peeler (Jr.).

“We had to change our mindset,” said CR coach Dan Candeloro. “We stressed leadership this year, we’re stressing detail-oriented things — because we haven’t had those things through the spring and summer. We want to do everything just about perfect every time, whether it’s a sprint or running a play.”

After winning a total of only six games over the past three seasons, Cape Henlopen (2-5 North, 2-8 overall) is also trying to get back on track. With a good junior class and a number of third-year starters, coach J.D. Maull expects the Vikings to be more competitive this fall.

“We feel this year we can physically compete with the rest of the conference,” said Maull, in his third year at Cape. “The first year we couldn’t and last year we did for first half of games.”

Senior Jaden Davis, a 1,000-yard rusher for the Vikings, and WR-Javaughn Burton (Sr.) are both college recruits. Also back are QB-Hank D’Ambrogi (Jr.), WR-Jordan Baines (Jr.), LB-Kurtis Wells (Sr.), OL-Lucas Ruppert (Jr.) and OL-Ryan Bettins (So.).

Among Cape’s top newcomers are OL-Randy Knoll (Jr.), OL-Cade Brenner (Jr,), DB-Chancellor Johnson DB (Jr.), DB-Daniel Saez (Jr.), DB-L.T. Messick (So.) and Nate Horn (Jr.).

At Sussex Tech (4-3 North, 5-5 overall), 28-year-old Brad Ellingsworth takes over as the head coach at his alma mater.

“I still think we’re going to coach as hard as we can and try to get the best out of the kids,” Ellingsworth said in the off-season. “We have really great kids.

“No matter the talent level, if you’ve got good character kids who work really hard, I think you always have a chance.”
Seth Layfield (Sr.) was a second-team All-North OT last year.

Milford (2-5 North, 4-6 overall) has a unique schedule this fall where it faces arguably the three best teams in the Henlopen North and the three best in the South.

Milford High’s Marquis Gillis emerged as a talented running back last season.

The Bucs have one of the league’s more versatile players in RB/CB-Marquis Gillis (Sr.), who earned second-team All-North honors at fullback last fall. P-Mason Sauers (Sr.) and LB-Ricky Mercado (Sr.) also picked up All-North honors.

Other returning players for Milford include QB-Shawn Saxon (Jr.), WR-Kenny Reed (Sr.), RB-Aaron Sivels (Jr.), OT-Joe Aubourg (Sr.), C-Marco Olivas (Sr.), LB-Bryce Wells (Sr.), DE-Matt Hague (Sr.) and OG/LB-Raf Mejia (Sr.).

Newcomers expected to contribute are WR-Ryan Mejia (So.), DB-Jayceir Fullman (So.), K/WR/DB-Landen Hajek (Sr.), OT-Des Aladuge (Sr.) and FB/LB-Dwayne Wiltbank (So.).

“It’s just been great to be around the kids again,” said Milford coach Shaun Strickland “We keep hoping the season goes off without a hitch, and these guys, especially the seniors, get to compete. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, going out with your teammates and friends, and giving everything we have on a Friday night.”

It was a tough season for Polytech (0-7 North, 1-9 overall), which had to forfeit its final two games of the year due to a lack of players. But the Panthers, who will also play a split schedule, have 43 players under new coach Bob Gilmore.

Connor Bartlett (Jr.), Anthony Bowers (Sr.), Demetrius Fontnel (Sr.), Brian Johnson (Sr.), Ny’kael Norman (So.), Nick Simpler (So.) and Braden Moran (Jr.) are all returning players with Jalen Anderson (Fr.), Taariq Bacdi (So.), Jay Barr (Fr.) and Jerome Jenifer (Fr.) hoping to contribute right away.

“Our kids have bought in and are working extremely hard,” said Gilmore. “We are a work in progress, however we are improving every day.”