Judy a game changer for Smyrna

 

Smyrna football coach Mike Judy-1 by .

After going 5-5 last fall, third-seeded Smyrna is 10-1 heading into a semifinal showdown at No. 2 William Penn (9-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m. (File photo)

SMYRNA — As he walked onto the field with his captains last Friday night, Mike Judy had to stop under the goalposts for the National Anthem.

That’s when the thought hit the second-year Smyrna High football coach.

“And I didn’t say anything to anybody, including the staff,” said Judy. “(But) it crossed my mind, ‘Are these lights going to be too bright for this team?’”

After all the great things the Eagles had accomplished this season, Judy was thinking, can they keep winning when the pressure is really on?

Smyrna’s answer to that question was a resounding 56-32 win over Mount Pleasant in the first round of the DIAA Division I football state tournament.

The victory was just more proof that Smyrna clearly made the right choice when it hired the 36-year-old Judy as its head coach before last season.

Taking over a program that went only 2-8 in 2013, the former Dover High and Wesley College center has totally changed the Eagles’ football image.

After going 5-5 last fall, third-seeded Smyrna is 10-1 heading into a semifinal showdown at No. 2 William Penn (9-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Eagles are trying to reach a football state final for only the second time in their history and for the first time since 1975.

More than winning, Judy and his staff have gotten the players to buy into a whole new way of thinking about the game.

The Eagles average 55 points a game, rarely punt and aren’t afraid to routinely try onside kicks.

“He’s trying to make the Smyrna program into more than just wins, he’s trying to make it a tradition,” senior receiver Brandon Bishop said about Judy. “His motivation bleeds into everyone else. Everyone wants it just as bad as he does.”

“He’s made a big difference,” said senior receiver Donte Ritchie. “His philosophy was different. He wants up-tempo, going fast, getting people tired.

“His confidence and his attitude are always above high. He expects us to do a lot of things and get the job done.”

“He’s definitely got us disciplined and focused with goals in mind,” said senior lineman Jeff Campbell. “It’s been a total transformation since my freshman year.”

Wesley coach Mike Drass isn’t surprised by Judy’s success.

He said Judy always was a leader. He was a two-time co-captain for the Wolverine, including in 2000 when Wesley made the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time.

“He was a guy who just did everything right,” said Drass. “I think his teammates gravitated to him because they wanted to be like him.”

Judy’s Wesley roots are pretty obvious. Two of his assistants (Chris Sfamurri and Josh Rutherford) are former Wolverine coaches while a third, Luke Maginnis, finished his playing career at Wesley last fall.

Judy, who played under former head coach Jim Oxford at Dover, said he’s definitely a product of the men he played for.

“Listen, it is unreal, it is unbelievable some of the things that come out of my mouth,” said Judy. “I’ll say, ‘I can’t believe I just sounded like Coach Ox there,’ or ‘That’s a Coach Drass-ism.’

“It’s because those guys are two wise old coaches and they had a huge influence on me. I’m rooted in the teachings of those coaches.”

This year’s Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year, Judy won the same award in 2013 as Smyrna’s boys’ lacrosse head coach. He was an assistant for seven seasons with the Eagles before becoming their football head coach.

Now sporting a bushy red beard and mustache, he’s been in the business long enough to understand that big seasons like this don’t come along all the time. He’s trying to enjoy it while he can.

“Those moments and all my experiences with football and my great coaches changed me as a person,” said Judy. “I’m glad that these guys get to experience something similar. I hope it doesn’t end for them and they continue to grow from that.

“I sat down on the couch in the coaches’ office and just sat back and listened to everybody game plan,” he said before practice on Tuesday. “I sat back and enjoyed it.

“We’re going to do our best. If we do our job, we’ll be playing next week. If we don’t do our job, then the journey will end and we’ll be very proud.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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