Knight expected to shine again for Smyrna

SMYRNA — Mike Judy has heard his fair share of stories hyping up middle school football players.

So when people were telling the Smyrna High coach about this kid named Will Knight who was tearing up the competition at Smyrna Middle, Judy naturally thought the stories were too good to be true.

Then Knight showed up at Smyrna for the first day of football practice. Judy’s draw dropped when he saw what the young running back could do.

Smyrna's Will Knight (25)

Smyrna’s Will Knight (25)

“We never tackled him,” Judy recalled.

Judy knew Knight’s skills were for real and did not hesitate to start him as a freshman in 2014.

Now as Knight enters his sophomore season, he is still one of the focal points for a Smyrna High team that has high expectations as high school football kicks off in the Henlopen Conference tonight. The Eagles host Delcastle tonight at 7:30 p.m. in their opener.

Smyrna’s offense returns all 11 starters from a unit who averaged 28.7 points per game and finished 5-5 in Judy’s first season as coach. So led by Knight, junior quarterback Nolan Henderson, senior wide receivers Brandon Bishop, Donte Ritchie, Charlie Taylor and Marquelle Bennett along with an experienced offensive line, it’s easy to see why the town of Smyrna is buzzing with excitement.

“Going into the first game last year there was a lot of unknowns,” Judy said. “The kids were meeting our expectations but they were new to the system. This camp, we started off on the right foot and from August 15 until now, every camp has been a productive day. I think that’s something that most teams in the state would kill for.

“This group is just starting to scratch that upper limit of their ability. We want to get to that peak as soon as possible.”

The Eagles are looking to have their first winning season since 2004 when they went 7-4. But the expectations don’t stop there.

At the beginning of camp, the coaching staff handed out sheets for all players to write the goal for the season down on. There was one common response.

“Everyone is focused on winning the state championship,” said senior offensive lineman Phil Nix. “That’s what everyone wants around here. We don’t expect anything less. Last year we didn’t know what we could be. This year we know we can be the best.”

Knight said he didn’t expect to start as a freshman last year. Judy said he didn’t think he would turn to him right away either.

But Knight’s ability was on full display during camp and Judy, who also taught Knight in health class was impressed by not only the physical part of Knight’s game but also the mental.

“When he walked in he was mentally way ahead of being a freshman,” Judy said. Just with his maturity and his approach at school, he’s brilliant in class. I wasn’t expecting him to play, I was expecting him to push somebody. But he took that job and made it his own and it was obvious we needed him at tailback.”

“It’s a blessing to play with this offense,” Knight said. “Playing varsity, not a lot of freshmen can do that.”

And the Eagles offensive system, built on speed and a quick tempo, is a perfect match for a player like Knight.

“I like how fast-paced it is,” Knight said. “It’s like a college offense in high school. Teams don’t know how fast we go at faster. We’ve keep going faster and faster and that’s why we have an advantage in the third and fourth quarter.”

“We knew Will was a special back coming in,” Nix said. “We knew he had a lot of talent and we love making holes for him. We all want to see Will be the best he can be and we all love seeing Will run to the end zone. I think this year he’s really going to put up some good numbers.”

Of course Knight’s breakout season was also helped by the offensive line. Judy, a former lineman himself, understands that more than anyone.

And Judy is looking for a big season from that line made up of Nix, Terren Carter, Jerren Carter, Evan Gallaher and Mike Carrow.

“I think the success we have offensively is really going to come back to them,” Judy said. “They won’t get a lot of pub, and offensive linemen are OK with that. But I will make sure it’s known that those guys are the cog that drives the wheel here.”

Smyrna's Will Knight (25)

Smyrna’s Will Knight (25)

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