Maull excited to have Cape winning again

In his third season at Cape Henlopen High, coach J.D. Maull has the Vikings on a three-game winning streak. (Delaware State News file photo)

LEWES — J.D. Maull always had a plan for rejuvenating Cape Henlopen High’s football program.

But that doesn’t mean losing was easy — going 3-17 over two seasons never is.

“We had bad days at practice and you’re getting frustrated,” said Maull, the Vikings’ third-year head coach. “I just know I had to tell myself and the coaching staff, ‘Hey, keep working and we’ll get there. We’ll get there.’”

Finally, now, the Vikings seem to have arrived, at least at a place where they know they can be competitive with most of their opponents.

Cape (2-2 North, 3-2 overall) takes a three-game winning streak into Friday’s Henlopen North matchup with Caesar Rodney (3-1 North, 4-1 overall). Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Lewes.

A 1,000-yard rusher last year, junior running back Jaden Davis is close to 800 yards in five games so far this fall. (Delaware State News file photo)

So, in the past month alone, the Vikings have won as many games as they did in the last two seasons.

Maull doesn’t want to just settle for three victories, though. He thinks if Cape can finish 5-2, it has a chance at one of the two DIAA Division I at-large state tournament berths.

The Vikings haven’t made the state tournament since 2012.

“After we lost to Smyrna (in the second game of the season), as a team, we said, ‘We’ve got to win all five,’” said Maull. “That’s our goal, to win out and then hopefully we can get to the playoffs.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to have that going on in our program here at Cape. The kids are excited. They’re looking forward to practicing on Thanksgiving morning. In the school, in the hallways, people are talking about Cape football. It’s not just about lacrosse and field hockey. We’re starting to talk about football now.”

Now in his 17th season as a head coach, Maull has the confidence that comes with having had success before.

The 41-year-old Cape Henlopen grad said he went through some of the same growing pains in his first few seasons at St. Georges. The Hawks also went 3-17 in 2008-09 in the program’s first two varsity seasons.

St. Georges, though, ended up making six appearances in the Division II state tournament, including going to the Division II state title game twice. Before St. Georges moved up to Division I in 2017, the Hawks made at least the state semifinals five seasons in a row.

Maull, who was named the state Coach of the Year in 2013, finished with a 75-37 record at St. Georges.

“People thought, when I first got down here (to Cape), we’ll turn it around in one year,” he said. “But that doesn’t happen. People who know, I told them, ‘Hey, it’s going to take three to four years to change the culture and have kids buying in.’ I had a whole new staff and they had to learn the system and the philosophy.”

There’s no question those first two seasons after Maull returned to his alma mater were difficult. In 2018, the Vikings finished just 1-9, were shut out three times and got out-scored 394-97.

Last year, Cape went 2-8 and scored 172 points.

Maull said there were times when the Vikings started four or five freshmen. They frequently seemed to be at a size disadvantage.

“In games versus Smyrna and Sussex Central, I’ll be honest, I was looking at the clock trying to get out of there because our kids were just getting beat up,” said Maull. “We saw their hard work last year. But, come the fourth quarter, we just ran out of gas. You see the kids put their heads down.

“You keep telling them. … but, after a while, they’re like, ‘Coach, you keep saying it but it’s not happening.’ Now they’re seeing it.

“We’re stronger, we’re older. We can play four quarters now. It feels good. They’re having fun.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve been a head coach for 17 but this is may be one of the most fun years I’ve had. Even with the tough times with COVID, this has really been fun at practice.”

Cape still has only seven seniors on this year’s roster. So whatever the Vikings accomplish the rest of this season, they should be in position to accomplish even more next fall.

But, as much as he’s excited about the future, Maull wants to make this season last as long as he can.

“We’re just taking it day by day,” said Maull. “We don’t want this season to end. We want to play into the playoffs. I mean we really enjoy coaching the kids we have right now.”