Position switch paid off for Holden, unbeaten Raiders

GREENWOOD — Antwain Holden’s junior season at Woodrbidge High ended prematurely, in the third week of the 2015 season when he suffered an injury to his meniscus.

And Holden had a feeling it meant the end of his quarterback career as well. After that game, he had a message for freshman Troy Haynes, his replacement at quarterback.

“I told him, ‘This is your team now, lead them to victory,” Holden recalled.

Haynes ended up taking the Blue Raiders to the postseason, where they upset second seed Delaware Military Academy to make the Division II state football semifinals for only the second time in school history.

It meant Haynes was entrenched as the starting quarterback for this year as a sophomore and Holden would have to change his position for his senior season.

A healthy Antwain Holden made the switch from quarterback and is now a do-everything weapon for Woodbridge to help the Blue Raiders finish 10-0 and win the Henlopen South championship for the first time since 1999. (submitted photo)

A healthy Antwain Holden made the switch from quarterback and is now a do-everything weapon for Woodbridge to help the Blue Raiders finish 10-0 and win the Henlopen South championship for the first time since 1999. (submitted photo)

A healthy Holden made the switch and is now a do-everything weapon for Woodbridge to help the Blue Raiders finish the regular season 10-0 and win the Henlopen Conference Southern Division championship for the first time since 1999. They host eighth seed Howard tonight at 7:30 p.m. as the top seed in the opening round of the Division II football state tournament.

“I like any position the coach puts me in,” Holden said. “I honestly do, because we have a great team. From the line, to the backs, to the wide receivers and the coaching staff, it’s a great team.”

Holden lines up in the backfield or at wide receiver and has become one of the Blue Raiders’ leading touchdown threats. He also is the top punt returner on the squad.

“If I told him to go play guard he wouldn’t bat an eye,” said Woodbridge coach Ed Manlove. “He’s going to go and do the best he could. He just wants to contribute and he wants this team to win.”

Manlove said the coaching staff eventually wanted to have Haynes be the starting quarterback. The injury to Holden just sped up the process, faster than Manlove would have liked.

But the blessing in disguise was it gave Haynes some key experience during the 2015 season. Then when Holden returned this year, the offense was really able to hit the ground running.

“We wanted to bring Troy along slowly but that master plan didn’t work out,” Manlove said. “We knew he was going to be a good football player we just didn’t want to overwhelm him. But when Antwain did come back this year, it took a lot of pressure off him because he didn’t have as much on his plate. It all kind of worked out in a weird kind of way.”

Holden’s recovery time was estimated to be eight months.

He was fully healthy in six.

“He just worked so hard,” Manlove said. “He’s a tough kid.”

Holden was able to return in time to participate in the 7-on-7 league in Middletown in June.

He said the main thing inspiring him to get healthy quickly was the confidence he had in all of the talent Woodbridge was bringing back for this year. He wanted to make sure he could be a part of a run to the state tournament.

And the Blue Raiders are rewarded with a home playoff game.

“I knew we still had to play 10 games and make sure we beat the teams we had to beat,” Holden said. “That’s how we got to where we are with a first round game at home. I think it’s going to be crazy. Our whole community is going to support us on a road to the championship. But we still have got to get on the field and perform because the fans won’t be on the field with us.

Holden is part of a senior class which has gone 28-12 in the regular season in its career with three playoff appearances. Woodbridge had a combined record of 10-40 in the five years before Holden’s class arrived at the school.

“It was a slow process at the beginning but I think we’ve got it rolling,” Manlove said. “It’s nice to be relevant. When I first got here there was nothing for years and years and years. It’s a good feeling for our coaches and our community. It gives them something to support and rally around. We’ve been selling a lot of tickets and it’s neat to see people in the community come and wish us well.”

Extra points

This will be the first playoff game actually played at Woodbridge. The Blue Raiders were technically the home team in the first round of the 1999 tournament, but the game had to be played at Seaford High because Woodbridge’s old stadium only had one side of bleachers. … Delaware 105.9 FM will carry the Woodbridge-Howard game and 930 ESPN 104.1 will carry Milford’s game on Saturday night, against Wilmington Friends at 7:30 p.m.

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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