FROM THE SPORTS EDITOR: QB Callahan was a ‘steal’ for Wesley

 

Five years ago, Joe Callahan was a South Jersey kid who had never heard of Wesley College.

But then the high school quarterback met Steve Azzanesi.

Wesley football-Joe Callahan by .

Joe Callahan is only the second QB in NCAA history to throw for 5,000 yards and 55 touchdowns in a season.

“He might be the most excited man alive,” Callahan said about the Wolverines’ assistant coach. “I’ve never met anybody with more energy.”

By the time Azzanesi left Callahan’s high school that day, he had convinced the youngster to at least give Wesley a look.

What started that day ended up being one of the great success stories in Wesley football history.

On Wednesday, Callahan — now a senior All-American — won the Gagliardi Award, which goes to the country’s top player in Division III football.

In the prestigious award’s 23-year history, only one other East Coast player has taken home the Gagliardi trophy — the Wolverines’ Rocky Myers in 2004.

Wesley head coach Mike Drass doesn’t mind admitting he felt like the Wolverines were getting a steal when they landed Callahan.

“Without question,” said Drass. “The same way we felt when we got (former Wesley QBs) Shane McSweeny, Chris Warrick or Jason Visconti, we felt like we got somebody that we shouldn’t have got.”

Still, to call Callahan a steal isn’t the same thing as saying Wesley simply got lucky.

To do that would be ignoring the recruiting ability of Azzanesi and Drass not to mention the coaching ability of offensive coordinator Chip Knapp, who developed Callahan into only the second QB in NCAA history to throw for 5,000 yards and 55 touchdowns in a season.

The thing with Callahan five years ago is that his high school team, Holy Spirit in Absecon, N.J., simply didn’t throw the ball much. So while there was some interest — even some from the I-AA level — nobody was knocking down Callahan’s door.

“From the little we saw of him, we knew he could be a great thrower,” said Drass. “If he was on a high school team that threw the ball more, he certainly would have had a lot more options. I think he felt like Wesley really wanted him and really saw a plan for him as a quarterback.

“Joe’s parents and I were talking last night. … ‘Az’ (Azzanesi) would stay on the phone for an hour (with Callahan) talking about high school basketball stats and stuff like that. Coach Az has unbelievable energy. I think Joe’s family was captivated by that, too. Wesley wanted him and that was something we made clear right away.”

Whether Callahan’s football story has another chapter remains to be seen.

He’s been invited to play in an all-star game next month (the USA Bowl in Savannah, Ga.) and there has been interest from pro scouts.

Of course it would be a longshot for any small-college quarterback to reach the NFL. But there’s also a myriad of other professional opportunities out there.

“We certainly think that he can make all the throws,” said Drass. “And that’s what they always have a question about.”

Either way, Callahan’s name won’t be forgotten around the Wesley College football program any time soon. With a Gagliardi Award on his resume, he’ll be remembered at the Division III national level for a long time, too.

“Choosing Wesley was a decision that I’ll never regret,” said Callahan. “It was a great experience. … It just felt like home.”

Baseball tourney expanding

The DIAA baseball state tournament will grow from 16 to 20 teams this spring.

The Delaware High School Baseball Coaches Association unanimously voted to recommend the expansion.

The group’s proposal pointed out that there will be 50 baseball programs in the state this spring. When the event went from 12 to 16 teams in 1989, there were only 37 programs.

It also detailed the number of successful teams that have missed the tourney in recent years.

Two years ago, the final two squads in the 16-team field made it only by winning their conference and earning an automatic berth. But seven other teams had better or equal point indexes than those last two teams.

The unique part of the expanded tournament is that it will now start with an opening-day doubleheader.

Squads seeded No. 13-16 will square off with No. 17-20. The four winners will then face the top four seeds later in the day.

The twinbills will be played on the fields of the top four seeds.

The biggest question, of course, will be whether the four teams that survive the first round will have enough pitching left to win another game the same day.

All fouled up

There’s nothing simple about officiating a high school basketball game.

And there’s a certain amount of subjectivity that goes into refereeing any sport.

Tuesday’s Dover-Caesar Rodney boys’ hoop showdown was just one of those nights when the fouls just kept piling up.

The Senators, who rallied for a 60-52 win, had four of their 10 players foul out. The Riders lost one.

Several other players finished with four fouls.

Dover was called for a total of 32 fouls in the contest with CR whistled for 30. The two squads combined to hit 47-of-72 free throws.

Senators coach Stephen Wilson, who had three starters begin the second half already saddled with three fouls apiece, said he didn’t really dwell on how closely the contest was being called.

“I really didn’t worry about what the officials were doing,” said Wilson. “I didn’t mention it. We made some adjustments but I really didn’t worry about the officials like I may have a couple years ago. I really can’t.

“Because, if I do that, I’m not spending enough time talking to my team. I’m spending more time worrying about what the team is doing, I’m making sure that the bench is ready to play and I’m listening to my coaches.”

Odds & ends

•Lake Forest High grad D.J. Cornish is a freshman defensive end on the Shepherd University football team that played in the NCAA Division II football national championship game on Saturday. He played in 12 games, posting 11 tackles, including three for loss.

Cornish is one of seven Delaware players on the Rams’ roster. Shepherd’s offensive coordinator is former Wesley player and assistant coach Ernie McCook.

•Caesar Rodney High grad Naquan Watkins was a sophomore running back on the Stevenson football team that won the inaugural Centennial Conference-Middle Atlantic Conference Bowl Series. Watkins ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries as the Mustangs went 9-2.

•Former Wesley College soccer standout G.R. Cannon was recently named the NSCAA Youth Boys East Regional Soccer Coach of the Year. The honor recognizes Cannon’s accomplishments this past season and during his coaching career with the Bayshore Soccer Club of Maryland.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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