Smyrna wide receivers putting up big numbers

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Donte Ritchie (State News file photos)

SMYRNA — Two years ago, Charlie Taylor and Jared Gillis were watching football games from the stands, Donte Ritchie was a running back and Brandon Bishop was a quarterback.
Now they’re putting up big numbers as Smyrna High’s wide receivers.

While junior quarterback Nolan Henderson and sophomore running back Will Knight get most of the plaudits, the four senior wide receivers are a key part of why the Eagles (10-1) are in the DIAA Division I semifinals and will face William Penn (9-1) at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s a big threat because you can’t just cover one dude up,” Bishop said. “If you try to cover one up then there’s another to replace. The entire receiving corps is pretty good friends so we’re always happy when someone else makes a play. There’s no fighting over stats. It’s great.”

“All four of those guys are explosive and they take the art of catching the ball very seriously,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy.

When Judy was hired as head coach last season, he and offensive coordinator Mike Marks installed the spread offense. That meant the Eagles would need to find some wide receivers.

The decision to move Ritchie from running back to receiver was made easier by Knight’s emergence as a freshman. Then Bishop also became a wide

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Brandon Bishop

receiver as Henderson had his breakout year at quarterback in 2014.

“I treated it exactly how I treated the quarterback position and tried to learn as much as possible,” Bishop said. “I knew if I could learn everything really quickly then I could start to work on the details and help everybody out.”

This year, both Ritchie and Bishop ended up on the All-Henlopen Conference Northern Division first team.

“Donte picked up how to catch the ball quicker than anyone else,” Judy said. “Brandon’s athletic ability translates better to the wide receiver spot. We can’t cover him out here. We can run with him but he has this uncanny ability to get open. He does the little things well and has this sick double move to fake you out of your shoes.”

Most Delaware high school teams are lucky to have two explosive wide receivers. But what helps set Smyrna’s spread offense apart is the depth at the position.

Taylor’s first year playing high school football was as a junior last season. Gillis joined the team this year.

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Charlie Taylor

Taylor was persuaded to play by his good friend Ritchie and Marks, who was his junior varsity basketball coach. Taylor figured he could help the team based on what he saw by going to the games when Smyrna was suffering through losing seasons two and three years ago.

“They didn’t always have the best athletes out of the field,” Taylor said. “Coach Marks taught me how to play the position.”

“I knew he could help the team and he could be explosive with the ball,” Ritchie said. “I knew how he was. He wasn’t a big surprise for me.”

“Donte and Charlie are really close,” Judy said. “It took some coaxing by Donte and Coach Marks but it was a perfect match. We’re obviously very lucky Charlie came out.”

The fact that Taylor and Ritchie each are starters on the basketball team helped them learn the wide receiver position.

“It’s the same footwork,” Taylor said. “So it wasn’t really the footwork I had to learn. It was getting the routes down and making sure I knew how to help everyone else if they need assistance.”

Judy was hoping Gillis would try out for the team for a long time.

Gillis has been the Eagles’ starting third baseman for the baseball team since his freshman year and Judy knew he would be able to use his athleticism on the football field. In the summer, Gillis and Ryan Seymour, both All-State baseball players, each joined the football team.

Seymour is now a starting linebacker and occasionally plays tight end.

“I was talking to Jared about it since I found out who he was,” Judy said. “I saw him in gym class dunking basketballs so I knew he was a tremendous athlete. He came out here and we told him we could teach him everything he needs to know. It took him a couple games but he took over at one of the outside spots and hasn’t looked back since.

“Him and Ryan were kind of a package deal and we’re fortunate to have both of them.”

Ritchie and Taylor typically line up in the slots while Bishop and Gillis play the outside wide receiver roles.

Ritchie leads the team in all major receiving categories. He has 44 receptions for 1,104 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Bishop is next in touchdowns with six and had 38 catches for 619 yards.

Taylor is second on the team with 39 receptions and 644 yards and also has five touchdowns. Gillis has played in the last five games and has 147 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

But who puts up those numbers isn’t important, Ritchie said.

“We don’t care about stats,” Ritchie said. “We care about getting this championship.”

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