From the Sports Editor: Savage balances coaching and family life

At first, South Georgia State College was interested in hiring Janice Savage as its new softball coach.

But when she turned down the opportunity, the school’s athletic director said he was in a bind.

“He said, ‘Well listen, we start next week. Do you know anybody?’” the story goes. “She said, ‘Well, as a matter of fact. …’”

The person Savage was thinking about, of course, was her father, Jeff, who knows a little bit about coaching himself.

That’s how, at the age of 59 and five years removed from being a college head coach, Jeff Savage finds himself coaching again and living in a dorm at the small school in Douglas, Georgia.

If you’ve followed Savage’s career in athletics, his latest move shouldn’t really come as a surprise, however.

Among other things, Savage has been the baseball coach at Cape Henlopen High, the boys’ basketball coach at Caesar Rodney and the athletic director at Dover.

Jeff Savage

In between, Savage also found time to build a softball program at Delaware State, leading DSU to a 13-year record of 364-301-1 — not to mention the Hornets’ only appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament.

Family, though, has always been the biggest thing in Savage’s life.

That’s why he and his wife, Cindy, moved to North Carolina four years ago when Janice was hired as the head coach at Appalachian State. And now that Janice is working in the mortgage business and living in Jacksonville, Florida, with her two children, Douglas is only a two-hour drive away.

“If I’m only going to work a few more years, I wanted to find something that I really like to do,” said Savage. “I was looking for something. And everything revolves around those grandkids.

“It comes full circle again. I’m out there in the dirt with the kids. We’re doing the same things we did at DelState.

“Cindy always says, there’s two kinds of people in the world,” Savage added. “People who work to live and people who live to work. She said, ‘I work to live, you live to work.’ It’s probably true to a point.”

Ironically, Savage is getting back into coaching just as he’s going into the DSU Athletics Hall of Fame. He’ll be back in Dover for the induction ceremony on Sept. 22.

When Savage first got to DelState, the softball program was nothing more than an afterthought. But he turned the Hornets into one of the top teams in the MEAC North, going 169-54 in conference regular-season games during his tenure and capturing the league title in 2008.

Fittingly, one of Savage’s top players, Jordan Reid, is also being inducted into the DSU Hall of Fame this year.

“Let’s be honest, before we got there, there was nothing,” said Savage. “Of all of the sports that were there, that was the one that was not really a program. We established a program, made it respectable and competitive and a place that even in-state kids would want to go to.

“Work-wise, it’s probably some of the most rewarding time I had — and some of the most frustrating, too — but it was great.”

Savage points out that he, Cindy and Janice all received master’s degrees from DelState as well.

“We owe DelState a lot,” he said. “Where else could I go to be a Division I head coach coming out of high school and travel ball? … It was an experience I would do again in a second.”

Knight still shines

William Knight (#25) of Smyrna carries the ball while breaking free from the grip of Michael Wilson (#14) of Middletown as Smyrna plays Middletown at Cavalier Stadium in Middletown.

There are times when Will Knight seems to defy logic.

It’s not that the Smyrna High senior isn’t a very strong, sturdily-built running back.

But when the Eagles use their earthquake formation — where the ball is snapped directly to Knight in the shotgun — there are about 21 bodies all bunched practically on top of each other.

But, time and time again, the 5-foot-9, 210-pound Knight seems to find his way out of the scrum and takes off like a shot. If nobody tackles him before he gets started, nobody catches Knight once he hits full gallop.

On Friday night, Knight almost willed the Eagles past Middletown. He ran for 296 yards and all four touchdowns on 23 carries.

Knight even threw a nice two-point conversion pass to tie the game in the fourth quarter before the Cavaliers finally prevailed, 35-28.

“You definitely step back and watch the young man do work,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “He’s an amazing player and a great leader.”

“I’m glad there’s only one Will Knight in the state,” said Middletown coach Zach Blum. “We don’t have to defend him every week.”

Extra points

•Of all the disappointments of Smyrna’s season-opening loss to Middletown, having the Eagles’ 22-game winning streak snapped was really pretty low on the list for Judy.

“We don’t ever talk about a streak,” said the Smyrna coach. “But now, nobody should talk about a streak. That’s a good thing.

“We’re going to be just fine. For us being where we are right now, to play with that team, and to have a chance to win it, that’s a good thing. We’re trending upward.”

•Before Friday, Smyrna’s last football loss was its memorable 76-56 shootout with Salesianum on Sept. 25, 2015.

•The Central Connecticut football team had three former Henlopen Conference players in the starting lineup when it opened the season at Syracuse last Saturday.

That group included Dover High grad Jarrod Cann (free safety) and the Nash brothers from Smyrna — Cameron (running back) and Carlton (cornerback).

• Opening night was pretty tough for veteran NFL safety Duron Harmon and his New England Patriots on Thursday night.

But, on the bright side, the Caesar Rodney High grad was named one of the team’s captains for this season.

Harmon, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract in the offseason, is the last player on the roster from the Patriots’ 2013 draft.

•Former Delaware State standout Rodney Gunter is in his third season as a defensive lineman with the Arizona Cardinals. He’s played in all 32 games of his career, with 12 starts, 52 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

•Two downstaters, Kylie McCusker (Smyrna) and Moriah Reid (Sussex Tech), are both freshmen on the Eastern University, Pa. volleyball squad.

•The University of Delaware has several enormous tarps with photos on them hanging from the top of Delaware Stadium this football season.

But linebacker Troy Reeder had no idea that one of them was of him until he was walking out to practice one day in preseason. He saw the tarp laying on the ground, facedown, waiting to be hung up.

“I was like, ‘I think that might be me.’” Reeder said with a smile. “But I didn’t say anything until I came back later that day and they had it hung up. It was pretty cool. It was a surprise. It’s huge. I’ve never seen a picture of myself that size.”

 

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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