From the Sports Editor: Smyrna still hungry for success after two titles

“A lot of the kids are hungry still,” said Mike Judy, head coach of back-to-back Division I football state champion Smyrna. “I think they take after their coaches. We celebrate the victory and then we move on.” (Delaware State News file photo)

Mike Judy remembers looking at his watch at 4:30 p.m. on Monday.

The Smyrna High football coach couldn’t help but think the Eagles should be practicing or sitting in a team meeting right then.

“Good football teams are built around habits,” said Judy. “We get into grooves where nothing changes. Week to week, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing — this is what the week looks like.

“There’s the term ‘creatures of habit.’ That’s what we’ve become.”

So now the question now is, will winning Division I football state championships every fall become another habit for the Eagles?

After never even playing in a DIAA Division I state tournament game before last season, Smyrna is suddenly the state’s most dominant football program.

Over the last two seasons, coach Mike Judy’s Smyrna Eagles are 24-1 with a pair of state titles. They made it two in a row with a 36-14 win over Middletown on Saturday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Over the last two seasons, the Eagles are 24-1 with a pair of state championships. They made it two in a row with a 36-14 win over Middletown on Saturday.

But while some of Smyrna’s top players are seniors, the strength of the program right now is in its 27-player junior class. The group is led by running backs Will Knight, the 2015 state Offensive Player of the Year, and Leddie Brown.

Only Newark, which won five straight crowns (1997-2001), has won more than two Division I football state titles in a row.

“A lot of the kids are hungry still,” said Judy. “I think they take after their coaches. We celebrate the victory and then we move on.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re going to really get after it when we get back from Christmas break. We’ve got some loose ends to tie up from this season and get ourselves going full force, with no distractions, into the off-season. The kids are already asking, ‘When’s the weight room open? When’s the first seven-on-seven?’

“I’m like, ‘Guys, I haven’t even unpacked my travel bag from the game (on Saturday).’ They’re going to be ready. They’re enjoying it. Just like us (the coaches), they didn’t want the ride to end. We could have played five more games and had a smile on our face the whole time.”

One of the Eagles’ biggest issues at the moment is filling out their nonconference schedule.

Smyrna already has dates at Middletown (Sept. 8) and at Salesianum (Nov. 3). The Eagles, though, still have openings on Sept. 15 and 22.

Judy would like to play Delaware schools and play all Division I opponents. But, the fact is, there are only 17 Division I programs in the state right now — the Henlopen North, Blue Hen Flight A and Sallies.

Unless Smyrna wants to play Division II teams, it will almost certainly have to find some out-of-state foes.

“I wouldn’t say anybody’s ducking us or anything,” said Judy. “They’re doing what’s in the best interest of their program. We might have to travel for the two-year cycle and that’s fine.

“Part of our team philosophy is, if they want to play, sign them up. It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re going to try to search out the best competition we can.”

Of course, fans are also curious about who the Eagles’ next quarterback will be now that Nolan Henderson’s high school career is over. The QB, who’s verbally committed to Delaware, was just named this year’s state Offensive Player of the Year.

Junior Ryan McNatt has been Henderson’s main backup the last two years but was injured toward the end of this season.

“We might look a lot different (next year),” said Judy. “But that’s what we do. We try to take the kids and let them do what they do best.

“As shown, we can run the ball when we need to. But we do like to throw it around a little bit and I think we’ll have the guys to do that again next year.”

Is Rocco still Hens’ man?

The belief that Richmond’s Danny Rocco is still the frontrunner to be Delaware’s next football coach hasn’t lessened any this week.

Indeed, the fact that the Spiders are still alive in the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs and UD hasn’t announced anything makes that theory look even more plausible.

Richmond rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat North Dakota, 27-24, on a last-second field goal last Saturday. The Spiders play at Eastern Washington this Saturday at 4 p.m.

The 56-year-old Rocco didn’t do anything to distance himself from the Delaware rumors on Monday.

“You can’t prevent speculation,” Rocco said on the Colonial Athletic Association weekly teleconference. “So all you can really focus on is going through the routine and focusing on the process, the process of winning.”

Rocco also added: “Those that are closest to my program recognize the enormous amount of distraction and adversity we’ve dealt with in the last couple of years. We tend to overcome and persevere. I think that’s part of our makeup right now.”

Home at last

It took most of the NFL season, but Joe Callahan has finally made it back to his first pro football home with the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers recently signed the former Wesley College star to their practice squad after he was released by the Browns.

Callahan had been a preseason standout for Green Bay, which reportedly wanted to hang onto him all along. He was claimed off waivers by both the Saints and then the Browns.

At a Wesley game last month, Callahan said he still had an apartment in Green Bay.

Losing a legend

The Henlopen Conference lost one of its legends last Friday when Dale Steele passed away at the age of 68.

Probably best known as Indian River High’s football coach, Steele was also a three-sport athlete at Lord Baltimore and started his coaching career at Cape Henlopen. He spent 35 years as a coach and athletic director at Cape and IR.

Steele was named the Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Indians to their first Division II state title in 1988.

Services for Steele will be held on Saturday starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Ocean View Chapel of Melson Funeral Services.

Odds & ends

•Saturday’s DIAA football state finals doubleheader drew a paid crowd of 11,311 to Delaware Stadium.

•Now that Woodbridge won its first Division II state title on Saturday, Polytech and Sussex Central are the only two of the current 14 football-playing members of the Henlopen Conference which haven’t won a state crown.

•After escaping with a 20-17 win over Wesley College in the NCAA Division III football playoffs two weeks ago, John Carroll went out to Wisconsin-Whitewater and knocked off the No. 1-ranked Warhawks, 31-14,

On Saturday, Carroll plays at Wisconsin-Oshkosh for the right to go to the national championship game. Aside from Carroll’s season-opening loss to Oshkosh, Wesley’s three-point decision with the Blue Streaks matches their narrowest win of the year.

•Delaware State will unveil a new multi-media display system at Memorial Hall this weekend. The two 6-foot-6-inch by 10-foot boards, located at either end of the gym, will feature video screens and scoreboards.

The Hornet men host Keystone on Saturday at 4 p.m. with the DSU women hosting NJIT on Sunday at 1 p.m.

•Radio station 105.9-FM is broadcasting the Delmar-Indian River boys’ basketball game on Friday at 7:15 p.m.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.