From the Sports Editor: A special Thanksgiving for Smyrna’s Colby Atkinson

Today’s Thanksgiving will be just a little more special at the Atkinson home.

Ever since Colby Atkinson was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago, the Smyrna family had to keep their celebration pretty small.

Colby’s decreased immune system just made a big gathering too risky.

Now 17, though, Colby is healthy enough for everyone to come over today.

“This is the first Thanksgiving in like four years where we’ve had all the family over,” said the Smyrna High senior.

In a perfect world, Atkinson would be getting ready to play a big football game, too.

A lot of the guys he grew up with will be in uniform on Saturday night when second-seeded Smyrna faces William Penn in the DIAA Division I state semifinals.

But leukemia as well as the side effects of chemo and a bone marrow transplant essentially ended his playing career when he was a freshman. The former offensive lineman isn’t complaining, though.

Atkinson still goes to practice just about every day, helping the coaches and doing what he can. He figures it’s the least he can do.

“These guys are like family to me,” he said. “They were always there for me when I needed them. It’s just great to be back and giving back.”

Atkinson was a promising right guard for current senior quarterback Nolan Henderson when the two were freshmen. Henderson said Atkinson may have been the best offensive lineman on that freshman squad.

“Colby’s awesome,” said Henderson. “We’re always joking around, always having fun. He’s always got a smile on his face. It’s cool to see that.”

“It’s always a pleasure just to see him,” agreed junior running back Will Knight. “You can see that he’s very dedicated to his sport. Nothing’s going to stand in his way. He fought through a lot of adversity and I respect him for that. You never hear him complain or anything.”

Smyrna coach Mike Judy admits that sometimes the Eagles take it for granted that Atkinson is still out here with them on the football field.

Just his presence is inspiring.

Usually the only practices that Atkinson misses are when he’s at physical therapy.

“We don’t talk about it enough because we’re so used to seeing him,” said Judy. “We’re so blessed that we can be in this position with Colby out here being a part. We spoke about it a lot at the beginning of the year. This is a good reminder of why you continue to play and play hard.

“He’s fighting hard. For him, I think the toughest part is over. Now it’s the long arduous battle of trying to get back to normal — if there is a ‘normal’ after that.”

Of course, there’s no place that Atkinson would rather be than on Smyrna’s sidelines Saturday night.

Even if he can’t play football it’s where he belongs.

“It’s great to be playing football around Thanksgiving,” said Atkinson. “It means that we made it to the playoffs and are one step closer to our dreams of winning a state championship.”

Who’s next?

Andy Talley joked with reporters on Saturday that he wouldn’t mind being Delaware’s football coach for the next couple years.

Now that he’s retiring at Villanova, he’s going to have some free time on his hands.

Kidding aside, though, Talley did have a suggestion on what kind of coach the Blue Hens should be looking for.

“I think you need a guy who has a record somewhere else as a head coach, that he’s won,” Talley said after the Wildcats’ 41-10 win over Delaware. “I hated that when I was an assistant. I never got any of the jobs I applied for.

“But you need to go through it. I think they need a coach with a head coaching resume — whether he’s old, young, it doesn’t matter.”

And apparently, there are some head coaches out there interested in the Delaware job.

Among the candidates who have surfaced are Coastal Carolina’s Joe Moglia, Richmond’s Danny Rocco and Chatanooga’s Russ Huesman.

Some other former head coaches’ names are also out there, like Pete Lembo (Lehigh, Ball State), Mike London (Virginia, Richmond) and Bob Shoop (Columbia). Currently the defensive coordinator at Tennessee, Shoop was the DC at Penn State when current Delaware linebacker Troy Reeder was a Nittany Lion.

The 67-year-old Moglia certainly has an interesting story.

The former CEO and current chairman of TD Ameritrade, he joined Nebraska’s staff as a volunteer assistant in 2009, was the head coach of two UFL teams before becoming the head coach at Coastal Carolina. He was named the FCS Coach of the Year in 2015.

Moglia also has ties to Delaware, having coached Archmere (1971-74) and earning a master’s degree in secondary education from UD.

It turns out that Moglia was also the high school head coach for future Wesley College coach Mike Drass, at Penncrest (Pa.).

“He’s the reason I’m a coach,” said Drass.

While Delaware would like to have its new coach in place sooner rather than later, presumably it will have to wait until any current candidate’s season is over.

Lingo goes into hockey Hall

Former Cape Henlopen High standout Carrie Lingo was inducted into the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Fittingly, the ceremony was part of the NCAA Division I Final Four. The next day Lingo’s home-state school, Delaware, beat her college alma mater, North Carolina, 3-2, for the national championship.

Along with being an All-American as a Tar Heel, Lingo had a 12-year career with the U.S. National team.

“Carrie Lingo is one of our all-time greats and I think the world of her,” said UNC coach Karen Shelton. “In addition to being an outstanding field hockey talent with so many physical gifts, she’s a cheerful, hard-working, optimistic person.

“She brings a positive vibe to any group. She’s suffered through a lot of adversity with injury and just fought through it. I’m thrilled she’s being honored in this way.”

North Carolina annually gives out the Lingo Award to the Players’ Player of the Year. It goes to a player ‘whose dedication, commitment and intensity embodies what it means to wear a Tar Heel uniform, all qualities that fit Lingo when she was a UNC student-athlete.’

Hens’ Mal passes on

Ed Maley lived one of those quintessential All-American lives.

A standout football player at the University of Delaware, he went on to coach at his alma mater for 32 years.

After a stint in the Army, Mal married his college sweetheart, Patricia, a former Blue Hen cheerleader. Their three kids were all UD grads and good college athletes.

His football coaching career included a decade as the Hens’ defensive coordinator (1979-80) and made him a part of four national championship squads.

“He was a wonderful guy to have at your side on the sidelines,” said former Delaware coach Tubby Raymond.

There were plenty of people sad to hear the news that Maley died last Friday at the age of 82. He had been in failing health for a while.

Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday at St. Thomas More Oratory on UD’s campus. Visitation is from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. with a memorial mass at 1 p.m.

Those who saw him in his retirement years will remember his stories of travelling the world — always seeming to meet Delaware people wherever he went — and his love of reggae music.

Mal may have been the only former old football coach who always had a Jamaican flag flying at his tailgate.

A month ago, Maley got to spend one last moment on the Delaware Stadium sidelines — albeit in a wheelchair but wearing his letterman’s jacket — when he was inducted into UD’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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