Sussex Central focused on new season after first state football title

Sussex Central High won the first football state championship in school history a year ago. Delaware State News file photo

GEORGETOWN – Last December is just a distant memory to John Wells.

The longtime Sussex Central High coach led his Golden Knights to the first DIAA Division I football state title in school history last season, defeating Salesianum School, 33-7, in the championship game at University of Delaware.

The state championship feat had eluded Wells since he took over the Central program in the 1990s. But it’s a new year, it’s a new team, and he’s leaving the Dec. 1 victory in the past.

“It doesn’t mean anything this year,” said Wells. “It doesn’t help us one bit. For us, being defending champs doesn’t change one thing I do in practice.”

Following a 26-6 defeat to Hodgson Vo-Tech in the first game of the season, the Golden Knights put together a 12-game win streak, including playoff wins over Appoquinimink High and Dover High to earn the trip to the title game.

“That’s over, that team left. That’s a memory you have for the rest of your life, but it’s nothing here now,” he said. “My mindset is, when I retire and look back, it’ll be nice, but until then it’s a new season.”

Losing a crop of talented seniors is an issue every team, across all sports, is forced to deal with each season, and the Central squad was certainly no exception.

Though key pieces such as starting quarterback Isaac Barnes, starting safety and wideout Isaiah Barnes, two-way player Zion Reed and defensive linemen Elijah Moorer and Malik Copes are gone, the Knights return talent and depth across the board.

All eyes will be on the quarterback position when the Golden Knights kick off the regular season Sept. 6 at La Plata High in Maryland.

During preseason practices, Wells has been dealing with injuries on the quarterback depth chart. But, as of now, junior Mikey Glanden is expected to be the guy.

Wells wouldn’t rule out a surprise, though.

“I would think [it’d be Glanden], but it’s an open competition,” Wells explained. “Someone could come out here and wow me, or my quarterback coach runs the offense better (with someone else) then that’s the way it goes.

“He definitely has value out there. He knows the verbiage way better than the others – the others are gaining ground in that area.”

Glanden received valuable experience last season when he filled in for the injured Barnes under center in Week 2 against Queen Anne’s, Maryland. The Knights shut down the Lions 31-3 in front of the home crowd that night.

Reed will no longer be carrying the ball out of the backfield, but junior Shiheim Williams, senior Tyzhir Sheppard-Parker, senior Javon Toppin all return at running back. Senior Kasim Lewis and junior P.J. Stratton return at fullback.

Most of the offensive line returns from last year’s state title team, aside from one injury to the left tackle, so Wells is hoping it to be a strength for Central this year.

“When you return a whole line, barring one injury, it should be a strength,” said Wells. “Especially with all the backs we have back.”

Though it took a couple weeks to find its groove, the defensive unit from a season ago was lights out and was a big reason for Central’s 12-game win streak to end the year.

In 13 games, including playoffs, the Knights’ defense surrendered just 5.8 points per game and registered seven shutouts. Take out the 26 points allowed in the first game and the defense allowed just 4.1 points per game during that 12-game streak.

The unit shut out the Dover Senators in the second half of Central’s come-from-behind 21-20 semifinal victory on Nov. 23.

Isaiah Barnes, the leader of the defense last season, will prove difficult to replace, but the Knights have plenty of depth in the secondary.

Both inside linebackers return this year and Jermicka Jacobs, who didn’t play last year, has been in the mix as well.

With both outside backers gone, Jerry Wilson and P.J. Stratton, and a few other guys, are among the players in the mix for those spots.

It will be tough to completely replace Barnes in the secondary with just one player, but Wells believes he has some depth between Williams, Sheppard-Parker, Jevon Saffold, Domonique Smith, Jaden Savage, Sean McGee and Chase Boyle, among others.

While Wells hasn’t named any captains, returning senior Smith is one of the guys he’s looking to for leadership from the team. He was a captain as a junior last season.

“At this point in time, I like where our defense is for Week 1,” said Wells. “Starting Week 2, it’s got to get better, based on one scrimmage and intrasquad stuff. It has potential to be a very good defense, it’s just they have to go get it.”

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