Sights and sounds from the first day of high school football practice across Delaware. Jason Minto and Daniel Sato/The News Journal
Seaford's quarterback, Ty Morris, with a pass during the first day of high school football practice.(Photo: Jason Minto, The News Journal)Buy Photo
Once every six years, it rains throughout Delaware on Aug. 15.
How do I know this? Because this is the sixth consecutive year I’ve marked that date by driving around to as many high school football practices as possible. And Tuesday was the first time it rained.
Usually, it’s close to 100 degrees. Usually, the coaches and players are sweating buckets. This time, it rained buckets.
So late in the afternoon, I made the executive decision to cut the annual Gridiron Tour a little short this year. But not before covering 217 miles and visiting nine schools throughout all three counties.
Here’s what I saw and heard on the opening day of the preseason:
7:04 a.m. Pulling out of my driveway in Bear, but I’ve been up since 5:27. Because just like the players and coaches, I’m a little amped up. It’s a big day.
7:23 As construction on the new U.S. 301 continues outside the school, St. Georges begins building its first Division I football team.
The Hawks have been among the top teams in Division II the last few years, but shifts in enrollment pushed St. Georges and Hodgson up to D-I for the next two seasons, and sent A.I. du Pont and Mount Pleasant down to D-II.
Going through the Blue Hen Flight A meat grinder of Middletown, William Penn, Concord and others is going to be tougher, and Hawks coach J.D. Maull knows it.
“Can we stay healthy for 10 games?” Maull asked. “That’s going to be our challenge. We’re probably the smallest Division I school in the state. We’ve got to figure out how to stay healthy.”
The competition may be bigger, but don’t expect a major step back. St. Georges went 9-3 and reached the D-II semifinals last year, and the Hawks only lost five starting seniors. Quarterback Robert Shorts is among the top returnees.
The News Journal's Brad Myers visited 12 prep football programs around Delaware Tuesday afternoon. Here's a look at the opening day of high school football practices across the state. Brad Myers/The News Journal
7:55 Rain starts to pelt the windshield as I turn onto Del. 1 near Odessa. Thankfully, it only lasts five minutes.
8:31 Many high school football coaches don’t look like they could still play the game.
Dover’s Rudy Simonetti is not in that group. He sometimes challenges his players in the weight room, and says he still bench presses more than 300 pounds. Looking at his biceps, I believe it.
Simonetti is in his second season as coach of the Senators, who went 3-7 last year. Now he knows them, and they know him. And he says his team has put in the work to get better.
“We had a great offseason,” Simonetti said. “I was always taught that the regular season is a byproduct of your offseason. The weight room, the 7-on-7, your speed work, your conditioning. … We’ve had tremendous attendance, the kids have been working hard, and that’s going to catapult us to big things.”
Dover has a big talent in a key position in quarterback Jordan Magee (6-3, 215), who started all season as a sophomore. The sky may be the limit for the junior, who already has a scholarship offer from Temple.FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInBrad Myers' 2017 Gridiron Tour Fullscreen
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9:20 I’m driving 70 mph in the right lane down Del. 1 – and being tailgated by a school bus. Apparently, the driver knows I was supposed to be in Milford 20 minutes ago.
9:27 They’re already installing the offensive plays as I arrive in Milford. The Buccaneers went 9-2 and reached the Division II playoffs last year, but a lot of new faces will need to come up big this season.
“We were blessed to have a lot of depth in seniors my first two years here,” coach Shaun Strickland said. “We’ve got a lot of juniors and sophomores this year. But a lot of them got some time last year.”
Milford has at least two dynamic running backs in D.J. Bowman and Rahshawn Price, with All-Henlopen South center Thomas Eisenbrey and two-way starter Ritchy Corvil helping to open the holes.
9:41 My apologies to the Wawa in Milford for the big clumps of wet grass that came off my shoes in the store. It won’t happen again.
10:21 A mix of rap and country is blasting out of a boombox as I pull up to the practice field at Sussex Tech. The Ravens have gone 5-5 the last two years, but lost only four starting seniors. Another D-I playoff appearance could be on the horizon.
“Last year was a good building block,” veteran coach Mark Quillin said. “We’ve got a nice senior class, very hard-working, very dedicated.”
Senior Tyzhir Morris and sophomore Ricky Kane will battle for the starting quarterback job, but expect to see both all over the field. Senior Deshown Sample brings speed and Nolan Lamontagne brings power to the backfield, and the entire offensive line returns.
11:02 Didn’t see wearing a red shirt and red cap as a problem until I pulled into Seaford. Laurel — the Blue Jays’ archrival — wears red. And some of the Seaford folks thought I was the enemy coming to spy on them.
The Blue Jays have struggled the last few years. But third-year coach Dwayne Henry says participation is up — he expects as many as 40 players this year — and Seaford has the right pieces to operate its Wing-T offense effectively.
“We have guys that know what they’re doing, that have been in the system,” Henry said. “I think we’re going to do quite a bit better this year.”
Junior QB Isaiah Lake and junior FB-RB Jerry Lacy are among the experienced returnees.
11:27 The rain starts again just north of Seaford. And this time, it doesn’t stop.
12:43 p.m. The two-time defending Division I champions have already wrapped up their first practice when I arrive in Smyrna. The Eagles are riding a 22-game winning streak, which they see as more pride than pressure.
“Getting to this point, where you are the game that’s circled on everybody’s calendar, it’s a good experience for these guys,” coach Mike Judy said. “… They understand that the pressure is imaginary. It’s all in what they feel. If they can think about this thing and mentally be prepared, there’s no pressure. We don’t talk about trying to get No. 23.”
If Smyrna gets No. 23, it will be Sept. 8 at Division I runner-up Middletown. It’s the game everyone has been talking about since the Eagles’ 36-14 win over the Cavaliers in last year’s championship game. And superb running back Will Knight and three of Smyrna’s starting offensive linemen return to pose another formidable challenge.
1:59 The rain is pouring down, but Hodgson coach Frank Moffett doesn’t mind.
“It’s not bothering me one bit,” Moffett said. “I’ll take this over 100 degrees, any day. We only go at about 80 percent on the first day anyway, so this isn’t really slowing us down.”
The Silver Eagles are slipping and sliding all over their grass practice field, but there will be plenty of dry days to prepare for Hodgson’s first season in Division I. And they will have the beef to compete in Flight A, as almost all of their experienced linemen return.
2:50 The Appoquinimink players and coaches are making their way from their soaked grass field to their soaked turf practice field as I arrive. The Jaguars have gone 5-5 the last two years, but coach Brian Timpson is cautiously optimistic.
“There is no doubt that we’re going to be a better football team,” Timpson said. “Will that transition to wins and losses? I don’t know. But the effort they have given in the offseason tells me that they’re ready to make a move.”
This senior class is the first that has been coached by Timpson for a full four years. Appo will have a new quarterback in Shane Phipps, who has blossomed up to 6-4 for his senior season. And running backs Derek Thompson and Joe Scott-Thomas are both a threat to break one at any time.
3:05 I discovered an easy way to remove all that wet grass off my shoes. Just take a couple of accidental steps through 8 inches of water.
3:22 The Middletown Cavaliers are taking a break before the final conditioning sprints of their first practice under new coach Zach Blum.
It’s a dream come true for Blum, a former Middletown player who toiled for years as an assistant coach before moving up when veteran Mark DelPercio left to coach in Texas last spring.
“This is a great first day, but this is a day that’s been a long time coming,” Blum said. “We’ve all been working hard for this.”
Blum doesn’t plan any major changes in the Cavaliers’ philosophy, and why should he? Middletown has reached the Division I championship game in six of the last seven seasons.
“Keep the train rolling,” Blum said. “That’s all we need to do right now.”
He went to bed late Monday night and woke up early, “but those couple of hours that I was asleep, it was a good sleep,” Blum said.
That’s the way it was for everyone around Delaware high school football on Tuesday. The waiting was over, and everybody was amped.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ
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Source : https://www.delawareonline.com/story/sports/high-school/2017/08/15/plenty-puddles-1st-day-delaware-high-school-football-practice/567755001/7547