As football kickoff inches closer around the country, MaxPreps forecasts the top five teams in the state of Delaware for the 2009 season.
1. St. Mark’s
St. Mark’s (8-4) is coming off a state semifinal appearance in 2008 before losing to eventual state champion Caesar Rodney.
Coach John Wilson’s team returns 12 players (5 offense, 7 defense), but must replace Kyle Sullivan, the state’s Offensive Player of the Year who will kick at Rutgers in the fall.
The Spartans will rely on a strong returning group on defense, led by Jake Quinn (DL), Brandon Baker (DB/WR), Matt Lennon (LB/FB), Chaz Malewski (DT/OL) and Luke Horney (DT/OL).
St. Mark’s also returns two players in Baker and Tyler Hrycak, who each saw playing time at the quarterback position last season.
”Our strength will lie within the trenches of our offensive and defensive lineman,” coach John Wilson said. “I like the fact that we have two quarterbacks returning with experience, which will be vital to the leadership of our offense as we look to find some other players to step in and produce offensively without Sullivan. Overall, expectations are high and the players have worked hard in the offseason to prepare for their upcoming season.”
The Golden Knights (10-2) have become a mainstay in the state playoffs and last year made it to the championship game for the third year in a row before falling to Caesar Rodney.
While they lost their entire backfield and two first-team All-State selections in Patrick Diamond (DT) and James Showell (LB), the Knights return nine starters, including two-way second-team All-State selection Sean Hopkins (WR/DB), who caught eight touchdowns his junior year and is considered by many to be one of the top multi-dimensional players in the state.
Coach John Wells will use last year’s disappointing loss in the title game to motivate this year’s team to not just make another return trip to the tournament, but to win it all for the first time in school history.
“We have to rely on solid play from veterans early until our young players gain experience,” Wells said. “Then we could become a tough team.”
3. Caesar Rodney
The defending Division I state champions (11-1) must replace 14 starters, most notably three-year starting quarterback John Sclesky, All-State defensive tackle Jesse Sykes and Defensive Player of the Year Duron Harmon (safety).
The Riders’ strength will be in its backfield, where Division I prospect Malcolm Yowk (164 yards on 18 carries in championship game) returns for his senior season alongside Daquan Harris. Returning defensive linemen Josh Ferris, Kevin Morris and Phil Lewis will anchor a traditionally strong defense.
”We want to continue to grow and develop as a football program,” coach Mike Schonewolf said. “We are excited that a number of underclassmen from last year will now have an opportunity to play more significant roles. Our schedule continues to be challenging and we are excited about getting the season started.”
4. William Penn
Coach Bill Cole’s biggest challenge following last year’s 8-2 season, which ended with a loss to Sussex Central in the second round of the state tournament, will be replacing first-team All-State running back Brian Fields, who is off to play for Western Michigan after rushing for over 5,000 yards and scoring 74 touchdowns during his illustrious career.
Penn returns just four starters, but three of them are in key defensive positions: Jake Smith (LB), Stephen Albright (OL) and Kiere Fields (DB).
Despite also losing starting quarterback Calvin Butcher to graduation, every coach I spoke with has the traditionally-tough Colonials in their top five.
“We have a lot of holes to fill from the departure of our seniors,” Cole says. “It will be an exciting preseason to see who wants to battle for the available positions.”
The Yellowjackets (6-5) lost first-team All-State lineman Malcolm Bunche to the University of Miami and must replace first-team All-State running back Brandon Norwood, who rushed for 1,966 yards and 24 touchdowns. But if anyone can keep a team in the top five after such losses it will be coach Butch Simpson, who enters his 33rd season as Delaware’s all-time leader in wins with 250.
Sophomore Taylor Reynolds is expected to win the starting quarterback job and be given a little more freedom in the passing attack than last year when he was unexpectedly forced into a starting role early in the season.
“Any time you have to replace a large group of seniors, the challenge is there to develop as a team,” Simpson said. “It’s my job as the coach to ensure the team improves on a daily basis from the first day of training camp.”
Note: Training camp for Delaware teams opened on Aug. 15, with first games to be played on Sept. 11-12.
Jon Buzby is the Delaware correspondent for MaxPreps.com.