The Smyrna High football team has a chance to do something that’s only been done once before, and the Eagles are the early favorites to do just that. Smyrna has won the last two Division I state championships and only one other team in Delaware history has ever won three D-I football titles in a row – Newark High, which put together an amazing streak when it won five straight championships, from 1997-2001, under legendary coach Butch Simpson.
Over the decades, Delaware high school football has been a balanced affair in some ways and not so balanced in others.
There have only been nine back-to-back Division I champs since the football tournament started in 1971, which means one team hasn’t ruled the state. But those consecutive winners had always been the football factories that have dominated the sport for years – William Penn (which won back-to-back titles in 1982-83, 1991-1992 and 1995-97), Newark (which had two consecutive championship seasons along with its record five-year streak, in 1984-85 and 2003-04), St. Mark’s (1973-74), Salesianum (2006-06) and, most recently, Middletown (2011-12).
But, with the exception of Newark, none of those schools could walk off with a third consecutive trophy, and that’s the challenge for Smyrna as it tries to establish itself as an elite program over an extended time.
There’s something the Eagles can prove this season. For decades, Smyrna was mostly an also-ran in Delaware high school football. The Eagles were a Division II team – for schools with lower enrollments – that rarely had a winning season and never a championship one. But with more and more people moving to Kent County, Smyrna’s enrollment has grown and now it’s a Division I school with a Grade A football team. After going 7-13 in the two seasons previous to its championship run, Smyrna has now won 22 straight games over two seasons, and the team that seemingly came from nowhere to win its first state title is a solid favorite to win its third straight.
That winning streak and potential championship streak is what will separate this Smyrna team from the pack and make it special. There have been other instances of a school becoming dominant for a while, then falling back and becoming ordinary again. And, at first, nobody knew if Smyrna would be one of those one-hit wonders after the 2015 season, especially since they graduated seven seniors who were All-State selections. That’s a lot of top talent to lose and only a deep and well-coached team could survive that. And the Eagles not only survived, they’ve thrived. Coach Mike Judy has 18 starters back from last year’s title team, including Delaware-bound running back Will Knight, who has been first-team All-State each of the last two seasons.
That doesn’t mean Smyrna will cruise to another state title. The Eagles have put together an impressive streak the last couple years, but they had to fight hard to win many of those games and both of those championships. And we’ll find out what this team is made of very quickly – Smyrna opens the 2017 season against Middletown, and News Journal ace high school reporter Brad Myers has Smyrna ranked No. 1 in the state and Middletown No. 2.
That’s a heck of a way to kick off a season, and it should be a great game. Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that Smyrna football is here to stay.