When the Christiana High School football team arrived for practice on Aug. 15, there was an air of familiarity.
Good, bad or indifferent, that familiarity was another new head coach.
For the fourth time in four years, the Vikings are starting a season with a new head coach. However, this time they hired one of their own.
Virgil Rush, a 2000 graduate of Christiana, was hired to replace Marvin Dooley, who left after just one season to become head coach at William Penn, where he previously served as an assistant and is also the school’s head wrestling coach.
Christiana High’s football program has had its share of struggles in recent years. The Vikings won a total of just two games the past three seasons, including zero last year. But the past is the past, and athletic director Elizabeth Moodie is optimistic that the Vikings finally have their man.
“Virgil cares not only about our kids, but our program,” Moodie, a Christiana alumna herself, said. “And he wants the team to succeed and wants to bring back that Viking pride. We are excited.”
Rush is also excited and hopes to quickly get the program back to the success it had when he played wide receiver and safety on teams that consistently won more games than they lost.
“I always came back to watch games even when I was on other staffs,” said Rush, who was an assistant at Christiana for five years before moving on to the same role at Pencader Charter and Delcastle. “I always saw the talent there and thought if we could just change the culture and mentality of the players, we could win games.”
Rush admitted that the change probably won’t be as easy as it sounds, and that at first, the upperclassmen sort of had a “here we go again” attitude. But Rush squashed that mentality and is already pleased with how the players have reacted to another head coach.
“I was being perfectly honest with them from the start,” said Rush, who played at Bucknell. “I told them what I expected of them just in terms of standards and expectations. And I think they saw how genuine I was. I knew I needed to prove to them that I’d be the hardest worker on the team to make this right. I’m honestly pleased with what I’ve seen all summer during workouts.”
Rush emphasized that anyone trying out for the team has a chance to earn playing time.
“It’s like starting off from scratch,” he explained. “And I think an open competition will create a great environment in which to compete.”
As for wins, the rookie head coach is confident that eventually he’ll get the program turned around.
“We have to go through a process and that’s what we’ve already started going through now,” Rush said confidently. “I’m more focused on building young men. As these men build their character, the wins will come.”
Christiana opens its season against Conrad on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. The game will be played at McKean High School.
Glasgow High School lost to graduation its starting quarterback (Stephen Kowalski) and arguably the greatest offensive player in school history in Khari Ngozi. But according to head coach Shannon Riley, the Dragons won’t miss a beat as the team returns 16 starters from last year’s 6-4 squad.
In fact, he thinks they’ll be better.
“This could potentially be my best team,” the eighth-year coach said. “We have high expectations.”
The defense will be the strength of the team, according to Riley, and anchoring it will be nine returning starters led by safeties Marquis Cannon and Michael Helton, linebackers Loyal Ricks and Kwasi Amponsah, and linemen Raymond Mangold and Dominique Drewery.
“Our experience, size and speed will make us a dominant defensive unit,” Riley said.
Mangold and Drewery also play on the offensive line, where they were All-Conference performers in 2012. Michael Townley and Jeffrey Stinson also return to their offensive line positions, giving the Dragons plenty of experience in the trenches to open holes for running back Jay Whalen and create opportunities for speedy wide receiver Michael Helton.
“Offensively, we will be very fast,” Riley said. “Jay and Michael have outstanding speed.”
In the few positions the Dragons lack experience, Riley is confident the learning curve will be short.
“We are inexperienced in a few areas, but will get quality reps in practices and scrimmages,” he said. “We have time to let them learn the system. Having a winning record last year has given us something to build on.”
Glasgow hosts Smyrna Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.