This year might mark the most changes heading into a Newark High football season than ever before.
There’s a new head coach. One of the longest-tenured assistant coaches in school history has retired. Newark is making the the change from Division 1 to 2 and Flight A to B. And, in likely the biggest change, the Yellowjackets won't play regular night games for the first time in three decades.
New coach in town
Jody Russell has moved into the head coach’s office in The Hive after serving as an assistant last season. Russell is no stranger to the football tradition at Newark, having played for the Yellowjackets in the early 1990s under Butch Simpson. He was an all-state athlete and a three-sport star at Newark and then went on to play tight end at Delaware under another coaching legend, Tubby Raymond.
Russell is no stranger to the head coaching position either, having served as the head coach at the Tatnall School for 15 years. As he prepared to open up preseason camp on Monday, Russell pointed out more similarities than differences between the Hornet and Yellowjacket programs.
“I feel like the numbers that we have are similar in many ways to my Tatnall teams,” he said. “I have structured practice this preseason to give the guys ample time to recover. With less players, you get more reps throughout practice. More rest will hopefully get us through preseason with fewer injuries.”
A solid summer
The Yellowjackets are coming off a solid summer of workouts, both in the weight room and competing in seven-on-seven games.
“Summer conditioning and seven-on-seven was consistent,” Russell said of attendance. “We had the core group of kids working hard all summer to get bigger faster and stronger. Seven-on-seven, as I told the guys, was not about the wins and losses but our growth throughout the summer. It was about learning the new offense and new defensive changes. We definitely improved as the five weeks progressed.”
Now that summer conditioning is over and preseason begins, Newark will have traditional two-a-day practices on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with single-session practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. With school starting after Labor Day this year for the first time in years, the team has an extra week of double sessions to prepare for the opening game on Sept. 6.
Only one game under the lights
The Friday night opener will be the only night game at Newark this fall as the Yellowjackets will officially rename the field in honor of former coach Butch Simpson in a special ceremony prior to the 7 p.m. kickoff. Portable lights will be brought in for the game against Glasgow as a way to recognize the fact that Simpson coached most of his home games at Newark on a Friday night under the lights.
“That will be a tremendous night with a lot of buzz,” Russell said.
Newark will play three of its four remaining home games on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. The Oct. 5 homecoming game against Dickinson is set for noon.
“Everyone has been good with the changes,” Russell said. “I hope that we transition and learn how to play at the early start time.”
The permanent lights at Hoffman Stadium were removed in spring 2018 due to safety concerns. Last season, the district rented 12 generator-powered temporary lights at a cost of $5,000 per month. The stadium was noticeably darker than previous years, and the low angle of the lights created shadows on the field and caused glare when looking toward them.
A $650,000 project to install new permanent lights is tentatively scheduled to be included in an upcoming capital referendum, but it wouldn't happen until next year at the earliest.
Move to Division 2
One other significant change is that Newark is playing in Division 2 for the first time in school history. Eight of Newark’s games will be against Flight B opponents, with the other two games also against Division 2 teams, St. Mark’s and Lake Forest.
“The move to D-2 will help us in many ways,” Russell explained. “First, it rekindles rivalries with our district schools [Christiana and Glasgow]. It also puts us on a level playing field as far as number of players. The schools in D-2 resemble us in size of schools [in terms of enrollment], which should have a positive effect from week to week.”
Experienced coaching staff
Russell has assembled a coaching staff with a vast mix of experience. However, longtime assistant Mike Brogan, a mainstay in Newark athletics for four decades, is not among them. Brogan coached several different positions during the early part of his career, but spent the last 25 years as the team’s defensive coordinator and was an integral part of seven of the nine state championships won under Simpson. He will remain with the program as a special advisor, Russell said.
Tyran Rice, whose experience includes serving as head coach at The Charter School of Wilmington, takes over for Brogan as defensive coordinator. Darren Brodie, a longtime offensive coordinator at A.I. du Pont, will serve in the same role for Newark.
Jordan Biscoe (offensive line), Paul Oakes (defensive line), Justin Watson (running backs/defensive backs), Mike McCann (RBs/linebackers), Cameron White (RBss/LB) and Steve Selk (wide receivers/DL) round out the coaching staff.
Newark will take part in a scrimmage play day on Saturday at William Penn High School. Other scrimmages include games at Wilmington Friends on Aug. 24 at 3 p.m. and at Tower Hill on Aug. 29 at 6 p.m.
The Buzz from the Hive will be posted online each Monday morning during the high school football season and also in Friday’s print edition. It will include some game analysis and exclusive quotes from Newark High football coach Jody Russell and select members of the team after they've had a chance to watch game film, evaluate their performance, and begin preparation for the next game.