While they were in it until the end, the Henlopen South title slipped out of reach for the Indian River High School football team with a late-season loss to Lake Forest in 2015.
With a new season of high school football set to get under way this Friday, Sept. 9, however, rosters throughout the division are shaping up for 2016.
Almost every team in the South looks to be a serious contender to dethrone the Spartans this year, with Milford and Woodbridge looking to build on last season’s success, Laurel ready to bounce back to 2014 form, Delmar aiming to prove last season a fluke, and even Seaford hungry for their first South win since 2009.
Here’s how some of those teams are starting to look, and what to watch for when they face the Indians this season:
Lake Forest Spartans
2015 record: 8-2 (6-0)
2015 vs. IR: W 34-14
The 2015 Henlopen South champion Spartans will be looking for their third straight division title in 2016, but they’ll have to try to pull it off with a completely revamped roster.
Lake graduated 25 seniors from last year’s undefeated South squad, including 12 All-Conference selections.
The most substantial of those departures will be felt under center, where First Team All-Conference quarterback Noah Feague-Johnson held the starting positions for the past two seasons. The triple-threat-option signal-caller and Blue-Gold All-Star selection rushed for two touchdowns, including a 63-yard keeper, in a 34-14 South-clinching win over the Indians last fall.
This year, junior Xavier Daniels will look to fill his shoes, as a relative unknown at the helm after spending last season at defensive back.
The Spartans also graduated an arsenal of backfield weapons, including First-Team selections Jamier Brown, Jordan Simpson, Ben Moore and fullback Amir White, as well as First-Team All-Conference OL Trequan Hardy, who also made an impact on the defensive line.
Key returners include senior Cameron Lewis. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 210-pound Lewis was a First-Team selection at linebacker last season and earned Second-Team honors at wide receiver. He could also see some time at tight end, as the primary target for Daniels this fall.
Lake is scheduled to open their season against Hodgson Vo-Tech on Saturday, Sept. 10, and won’t play Indian River until late in the season, in a game that could very easily hold substantial Henlopen South title implications, on Friday, Nov. 4, at IR.
Woodbridge Blue Raiders
2015 record: 7-3 (5-1)
2015 vs. IR: W 34-0
While Lake graduates the bulk of their 2015 squad, Woodbridge returns the bulk of theirs.
The Blue Raiders were one of the biggest surprise teams in the state last season, advancing all the way to the DIAA semi-finals before getting knocked out by St. Georges Tech.
Led by sophomore quarterback Troy Haynes, who racked up eight touchdowns under center as a freshman last season, target on their back or no, Woodbridge looks to be a serious contender for the Henlopen South title in 2016.
They graduated First-Team All-Conference wide-out Bragg Davis, but return five other All-Conference selections, including Division I prospect at running back Terrique Riddick. The 5-foot, 6-inch, 150-pound Riddick has been clocked in the 4.4’s in the 40-yard dash and led the Blue Raiders in rushing last season.
Paving the way for Riddick will be four of Woodbridge’s five starters returning along the offensive line.
They also return All-Conference defensive ends Shymere Vessels and Blaize Rayford, who each racked up 100 tackles in 2015 and who will be backed up by First-Team All-Conference linebacker Leah Styles.
After a second-half rally and 34 unanswered points propelled the Blue Raiders to a 34-0 victory over IR in Bridgeville last season, the Indians will be looking for some redemption when the two teams square up for what will be IR’s homecoming game, on Friday, Oct. 21.
Woodbridge will get the season started against Dover on Friday, Sept. 9.
2015 record: 6-4 (3-3)
2015 vs. IR: L 22-18
After managing just six collective wins through the previous four seasons, the Bucs turned things around by matching that total in 2015 alone, in what was head coach Shaun Strickland’s first year at the helm.
Now, with Strickland headed into year two, Milford looks to be a serious contender for the South for the second year in a row.
They graduated 20 seniors, but return starting QB William Kimmel after he took over as a junior midway through last season.
Kimmel won’t have First-Team tight end Shawn Snowden to toss to this season, but will have two prime targets in senior wide-outs Marcus Correa and Brion Murray.
Correa had previous held the quarterback position to begin 2015, and at 6 feet, 5 inches, and 190 pounds, gives the Bucs some serious size at wide receiver. Murray is coming off a season where he was named a First-Team All-Conference selection at wide receiver and Second-Team selection at defensive back.
Other key skill positions returning include First-Team junior running back David Bowman, fresh off a 1,000-yard rushing season, sophomore running back Rashawn Price and senior running back Dominyc Hovington.
Senior Ryan Jones returns as a First-Team selection at linebacker and senior Greg Clark as an honorable-mention offensive and defensive lineman.
In 2015, the Indians pulled off a 22-18 comeback victory over the Bucs in dramatic homecoming fashion, when then-senior WR Deshawn Aiken pulled down a halfback pass from then-junior RB George “G-Mart” Martin, and Martin punched it in for the winning score shortly afterwards, with just over a minute left on the clock.
In 2016, the teams are scheduled to square up for what will be Milford’s homecoming, on Friday, Oct. 14. Milford will hit the road to take on Red Lion for their first game of the season, set for Friday, Sept. 9.
2015 record: 3-7 (2-4)
2015 vs. IR: L 28-18
Laurel was also a surprise team in 2015, managing only three wins just a season removed from an 8-2 record and state championship appearance.
Two of those three wins, however, were against Henlopen South opponents, with the Bulldogs walloping Seaford 70-0 and downing Delmar 38-28 in the division’s first week of matchups.
With the departure of Glenn Phillips Jr., former Woodbridge assistant and Laurel grad Eston Ennis will take over head coaching duties and trying to get the Bulldogs back to 2014 form.
The offense will again revolve around All-Conference quarterback Perez Nichols, who enters his senior season. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 195-pound Nichols was a factor both through the air and on the ground during the Indians’ 28-18 rain-soaked comeback win at Laurel last season, and clocking in at a 4.5 40, senior linebackers Gianni Gottschalk and Zion Howard will likely be keeping tabs on Nichols during this season’s Oct. 7 scheduled matchup.
Also returning at key skill positions are junior running backs Deontre Parker and Treason Dixon, who will benefit from four returning offensive lineman.
On defense, the Bulldogs graduate First-Team DE Shyheim Holden, but return All-Conference DT Andrew Risper and LB Mike Handy, both juniors.
Laurel will get their season under way at home against Sussex Central on Friday, Sept. 9.
2015 record: 1-9 (1-5)
2015 vs. IR: L 21, 20
Delmar lost nine games in 2015; however, five of those losses were by a margin of just one point, including a 21-20 loss to Indian River by way of a late G-Mart goal-line score.
Factor in their early 19-14 loss to Lake Forest on a controversial literally last-second call, and the Wildcats were not a typical one-win team last season.
This season, however, they’re young, returning only six seniors.
At the helm for the second year will be senior signal-caller Jimmy Adkins, who was a First-Team All-Conference selection at punter and Second-Team at quarterback in 2015.
Adkins will be joined by senior RB/DE Isaac Austin, an Honorable Mention selection as a junior, and junior RB/LB Brooks Parker, who was named Second-Team All-Conference at linebacker as a sophomore and should see the bulk of the backfield carries this season.
Key departures for the Wildcats include First-Team All-Conference DB Logan Thomas in the secondary, who also saw time at running back last season.
Delmar will face Indian River for the Wilcats’ Senior Night on Friday, Oct. 28, and kick off the 2016 season at Smithburg High School in Maryland on Friday, Sept. 9.
Seaford Blue Jays
2015 record: 0-10
2015 vs. IR: L 48-0
Seaford went winless under first-year head coach Dwayne Henry in 2015 and hasn’t managed a Henlopen South win since taking down Woodbridge in 2009.
Henry returns to continue the rebuilding process of a struggling program in year two, trying to turn things around with a young roster.
The Blue Jays managed only one Honorable Mention All-Conference selection in 2015, in OL/NT Zaire Frisby-Felder, who will look to make an impact in the trenches again for his senior campaign.
They’ll be led by sophomore quarterback Isaiah Lake, a relative unknown under center.
The Blue Jays haven’t made the scoreboard light up against the Indians since 2009, being shut out by a combined score of 270-0 over the past six seasons. The two teams are scheduled to play on Sept. 30 this year, with Seaford getting their season under way against Glasgow on Friday, Sept. 9, for City of Seaford Night.