Hayden Hall IRHS football 20201204 (copy)

Indian River running back Hayden Hall (3) gets flipped onto his head on his way toward the end zone during a game against Lake Forest on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. Hall is among returning Indians football players for the 2021 season.

A small school like Indian River High School can struggle to get the numbers needed to sustain yearly success in a sport like football. Such is the case again this year, as the Indians have around 40 out for the 2021 campaign.

That hasn’t been much of a disappointment for head coach Phillip Townsend, though, as the bulk of the team features key returning players who went 3-4 overall last year. But this season the Indians will be competing in the newly created Division 1A, as a member of District 2.

IR’s schedule will feature many of the teams in not just their district but also the other district in their division, as well as Delmar from Division 2’s District 3. (More on the divisions and districts below, in the “Extra Points” section of this preview.)

“It’s a new year, in a new division with a new team,” said Townsend, who is in his sixth season as the head coach and 10th overall with the program. “We are returning a lot of players with playing experience and are looking to build off of last year’s successes.”

Among those key returning players are a slew of juniors, in the form of quarterback/defensive back Ben Cordrey, running back/defensive back Hayden Hall and running back/defensive/end Ashton Stephens. Other key juniors include John Stern (running back/defensive back) and Ramier Turner (offensive and defensive line).

A strong nucleus of seniors is also expected to be counted on heavily — especially four-year starters Dalton Hall (fullback/linebacker) and T.J. Burke (offensive and defensive line). Jack Williamson is also back in the fold after an All-Conference performance in 2020, and will help to anchor the offensive and defensive lines again this year.

Joining that trio of seniors will be classmates Lee Richardson (defensive back/wide receiver), Ryan Sheerer (quarterback/defensive back), Wesley Brockson (defensive back/tight end), Laron Horsey (defensive end/tight end), Gavin Danieri (tight end/linebacker) and Cliff Toomey (offensive and defensive line).

That group will look to replace the leadership that graduated from last year, featuring Tyler Bowen, Evan Coy, Cris Cruz, Reagan Dunn, River Vickers and Lucas Webber.

There are eight key newcomers who Townsend and his coaching staff will be counting on to step right into the mix this season. Among them are senior Josh Townsend (WR/DB), juniors Donovan Roos (RB/DB), Chance Hocker (FB/LB), Dennis Norwood (TE/LB) and Jachi Duncan RB/DB), and sophomores Austin Grise (OL/DL), Dylan Everett (OL/DL) and Collin King (FB/LB).

As mentioned above, the Indians’ schedule features teams from their new Division 1A classification, but they’ll open things up by hosting a cross-state contest against Maryland’s Stephen Decatur High School on Friday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m.

They will then host Odessa on Friday, Sept. 17, at 6 p.m. IR will be recognizing and honoring the 10-year anniversary of the program’s last state football championship, from 2011.

A road trip north to Brandywine has the Indians taking the Bulldogs on Friday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. They will then return home for a contest against Seaford on Friday, Oct. 1, at 6 p.m.

Back-to-back road games at St. Elizabeth on Oct. 8 (7 p.m.) and Polytech on Oct. 15 (7 p.m.) will be next.

The Indians will close out the back end of their season with three of their final four games at home as they host Division 2’s Delmar (Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.), as well as Division 3’s Laurel (Nov. 5 at 6 p.m.) and Early College High School (Nov. 12 at 6 p.m.) in their season finale. Their lone road date in that mix is Saturday, Oct. 30, at 11 a.m., as they take on First State Military Academy.

Extra Points

Back in February, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) changed the look of its high school football divisions in the state by adding a third division. Teams are assigned to those divisions for a two-year period.

The state’s biggest classification will now be Class 3A, rather than Division 1, as it was previously. The 3A division will feature 11 teams in two districts. The 2A division will have 21 teams spread across three districts, while the 1A division will have 14 teams in two districts.

The new divisional format breakdown is:

• 3A District 1 — Appoquinimink, Hodgson Vo-Tech, Middletown, Salesianum St. Georges, William Penn;

• 3A District 2 — Cape Henlopen, Caesar Rodney, Dover, Smyrna, Sussex Central;

• 2A District 1 — Concord, Conrad, Delcastle, DMA, McKeon, Newark, St. Mark’s;

• 2A District 2 — A.I. Dupont, Archmere, Brandywine, Howard, Mt. Pleasant, Tower Hill, Wilmington Friends;

• 2A District 3 — Caravel, Delmar, Lake Forest, Milford, Red Lion, Sussex Tech, Woodbridge;

• 1A District 1 — Christiana, Charter, Dickinson, Glasgow, St. Andrews, St. Elizabeth, Tatnall; and

• 1A District 2 — Early College, First State Military Academy, Indian River, Laurel, Odessa, Polytech, Seaford.

Staff Reporter

Jason has been in journalism for over 20 years. He moved to Coastal Delaware in August 2017 with his daughters, Kylie, 18, and Grace, 14. He has a passion for high-school sports and especially values the relationships that he builds.